2023 FIBA World Cup

World Cup Standouts Day 7: Lauri Markkanen leads Finland to 1st win

Take a look at the players who stood out the most during FIBA World Cup play on Aug. 31.

Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen and Finland broke through and notched their first win at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Thursday’s games featured the countries whose teams did not qualify for the 2nd Round. The outcomes of these Classification Games, however, do begin to sort and cement their respective FIBA world rankings coming out of this World Cup. It’s an important part in establishing the basketball world’s new pecking order. Strong finishes to the tournament can serve as a hint of an up-and-coming national team’s staying power, just as it did for Spain in the 1980s, Argentina in the 1990s, and France and Slovenia at the turn of the 2010s.

Here’s a look at who stood out on that stage in Thursday’s Classification Games of the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

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Lauri Markkanen, Finland

It was a rough go for Markkanen and winless Finland in the 1st round, but both he and his country bounced back emphatically in their 100-77 victory over Cape Verde. The Utah Jazz All-Star poured in 34 points on just 19 shot attempts and 26 minutes, with Finland outscoring Cape Verde by the exact margin of victory while Markkanen was on the floor. It’s a solid step for the “The Wolf Pack,” which is playing in just its second FIBA World Cup in national team history.

Pako Cruz and Fabian Jaimes, Mexico

Like Finland, Mexico did not score a victory in the opening round. Cruz and Jaimes helped snap that streak, the former with outside shooting, the latter with all-around excellence. Cruz, the 33-year-old guard and FIBA veteran, drained six of his nine attempts from 3-point range en route to a team-high 27 points. Jaimes, meanwhile, stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Mexico’s 108-100 victory over New Zealand was its first in the FIBA World Cup since the country’s last appearance in 2014, where it finished 14th overall.

Makoto Hiejima and Yuta Watanabe, Japan

A tough group draw in the 1st Round did Japan no favors, but that didn’t deter them from one of the most thrilling comebacks in World Cup history on Thursday. Venezuela led by as much as 15 in the third quarter before Hiejima, a former Japanese league MVP, caught fire. The 33-year-old guard scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, finishing a sparkling 8-for-12 overall and 6-for-7 from 3-point range. Watanabe, signed by the Phoenix Suns during the NBA offseason, added 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. The victory is Japan’s first in the World Cup since 2006.

Amir Saoud and Omari Spellman, Lebanon

A brutal 1st round draw left Lebanon winless, but its dynamic guard-forward duo of Saoud and Spellman ensured the Mediterranean country did not stay that way. Saoud, a long-time Lebanese league veteran, ran the offense that shot 50% overall and from beyond the arc. Individually, he amassed 29 points, five rebounds and eight assists. Spellman, a first-round NBA draft pick in 2018, added 25 points, six rebounds and five assists. The duo combined to shoot 11-for-22 from 3-point range in Lebanon’s first FIBA World Cup win since 2010.

Carlik Jones, South Sudan

After leading South Sudan to its first ever World Cup win three days ago, Jones nearly broke another barrier with the first triple-double in the tournament’s history. The 25-year-old Chicago Bulls guard came one rebound shy in the country’s 87-68 win over the Philippines, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists. South Sudan outscored its opponent by 30 with Jones on the floor. Only 12 years old as a national team, the “Bright Stars” are well on their way to an encouraging final World Cup ranking.