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Team USA clinches worst-ever major-tournament finish with loss to Serbia

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Serbia talked big (“If we meet, may God help them“) then celebrated little.

This is how far Team USA has fallen.

The United States’ 94-89 loss to Serbia on Thursday ensures the Americans will finish seventh or eighth in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – their worst-ever finish in a major event. Their previous low was sixth in the 2002 World Championship.

Team USA will face the Czech Republic-Poland loser Saturday in the seventh/eighth-place game. The consolation end of the consolation bracket will provide no consolation. USA Basketball operates on a gold-or-bust standard, and this edition fell way short.

At least the Americans prevented greater embarrassment by making Thursday’s final score respectable. They fell behind by 25 points in the first quarter, appearing listless and heading toward a historically lopsided loss.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes (22 points) and Celtics guard Kemba Walker (18 points and eight assists) played far better than in yesterday’s loss to France. But they weren’t nearly good enough.

Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (28 points, shooting 7-of-14 on 3-pointers and 3-of-3 on 3-pointers) starred for Serbia. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (nine points, seven assists and no turnovers) dictated the game at his own pace.

This matchup was highly anticipated – just not here. Team USA and Serbia were expected to be top medal contenders. Instead, both fell in the quarterfinals.

Though facing major questions going forward, the United States still qualified for the 2020 Olympics as a top-two World Cup finisher among teams from the Americas. (Semifinalist Argentina is the other.) In a much deeper Europe, Serbia – which will finish fifth or sixth – didn’t crack that region’s top two.

Europe produced four teams in the top six – semifinalists Spain and France plus Serbia and the Czech Republic-Poland winner. The Americas’ third team was 13th-place Brazil. Another five European teams also finish ahead of Brazil – Czech Republic-Poland loser, Lithuania, Italy, Greece and Russia.

So, Team USA took the far easier route into the 2020 Games. The Americans didn’t even have to beat Serbia, which must secure one of four remaining spots in a qualifying tournament next year.

A rematch in Tokyo is far from assured. But a sequel between these potential-powerhouse teams could hold far more significance than Thursday’s game.

It’d be hard to hold less.

Nikola Jokic gets ejected from World Cup game vs. Spain (VIDEO)

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Referees have been a serious topic of conversation in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China this summer. Even defending NBA world champion and Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has complained about it.

So perhaps that’s why it wasn’t surprising when Denver Nuggets star and Serbian national team leader Nikola Jokic was ejected after arguing with referees on Sunday.

The play came midway through the third quarter after Jokic was trapped by Marc Gasol and Juancho Hernangomez. The baseline official called a jump ball, which infuriated Jokic.

He immediately began arguing with the ref, earning himself a technical foul and an ejection. After the game, coach Sasha Djordjevic wasn’t too pleased with Jokic’s decision.

Via Twitter and Yahoo:

“I did not like the stupid reaction of my player, who should be on the floor.

“We can even lose with him, why not if the other team is better? But he should stay on the floor and be one of the leaders.”

Serbia dropped the game to the Spaniards, 81-69.

Jokic and his countrymen will face Argentina in the quarterfinals on Sept. 10. Spain will take on Poland that same day.

Bol Bol reportedly to sign two-way contract with Denver Nuggets

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This is the perfect contract for Bol Bol. And the Denver Nuggets.

Bol, the No. 44 pick in the most recent draft and the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, will sign a two-way contract for the coming season, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This is a good fit because Bol has potential but also is raw and is going to need time in the G-League to get his body right and acclimate to the NBA-style game. Denver is a good development team and is taking this at the right pace.

Bol’s potential is not in question: He’s a 7’3″ big man who averaged 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.7 blocked shots a game at Oregon last season, and he’s as good a three-point as maybe anyone in this past draft class.

So why did a guy with lottery skills drop to 44th in the draft? He only played nine games at Oregon due to a Navicular bone fracture in his left foot — big men with foot issues worry teams (he didn’t play in Summer League in part to make sure he was fully recovered). More concerning, there are questions about how much he actually loves the game and will be willing to put in the work it would take to become a valuable NBA player.

