While the 2019-20 NBA season is still a couple of months away, basketball fans can whet their appetite for hoops with the upcoming FIBA World Cup. While the basketball version of the World Cup may not be as renowned as the soccer version, the tournament is still a marquee event on the calendar.
The World Cup was originally known as the FIBA World Championship from 1950 until 2010. The event initially overlapped with the soccer version, but the 2014 edition FIBA decided to push the basketball tournament back by a year. So, the FIBA World Cup will again be held every four years following this year’s competition, which will take place in China.
The United States and Yugoslavia are tied for the most FIBA World Cup titles all-time, though obviously Yugoslavia no longer exists. The Americans have claimed back-to-back World Cup titles heading into the 2019 competition, though there are plenty of question marks surrounding their ability to three-peat. Even so, the US is listed as a prohibitive favorite to win it all once again.
BetOnlinehas the Americans listed at -225 to win the 2019 FIBA World Cup, with Serbia (+350) being the only other team with odds better than +1000. Greece (+1000), Spain (+1600), France (+2800), Canada (+3300), Australia (+4000), and Lithuania (+5000) look like the only realistic contenders among the 32 teams in the field.
Will the United States make it three straight FIBA World Cup titles? Or will a new champion rise to the top?
The field of 32 teams is divided into eight groups with four teams apiece. The best basketball betting sites have odds for each team to win their respective group. Because the US is such a heavy favorite to win the tournament, there isn’t a ton of betting value when it comes to trying to pick the winner. So, one way to make money betting on the FIBA World Cup is to pick group winners.
At first glance, Groups A and H offer decent value. Group A features host nation China as well as the Ivory Coast, Poland, and Venezuela. The group obviously isn’t laden with traditional basketball powerhouses, and China is pretty clearly the best. China has been steadily improving on the basketball front over the past 20 years, and the hosts are priced as -115 favorites as of this writing.
Zhou Qi and Yi Jianlian are the only players on the roster with NBA experience, but that could well prove to be more than enough to get this team out of the group. Poland looks like the only other squad with an even remote chance of topping Group A, but I would stick with the Chinese as -115 favorites.
Group H is pretty clearly the “Group of Death” in this field. Australia, Lithuania, and Canada all have legitimate chances to contend for the FIBA World Cup title this year, yet they were all drawn into the same group. Senegal has the misfortune of being the other team in the group. I’d say they can be safely written off considering they’re listed at +20000.
Australia would be a whole lot more imposing if Ben Simmons hadn’t pulled out of the competition. The team still has a handful of NBAers (Aron Baynes, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut), but there’s nobody you’d call a star in the world’s best league. Lithuania has a couple of fearsome big men in Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis, while Canada is quickly becoming one of the best basketball-playing countries on earth.
Unfortunately, most of the best Canadians aren’t playing in the FIBA World Cup. The Canadians will be without Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, Dwight Powell, Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, R.J. Barrett, and a host of others. This team would be a legitimate contender if they were at full strength, but with so much talent watching from the sidelines, I think we can write them off to win Group H at +300.
So, it’s down to Australia (+125) and Lithuania (+140). Those familiar with NBA players may be tempted to take Australia, but I slightly prefer the better value on Lithuania.
As mentioned, the American team is not nearly as strong as some of the teams that have represented the country on the world stage in recent years. The team that won the FIBA World Cup five years ago had an embarrassment of riches. Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, and Klay Thompson were among them. All five would be in the conversation for the best player on the current roster. Most of the best American players have decided to skip the World Cup in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA campaign.
The best player representing the US in 2019 is probably Kemba Walker. Walker is an excellent player, but he likely wouldn’t make the cut if the best American point guards were all participating. Walker figures to be the focal point of the United States’ offense, while Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum also provide solid scoring options on the wing.
Shooting shouldn’t be an issue for this team, as Khris Middleton, Joe Harris, and even Brook Lopez can help space the floor around the aforementioned scorers. Myles Turner and Mason Plumlee give the US some solid rim protection defensively as well. Top to bottom, this is still pretty clearly the best team (on paper) in the field.
The US has been drawn into Group E, which also features Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Japan. The Americans are -10000 favorites to win the group. Needless to say, there’s not much betting appeal there.
Serbia has arguably one of the two best players in the tournament in Nikola Jokic, who plies his craft for the Denver Nuggets at the club level. Jokic is the type of do-it-all center that has the ability to dominate every game on the international stage, and there are not many teams equipped to deal with his combination of skill and size. I like the way Turner matches up with Jokic on the American side, but the big man should have no issue asserting his will against lesser opponents.
Greece can’t be overlooked either, primarily because of reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is another guy that should prove to be unguardable against most opponents. He missed Greece’s final tune-up game against Venezuela, but he should be good to go when the tournament begins. Giannis will be joined on the Greek roster by his brother, Thanasis, as well as former University of Florida standout Nick Calathes and former Kings lottery pick George Papagiannis.
Even without the likes of LeBron James, James Harden, and Steph Curry this time around, the FIBA World Cup is still the USA’s to lose. The relatively thin roster may mean their margins of victory won’t be as impressive as we’ve seen in other recent competitions, but it would still be fairly shocking if the Americans fell short in their quest to make it back-to-back-to-back FIBA World Cup championships.
Greece is an understandably trendy underdog pick at +1000 thanks to Antetokounmpo, but Serbia is pretty clearly the biggest threat to the US. Jokic is going to be an awful lot to handle, and this team looks a whole lot better than the squad that was routed by nearly 40 points by the US in the title game five years ago.
Given the FIBA World Cup odds, I would prefer to bet on some group stage winners as opposed to taking the Americans at their current -225 odds to win. Serbia makes for a fine long shot bet at +350, especially considering the US is still a bit short-handed. A rematch of the 2014 championship game is in the offing, and the same result looks fairly likely.
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