Basketball

FIBA World Cup needs rethink and reform after US dominance

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It may be the basketball cousin to the FIFA World Cup, but the FIBA World Cup passed by with a fraction of the coverage.

The event is effectively pointless. The United States, without Kevin Durant or LeBron James or Kevin Love or Paul George or Blake Griffin, basically sent a 'B' team.

Still a very talented team, boasting the likes of Steph Curry and James Harden, and it still blew away the competition. Their closest game in the tournament, against Turkey in the group stage, was a 19-point blowout.

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The final, against Serbia, was a three-point shooting clinic with a 37-point margin of victory in favour of Mike Krzyzewski and Co.

International basketball doesn't have much going for it. A qualifier for the Rio Olympics, it doesn't possess the 'Dream Team' magic of that tournament, or offer the chance to be part of history with a gold medal.

There's no draw, and for NBA players forced through a marathon 82-game season plus playoffs, there's no motivation at all to play through a gruelling tournament 3000 miles away.

Such is the dominance of the United States though, they could send a roster packed full of All-Stars but still missing their top-tier talent and dominate from tip-off to buzzer.

The tournament needs a rethink, and a potential solution could come from Olympic soccer.

Olympic Soccer

Here, nations are invited to submit rosters made up of under-23s plus three 'over-age' exemptions. The Olympics recognises it will never compete with the World Cup in terms of global prestige for a soccer tournament.

But it can give fans the opportunity to see the next up and coming young stars from around the world compete in a unique format.

Because the FIBA World Cup has a unique format - basketball doesn't usually play round robin matches followed by knock-out games.

Insist each squad contains a certain quota of young stars and you help to level the playing field, while rosters could still be bolstered by the addition of one, two or three All-Stars.

In theory, the United States could supplement its roster with LeBron, Carmelo and Durant but in reality these stars are always likely to drop out of tournaments like this. With time scarce and bodies aching, what's the point of playing another competition with little to offer apart from the fig leaf of 'world dominance'.

Possible US roster?

That would restrict the US to three 'All-Star' players, in this case maybe James Harden, Steph Curry and Derrick Rose. Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving would automatically qualify as under-23s.

The US roster would still be strong, but it wouldn't be quite as dominant. Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins - these guys would be left at home and in their place would be up and comers.

Andre Drummond would go from bench warmer to potential starter. We might see Jabari Parker, or Marcus Smart, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Trey Burke. The US couldn't stack its roster with Durant, Griffin and George even if it wanted to.

The US would still boast the strongest team, which they should as they're the strongest basketball playing nation, but the opportunity would be there for other teams.

Typically, smaller basketball playing nations have two or three elite players - think of Spain and the Gasols plus Ricky Rubio or France and Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum.

They would still be able to compete, as the cap would artificially prevent the United States from bringing a roster of All-Stars while allowing the likes of Spain to retain their best players.

Time for change?

The FIBA World Cup needs to reinvent itself to drum up interest. The competition for a basketball fan's attention is strong, with a November-to-June NBA season and Olympic basketball too.

Like all US sports, international competition has a stigma attached to it - US sports are best done by US athletes, that's the widely held belief in the NBA and NFL, while it was until recently in baseball too.

In terms of pure skill level, the FIBA World Cup can never match the NBA Finals but it shouldn't be placed on the same terms.

Create a competitive tournament for the best young players in the world, make it a key stop on the path to development for the next superstars, and pepper it with the odd big-name to create a unique, interesting and challenging competition.

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