That’s what Bol can prove in the G-League — that he’s got the drive and work ethic. He’s got to get stronger and be better at defensive recognition (although his length covers up a lot of mistakes), but it’s all within his reach. He’s just got to want it.

Denver made a smart move trading to draft for Bol in the middle of the second round, by that point there was little risk. Now giving him a two-way contract is the right move. The Nuggets have handled this well and the front office there is reportedly confident he can make the leap up to the NBA. Now it’s on Bol to reward that faith.

NBCsports.com’s “50 best players in 5 years” recap: Players 25-1

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This summer, the NBA team at NBCSports.com decided to take on a thought experiment: What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

We put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but we came up with one.

This is a quick recap of the players in the top 25, with an excerpt from the write up of each player. Here is a link to the summary of players 50-26, and if you want more detail here are the links to players 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, 10-6, and the top five.

25. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Age in 2024: 26)
How Gilgeous-Alexander will develop from here on out will be interesting to watch. His role is changing, and the playing environment and coaching style is changing. He’s not going to be Russell Westbrook — nobody is, plus they have very different games. Gilgeous-Alexander is more traditional point guard, more game manager, not an explosive isolation specialist who gets buckets.(Kurt Helin)

24. John Collins (Age in 2024: 26)
I made the declaration earlier this summer that Collins and Trae Young could be this generation’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash. I stand by that. Collins may not be as strong and polished offensively as Stoudemire, but they play with the same force around the basket. Every time Collins dunks, you wonder what the basket ever did to him to deserve that assault.. (Tom Haberstroh)

23. Kyrie Irving (Age in 2024: 32)
Brooklyn will help shape Irving’s legacy — he goes to a playoff team with a strong established culture through coach Kenny Atkinson, an organization with good young players already seen on this list in Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. In a year, once healthy, Kevin Durant will join them and form a squad that should be a title contender in the East. The questions abound: How does Irving fit in? How does his game evolve? His leadership skills? (Kurt Helin)

22. Ja Morant (Age in 2024: 25)
The best comparison in that sense is probably De'Aaron Fox, another spindly guard with sprinter’s speed and a jump shot that needs fine-tuning… The difference between Morant and Fox is passing ability. Morant has yet to play an NBA game, but I firmly believe he is going to be among the ten best players in the entire NBA when it comes to court vision, passing and the ability to make plays and create shots for teammates out of ball-screens. (Rob Dauster)

21. Deandre Ayton (Age in 2024: 26)
Ayton is going to be an offensive force in five years, at age 26, especially if he adds some range to his shot and the Suns let him explore other aspects of his game. However, how high he ultimately should be on this list will depend on a couple of other things. The big one is his defense — he struggled on this end as a rookie, with his recognition and as a rim protector. Ayton needs to become a defensive anchor for the Suns. The way the NBA is evolving, an offense-only big man who is not a good rim protector has a limited role. (Kurt Helin)

20. Pascal Siakam (Age in 2024: 30)
Siakam will be in his prime the next five years, and the question now becomes just where is his ceiling? He’s a 6’9” elite athlete who is a strong perimeter defender on one end and can create his own shot on the other. There are not a lot of those around. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse said that Siakam now has “gotta be the man” for the Raptors, can he be that No. 1 option… Siakam got a lot of wide-open looks at threes last season, with defenses often focused on Kawhi Leonard, but how will he adapt when he is the guy at the top of the opponent’s scouting report? (Kurt Helin)

19. Kristaps Porzingis (Age in 2024: 29)
When healthy Porzingis is a 7’3″ unicorn of a big man who can defend inside, run the floor, and knockdown threes. He averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game over his career with the Knicks, all while shooting 36.1 percent from three. There are no other big men who bring his skill set to the game. But will we get the same Porzingis going forward? How well will he move coming back from that ACL, and can he stay healthy?(Kurt Helin)

18. James Harden (Age in 2024: 34)
The questions for evaluators in this series were, “How good will Harden be at age 34 heading into his age 35 season? How will his game age?” Probably pretty well, which is why he is still so high on this list. Harden’s game is all about craft, it’s not built on his explosive athleticism or his freakish skills for someone so tall. Harden’s unconventional, hesitation-filled game is more about throwing his defenders off-balance — he has a lot of old-man-at-the-Y in his game. That will still work well as he ages.(Kurt Helin)

