Serbia finished a disappointing fifth in the FIBA World Cup in China last summer (which means they need to go through a qualifying tournament for the 2020 Olympics). That despite having arguably the best player in the tournament in Nikola Jokic and the leading scorer in the tournament (in total points) in Bogdan Bogdanovic.
After that, coach Aleksandar Djordjevic stepped down, and former Suns’ head coach, now Kings’ assistant coach, Igor Kokoskov was hired to replace him. Now Kokoskov will have Nuggets coach Mike Malone working with him. Via Mark Stein of the New York Times:
The Serbian basketball federation is in advanced discussions with Mike Malone to hire the Nuggets' coach as a top aide and consultant to Serbia head coach and Kings assistant Igor Kokoskov for this summer's Olympic campaign, according to league sources
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) January 14, 2020
The hiring has since been confirmed by sources in Europe.
This seems a smart hire on a couple of levels. First, Malone knows Jokic’s game as well as anyone, which includes how to keep him motivated and focused. Denver uses Jokic as the fulcrum of the offense and we should expect Serbia to do more of that.
Malone, and Kokoskov, also will bring more of an NBA style to Serbia. They need that. At the World Cup, Djordjevic treated the Serbian team like a European-league team — those teams don’t have the elite, standout talents of an NBA team (players such as Jokic), so they focus on balanced scoring and spread out the minutes. Jokic was not used as the fulcrum of the offense but an interchangeable part.
Look at the international teams that thrived at the World Cup — Spain, France, Australia — and they played more of an NBA style with a heavy reliance on their best players. Talent still wins out in basketball and Serbia took the ball out of their star’s hands in China.
Don’t expect the same thing this summer.
Serbia will go to Tokyo as one of the second-tier favorites (a stacked USA team will be the clear favorites), along with France and Spain. Serbia should be thinking medal podium in Tokyo, and adding Malone to the staff will help with that.