In the last round of the 2023 FIBA World Cup qualifiers, we saw three basketball giants stumble and fall. Serbia lost at home to Belgium, and Lithuania also lost at home to the Czech Republic. Both Serbia and Lithuania are top-10 teams in the FIBA World ranking. Reigning world champion Spain also lost to Georgia. But these losses are hardly a surprise anymore. They are symptomatic of the colliding schedules of the FIBA, Euroleague, and the NBA.
As a result, the strongest basketball countries often play with a “best of the rest team,” missing out on many of their NBA and Euroleague stars. They also face an additional handicap: those players who are available to play for the national team also play at a high level. Their season is long, so there is no preparation time for the national team.
All this gives smaller countries a considerable advantage. They can put together their best players and afford a much more extended preparation period.
Consequently, surprises like the above are more and more common, but is that good for basketball? Or is there a risk of FIBA tournaments becoming second-rate events?