17. Bradley Beal (Age in 2024: 31)
Beal is going to be one of the top shooting guards in the game the next five years as he is just entering his prime. Beal has made more threes in his career than any other player through their age 25 season (Beal has 1,071, Klay Thompson is second at 1,060, then Stephen Curry is third with 905). Beal can shoot the three (35.1 percent last season), put the ball on the floor and drive, moves well off the ball (he ran more total miles last season during games — 222.7 total, or 2.75 per game — than any player in the league), and is an active and willing defender. (Kurt Helin)

16. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Age in 2024: 24)
This kid has Chris Bosh written all over him — and he can be even better. It feels odd to call him “kid” when his game screams wily veteran. Jackson Jr. is still just 19 years old, but he already can stretch the floor and block shots like a seasoned big… Jackson’s game is tailor made for the pace-and-space era. He made 51 triples last season and converted 35.9 percent of his tries beyond the arc, making him one of the sweetest shooting bigs in the league already. He has a guard-like handle and moves fluidly on the block. (Tom Haberstroh)

15. Jamal Murray (Age in 2024: 27)
Murray averaged 18.2 points a game while shooting 36.7 percent from three last season, plus he added 4.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists per night… The key for Denver wasn’t just the scoring threat, although that mattered, but also Murray kept the ball moving and made teams pay for focusing too much defensive attention on Jokic. In the playoffs, Murray upped his game and became the offensive bellwether for the team — when Murray struggled on offense (settling for too many contested mid-range jumpers) the Denver offense stalled out, but when he was confidently draining threes and moving the ball they were hard to stop. (Kurt Helin)

14. De’Aaron Fox (Age in 2024: 26)
“I’m always looking toward the future, individually and I think everybody has to be a little selfish in that aspect,” Fox told NBC Sports. “To continue to grow, to continue to be the kind of player I can be, to put the league on notice that I’m here, I’m established, and just continue to grow as a man.”

Fox has personal goals — becoming an All-Star, to start — plus the team goal of getting the Kings to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. To get there will take more than just speed, the craft of Fox’s game needs to catch up with that pace. (Kurt Helin)

13. Devin Booker (Age in 2024: 27)
Booker is an exceptional scorer for his age. Last season, he made real strides rounding out his offensive game – converting from all areas inside the arc, drawing fouls and distributing. He’s ready to be a go-to scorer. His knockdown 3-point shooting also gives him a chance to play a secondary role on a better team if he ever joins one. Defense remains a huge shortcoming, though. That fits into larger questions about the habits Booker is developing. (Dan Feldman)

12. Jayson Tatum (Age in 2024: 26)
Boston needs Tatum to return to his trajectory as an elite player next season. Tatum had an impressive rookie season that had him looking like a franchise cornerstone (especially in the playoffs when he averaged 18.5 points a game and was a quality shot creator). However, he plateaued in his second season, likely in part due to the failed chemistry experiment the Celtics became. Tatum got hung up in that, not moving the ball and his shot selection getting worse. The USA Basketball experience and time with Gregg Popovich will help Tatum move on from last season, there’s a lot of basketball knowledge to soak up. (Kurt Helin)

11. Joel Embiid (Age in 2024: 30)
Embiid’s winding road, fairly or unfairly, makes projecting him difficult. No matter how many 30-15-5 nights Embiid puts up, it’s hard to put aside the injury variable that delayed his NBA career two years. With two surgeries on his navicular bone and nagging knee issues on that enormous frame, there’s no doubt that Embiid’s health record keeps him outside of the top-10.

