Group D: Powerhouse Serbia are heavy favorites in Foshan
FOSHAN (China) - Serbia have been on a roll as the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 nears, and it seems like there doesn't seem to be any legitimate threat to their dominance in Group D.
The Serbians have risen to the very top of the latest version of the World Cup Power Rankings and for very good reason. They haven't lost any of their preparation games to date, highlighted by wins over Lithuania (twice), Italy (twice), Turkey and the Giannis Antetokounmpo-powered Greece. They will face the Italians anew in Group D along with the Andray Blatche-led Philippines and World Cup veterans Angola, who are making their seventh appearance on the biggest stage of international hoops.
Team to beat: Serbia
The Orlovi are bringing in their big guns to the World Cup. Nearly all of their NBA talents have answered the call of the national team as they have a generation of players that more than a few believe can pose a significant challenge to unseat Team USA's stranglehold on the throne.
Powering Serbia's engine will be their terrific triumvirate of big men bannered by Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Boban Marjanovic of the Philadelphia 76ers and Nemanja Bjelica of the Sacramento Kings. That's a frontline that can hardly be matched by any other team in the field, but that's not all that head coach Sasha Djordjevic has in his arsenal. There is also explosive wing scorer Bogdan Bogdanovic (also of the Sacramento Kings), all-rounder Marko Guduric, who recently penned a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, 7ft 0in (2.13m) Miroslav Raduljica, who scored 13.3 points per game in the European Qualifiers and many others. Given all these, it's not an overstatement to say that the odds are heavily stacked in Serbia's favor in Foshan.
FIBA World Ranking, presented by NIKE
Key matchup: Italy v Philippines
Assuming Serbia plays true to form, all the other three teams in Group D will be playing to join the group front-runners through to the Second Round. Angola, despite being seasoned World Cup veterans, are the clear underdogs in the group, which means the contest pitting the Squadra Azzurra and Gilas Pilipinas carries extremely consequential repercussions. In addition, having the Italians and Filipinos collide on Day 1 of the competition increases the tension even more.
The edge will be on Italy's who have NBA players Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari leading the Azzurri's charge. Expected to backstop them will be some of Italy's finest Europe-based stars like Luigi Datome, Amedeo Della Valle and Awudu Abass. On the other end, much of the Filipinos' collective fate will rest on Andray Blatche's aging shoulders, while five-time Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo will also be expected to do heavy lifting.
Click here for the full schedule of Group D.
Star: Nikola Jokic
There is no other player in this group who will command as much attention as the Serbian frontliner nicknamed 'The Joker.' For some basketball die-hards, Nikola Jokic isn't just the best center from Europe, he's the best center in the NBA and on the planet. His combination size, heft, mobility, court vision, passing, and shooting make him such a nightmarish matchup for any opponent, and a cursory view of the field in Group D reveals one certainty - there really is nobody here who can stop Jokic if he's one hundred percent focused on imposing his will.
Yes, his performance at the Rio 2016 Olympics wasn't exactly amazing (just 9.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game), but remember that he's no longer a wide-eyed 21-year-old. Instead, the versatile 7ft 0in (2.13m) big man is coming off his first NBA Play-Offs appearance, his first season as an NBA All-Star and his first time to be named to no less than the All-NBA First Team.
Top prospect: Robert Lee Bolick, Jr.
Many of the talents in Group D will be grizzled veterans from World Cups and Olympic Games past, but one young, up-and-coming player who can potentially turn some heads is the Philippines' very own Robert Lee Bolick, Jr. At just 6ft 0in (1.82m), Bolick won't be the most imposing figure on the hardwood, but he has mightily impressed in the Philippines' tune-up matches and is currently one of the top rookies in the PBA's 2019 season, putting up 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.2 three-pointers per game. If Bolick can play at a high level in Foshan, the Philippines may just be able to barge into the Second Round.
Familiar face: Eduardo Mingas
No other player in Group D has more World Cup appearances than Angola's Eduardo Mingas, who made his World Cup debut at the 2002 edition in Indianapolis, Indiana. Back then, Mingas was the greenhorn, serving as an undersized center for an overmatched Angolan quintet that won just two of their eight matches. Now, the 40-year-old serves as the 'wise old man' as Angola hope to defy expectations and finish among the top ten teams just like what they did 13 years ago in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2006 in Saitama, Japan.