Splash Brothers Ready for the World Cup
by Brian Witt
Training camp is over. The roster has been set. Now it’s time to go show the world once again that the USA is tops when it comes to global basketball supremacy.
The first-ever FIBA Basketball World Cup (previously known as the World Championship) tips off this Saturday, and it’s safe to say that it’s Champions-or-bust for Team USA. Even with guaranteed roster locks such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love declining to participate, Team USA still boasts a talent level unmatched by any other squad in the world. Paul George’s unfortunate injury was certainly the low-point of the evaluation process, but it’s the type of competition from which that resulted that makes the U.S. the favorites to begin with. Several extremely talented and qualified players were left off the final 12-man roster, and the Warriors are one of two teams (Sacramento being the other) with a pair of teammates on the national squad.
Stephen Curry had long been considered a lock to make the team and did nothing to cast doubt on that, but Klay Thompson’s status coming into training camp was certainly in question. However, after training camp and a series of international exhibitions, it became readily apparent that Thompson not only proved to be a valuable asset to the team headed to Spain, but also that he provides a much- needed skill set. When asked to evaluate what he’s seen from Thompson throughout the evaluation process, Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski responded, “I knew he was really good, he’s better than what I thought. He’s a great competitor and really good defender.” It’s that ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor that quickly replaced the question mark by Thompson’s name with that of a check, and now he’s poised to not only be a member of the main rotation of the roster, but is also expected to receive significant playing time. While Warriors fans are obviously well-aware of his capabilities, those who don’t watch Golden State games on a nightly basis haven’t had as much of a chance to see the specialness of the Splash Brothers. Now, in Spain, it’s a chance for Curry and Thompson to break out as a duo on an international level.
The World Cup will host 24 teams divided into four groups of six nations each. Teams will play a round-robin within their group, at the conclusion of which the top four teams from each group will advance to a single-elimination tournament. Whereas the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team received an incredibly tough draw in the “Group of Death” in the recently completed World Cup, the scheduling gods were much kinder to the Americans when it came to basketball. Placed in Group C with the Dominican Republic, Turkey, Finland, New Zealand, and Ukraine, the U.S. sits as the unquestioned favorite to finish first in the group in pool play, which should set them up nicely for the elimination round. For instance, they were placed on the opposite side of the bracket as host-nation Spain, widely considered the biggest threat to Team USA’s championship hopes, meaning they wouldn’t encounter the Spaniards until the Championship Game. Conversely, Spain will have to go through the likes of Brazil, Serbia, and Argentina – much stiffer competition – in order to reach that point. However, although things are set up nicely for U.S. success, the fact remains that this is basketball after all, and games are played on a court, not on paper. As the unquestioned favorites, Team USA will have a target on their backs and will likely get the opposing team’s full effort in every contest. They would be unwise to assume victory will come easily.
For Team USA, the fact that it’s championship-or-bust is just an inherent expectation that accompanies being the best. The standard has been set for decades, and it’s up to this new generation of players to maintain that level of excellence. For Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, this is both an honor and an opportunity. It’s every player’s dream to represent their country at the highest levels of international competition, and both Splash Brothers most definitely deserve this recognition. However, playing alongside arguably the best talent they will ever be teamed up with, the chance is there for the Warriors’ duo to leave their mark on national basketball history, and for each to show the world just how talented and special they are. Watching these games should be a source of pride for all Warriors fans, as it’s no coincidence that their favorite backcourt will have plenty to do with determining whether or not Team USA comes home with the gold. If the Splash Brothers do their thing, which at this point should surprise no one, you have to feel pretty good about their chances.