Because if we look at Embiid’s age, talent and production, he should be much closer to the top, if not right at the top. At 25 years old, he’s at the front edge of his prime. He just averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists while making over 100 jumpers outside 16 feet. There’s almost nothing he can’t do on the basketball court. (Tom Haberstroh)

10. Trae Young (Age in 2024: 25)
Young can shoot with range, is a gifted passer, and is working on taking the next steps in his development. He has to get stronger (he reportedly added 10 pounds this summer), has to become a better defender, has to learn to finish better on drives (he needs a floater and to be able to score through or around contact better at the rim, ala Stephen Curry). Most of all, the Hawks need him to be a leader, to be the guy that pulls this franchise back to the postseason, and eventually all the way to heights not seen in decades in Atlanta. (Kurt Helin)

9. Ben Simmons (Age in 2024: 28)
Simmons, 23, is a special all-around talent. The 6-foot-10 point guard thrives in the open court. He quickly turns his defensive rebounds into fastbreaks the other way, attacks the basket and zips passes all over the court. His defense is stellar due both to his versatility and lockdown ability. No wonder the 76ers gave him a max contract extension so quickly. But he has a huge flaw: Jump shots… While Simmons is one of the safest bets to be a star in five years, it’s difficult to envision him becoming a superstar. There’s a ceiling on guards who can’t shoot from outside. (Dan Feldman)

8. Donovan Mitchell (Age in 2024: 27)
“Last summer was different,” Mitchell said when Team USA stopped in Los Angeles for training camp. “I’m healthy. I’ve been able to travel a little bit, but I’ve been able to put in work. And this is just another step to get better.”

Just how good can Mitchell be in five years? He will be 27, in his prime, and Utah believes he will lead the franchise back to the biggest stages, the ones they have not been on since the Stockton/Malone era… Mitchell wants the pressure — he hasn’t shied away from the responsibility of leading Team USA. He is not shy about talking about his goals for the Jazz, which go beyond just making the playoffs again next season. (Kurt Helin)

7. Karl-Anthony Towns (Age in 2024: 28)
Towns has all the tools. He’s big, mobile and skilled. The list of 7-footers who’ve shot 3-pointers and scored like him might end at Dirk Nowitzki. But for all his talent, Towns hasn’t brought the necessary intensity. He has too often failed to assert himself offensively. His defensive effort and execution are consistently lacking. There just isn’t enough force in his game. Towns started to come around late last season… Towns is just 23. There’s so much time for him to figure this out. He’s already a star with this approach. If he develops a mindset to dominate, he could become the NBA’s very best player. (Dan Feldman)

6. Kawhi Leonard (Age in 2024: 33)
This ranking is a big bet on health. The question is not, “can Kawhi Leonard be a great player in five years at age 33?” He is an elite NBA talent now in his prime, one that just led the Toronto Raptors to an NBA title averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game in the playoffs. He is as good a perimeter defender as there is in the game right now, something that will not change much as he ages. Offensively he can get his own shot, create for others, he shot 37.1 percent from three last season, but what is most impressive is his footwork and ability to get to his spots on the floor. His mechanical, physical style will age well. If he’s healthy. That remains the cloud over Leonard. (Kurt Helin)

5. Zion Williamson (Age in 2024: 24)
I’ll put it bluntly — I think Zion is the kind of talent that can redefine the way basketball has to be played in the NBA the same way that Steph Curry did, that LeBron James did, that Shaquille O’Neal did. His physical tools, his skill-set, and his basketball IQ are all that high… The big question for me is going to be how well his health holds up. He’s 270-something pounds with a vertical leap that gets damn near four feet. (Rob Dauster)

4. Nikola Jokic (Age in 2024: 29)
Jokic is a reigning All-NBA first-team player. He’s the best-passing center in NBA history. And he’s just 24… Jokic is the only second-round pick in these rankings. He’s not a great athlete. But he quickly impressed with his great feel for the game. It shows in his passing. It shows in his nose for the ball on rebounds. It even shows on his defense. That’s the area Jokic can most improve. Though his basketball intelligence translates to defense, Jokic’s athletic limitations also factor prominently. (Dan Feldman)

3. Luka Doncic (Age in 2024: 25)
Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6 assists a game in a historic rookie season that had him as the Rookie of the Year. He already makes decisions and plays like a 10-year veteran when coming off the pick-and-roll, his feel for the game is amazing. His court vision and passing were everything that were advertised, but it comes in a physically strong 6’7” package that allows him to see the court, pass over smaller players, and he showed he could handle contact… There are a few things that need to follow to reach that potential. His defense needs to improve. He needs to cut down on turnovers… The biggest issue is conditioning. (Kurt Helin)

