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A FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2021 mid-season temperature check
MIES (Switzerland) - 2021 always promised to be 3x3's year and it has lived up to the hype with surely the best ever FIBA 3x3 World Tour to date.
There have been upsets galore while new contenders and stars have emerged to make the World Tour crazier viewing than Squid Game.
There will be more hype for 3x3's return than the release of No Time To Die and to get you in the mood let's look at the main takeaways from the first five Masters of the season.
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Ub are the team to beat
They are an incredible 16-2 to lead the standings and have leapfrogged traditional 3x3 powers to become the competition's new trendsetters.
There were a lot of expectations on these spectacular Serbs after the off-season additions of legendary Novi Sad pair Dejan Majstorovic and Marko Savic.
Savic has battled injuries and not played on the World Tour since the first stop in Doha but Majstorovic aka 'the Maestro' has returned back to his sweet shooting best after a slump in 2020.
Majstorovic, who was part of Serbia's bronze medal team at the Tokyo Olympics, is No.1 in player value (98.8) and also overall points (105). He has deservedly become the No.1 player in the world.
But it's far from a one-man show with Ub firing on all cylinders with Montreal Masters MVP Strahinja Stojacic making a case of right now being the better sibling - a fair effort considering his older brother is Liman great Stefan Stojacic.
While Miroslav Pasajlic won the top honors in Ub's triumph in Lausanne as the dynamo proved unstoppable in the Olympic capital.
Ub will be hoping their momentum has not been halted by the break but, right now, they deserve to enter the remainder of the season as the team to beat.
Has the 'Big 3's' stranglehold ended?
At the start of the season, you would have had better odds on winning the Lotto than 3x3 giants Novi Sad, Liman and Riga going winless after the first five Masters.
But, amazingly, the trio of European powerhouses, who have dominated the World Tour in recent years, have come up short against hungry newcomers.
Novi Sad's struggles have been perhaps predictable with the absences of mainstays Majstorovic and Savic while 3x3 GOAT Dusan Bulut has not been sighted on the World Tour since leading the Serbs to a second-placed finish in Doha.
Liman and Riga have both remained highly competitive but frustratingly failed to go all the way this season - perhaps explained by mixing and matching their line-ups. They both haven't quite have their renowned chemistry.
Despite this, as always, Liman have been competitive and looked set to end their drought in Prague before being upset by Jeddah in the final. They should be extra determined when the season starts again.
Whatever happens for the remainder of the season, 2021 will always be a success for Riga whose awesome foursome led Latvia to a historic Gold Medal in Tokyo.
But it has been a prolonged hangover since then with Riga unable to get their main team together with Edgars Krumins having been on the sidelines ever since injuring his ankle in the Gold Medal game against ROC.
Superheroes Karlis Lasmanis and Nauris Miezis have also missed events meaning Riga's famed continuity has been lacking for the first time in years. But if they are loaded again in the backend of the season then look out.
3x3's depth is deeper
The World Tour has never been deeper and literally any team can go all the way - no matter the seedings. If not for Ub's purple patch, Amsterdam Talent & Pro might have hogged the love after a trio of top 3 finishes highlighted by winning in Doha.
The Dutch Masters have been boosted by ex-Liman recruit Maksim Kovacevic as Amsterdam now boast incredible firepower led by Dimeo van der Horst who was a flame thrower before the break at the 3x3 Unites Utrecht Challenger.
We've also welcomed new sensation Antwerp, who have made a pair of semis to put Belgium on the 3x3 map. They feel a bit like Amsterdam in previous seasons where Antwerp might just be a tad under the absolute best but that can all change if they have a breakthrough Masters victory.
Most memorably, the triumphs by San Juan in Lausanne and Jeddah in Prague represented what we absolutely love about 3x3 - that underdogs most certainly have a legit chance at going all the way.
Whose turn is it to shock next?
North American teams need to improve
The World Tour has seen triumphs this season by teams from Europe, the Middle East and Caribbean but hoops power North America has been absent.
Former contenders Princeton and NY Harlem from the USA and Canada's Edmonton have been unable to get going.
Those teams won Masters in 2019 but things have proven more difficult since the Covid-19 pandemic due to not being able to play quite as much due to logistical reasons.
But, fingers crossed, as the situation settles then these North American heavyweights can once again start getting back to their best because they bring a certain different flair to the game.
Armed with the return of FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2019 MVP Robbie Hummel, a strong Princeton made the semis in Montreal in perhaps a sign of what's to come later in the year.
New stars have emerged
We have seen new players threaten the old guard's supremacy namely Antwerp's dazzling young star Thibaut Vervoort who has been getting buckets like KFC.
He's not alone in providing highlights. Filip Krämer is a dunking machine and helped Graz prove their emergence last year was no fluke.
Doha Masters MVP Arvin Slagter from Amsterdam Talent & Pro has cemented himself as one of the most reliable snipers on the circuit to provide a perfect contrast to the serial driver Van der Horst.
We can't wait to see who else will step up when the fast and furious action returns.