2. Anthony Davis (Age in 2024: 31)
If we’re going to nitpick, he’s more of a finisher than a creator. That should work just fine playing with LeBron James on the Lakers. But in the long run, the NBA’s second-best player is usually more capable of manufacturing a bucket when his team needs one. Maybe Davis is just so good at everything else, he’ll still deserve this lofty ranking without improved individual-scoring ability. I’d bet on him developing that skill, though… Last season was the first time Davis shined as a passer. He’s clearly still adding to his game. That ought to terrify the rest of the league. (Dan Feldman)

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Age in 2024: 29)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (age 24) just won Most Valuable Player over James Harden (age 30) and Paul George (age 29). Just two other MVPs in NBA history have been so much younger than the second- and third-place finishers.

In 1958, Bill Russell won MVP then won 10 more championships and four more MVPs in his career. In 1972, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won MVP than won five more championships and four more MVPs in his career.

Antetokounmpo is poised to take over the NBA for a long time. (Dan Feldman)

Five teams with a shot to beat Team USA in FIBA World Cup

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The road to the FIBA World Cup title still goes through the USA.

Not literally, the tournament in China tipped off today and will be played there through Sept. 15. But the USA is still the team to beat, the heavy favorite. Westgate Sports Book in Las Vegas has the United States at -175 to win the whole thing. Even with all the headlines here focused on who is not playing and the lack of star power, the USA still has the deepest pool of talent on the planet to draw from. This is still a very good team.

But they are vulnerable, to use the word of USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo. Maybe to only a handful of teams, but that is more than in years past.

Who are those handful of teams that could knock off Team USA? Here are the top five.

SERBIA

Led by Nikola Jokic, and with Bogdan Bogdanovic on the wing, Serbia has been the second-best team in the world for at least five years now. They picked up silver medals at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics. The Serbians are talented, deep, experienced, and they have the chemistry of a team that has been playing together for years, which is why the oddsmakers have them at just 2-1 to win it all. Milos Teodosic is sitting this one out and they will miss his playmaking, but Jokic’s passing will keep the offense moving. There are questions about the Serbian defense, but this team has the best shot at knocking off Team USA — and getting revenge for those silver medals.

GREECE

Why is Greece a threat to beat the USA and win it all? Two words: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the first time in a long time, the best player in an international tournament will not be an American. The NBA MVP has some good talent around him, such as former NBA player Nick Calathes (a quality point guard who can set up the Greek shooters), but in the end it’s all about Antetokounmpo. Every team that faces Greece has to ask, “who do we have who can slow him?” Team USA does not have a good answer to that question.

SPAIN

No team epitomizes the chemistry of a group that has played together for years — in the case of some members of the Spanish team, decades — than Spain. After the USA beat them in an exhibition a couple of weeks ago, Donovan Mitchell marveled at how Spain did not call plays at the end of the game, but rather would just point or even nod and every player knew what to do next. They also have talent — Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Hernangomez, Willy Hernangomez, Sergio Llull, and more. This team is older and — with some key players sitting this one out — lacks athleticism, but they are still a threat on the international stage.

FRANCE

They are anchored in the paint by the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, which would make matchups against Antetokounmpo and the Greeks or Kemba Walker/Mitchell and the Americans interesting. France also has talent on the perimeter such as Evan Fournier and Frank Ntilikina. This should be a stout defensive team that will struggle a little to score, but they are sleepers to win the whole thing.

AUSTRALIA

They have already beaten the Americans once. Granted, that was in their home country in front of 52,000 rabid fans on a night Patty Mills got red hot, but still they did it.

And three years ago in the Olympics, the Australians pushed the USA, losing by 10 to a stacked American squad that needed a late-game burst from Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony to pull away a little. There is talent on the roster including Joe Ingles and Andrew Bogut, but the Boomers are considered a longshot to win it all. That said, we know they are capable of beating Team USA.