FIBA World Cup 2022: Takeaways and Standouts

One of the greatest parts about basketball is how an environmental change can drastically alter play style. International play, in particular, turns much of what’s known and given on its head. Rosters are different, roles change, and those two monumental shifts redirect the game entirely; it’s awesome!

Where else can we see a team assembled like the United States national team? Every single player on this squad has been an All-Star except lone rookie Shakira Austin. While the star power emanates off the page, this group’s ball movement and collective decision-making stand out for me.

This is a star-studded team, but they’re playing intuitive basketball and with some flair.

First off, I love using Chelsea Gray as the first screener to make it harder to guard the action with her popping to the corner. She lifts up towards the slot as the play develops and adds some strain to the defense, and Jewell Loyd capitalizes with the type of pass you can’t really plan for. It’s concise, gorgeous, and effective, and that’s all Gray needs to splash effortlessly.

I love their flow offensively in the half-court, progressing through reads and actions fluidly into their best openings.

Where this team’s bread is buttered is on the defensive end. That’s an understatement; where their croissant is doused in ghee? Is lox finished off with capers? You get the point; this defense is insane.

They smothered Belgium, getting out to a monstrous early lead behind an all-out pressure defense, forcing 25 turnovers in the game. Kahleah Copper’s on-ball defense was key on Sky teammate Julie Allemand in particular. Few replicate the way she gets down in a stance and locks in.

She’s had a bevy of ball-handlers seeing ghosts. What’s made the US’ ball pressure so remarkable is their rotations behind that pressure, as well as the rarity of breakdown. Even if a slight advantage is gained off a screen or with a savvy dribble move, who you then dribble into is mesmerizing as an analyst and terrifying as opposition.

This sees minute from the outside looking in, a four-five switch on the pick and roll with an eventual miss. Looking at this holistically, you’re getting Breanna Stewart switched off of you, a DPOY candidate, to have the 2022 DPOY switched onto you, to drive into Alyssa Thomas’ help at the nail. That’s three of the five best defensive players in basketball at the moment. That’s insane! One team’s level of defense, length, speed, and aptitude is wild.

The team can routinely run out lineups containing five players that have made All-Defensive teams. This is the type of basketball I yearn for.

Other teams have cleanly stood out as well for their difference in roster construction. The Australian national team is grabbing headlines for Lauren Jackson’s return, which has admittedly been very cool to see.

She’s, of course, not the same player she once was, but she brings a punch with her intersection of size and skill. I think they’re still figuring out how they want to play defensively with Jackson in the game. She has fantastic instincts, which has led to some great plays, but at 41, she’s lost a step (or two) laterally. Some interesting chess match-esque adjustments were going on during the Australia/France game that I think will play out and are worth watching for in the coming games. She did some hedging, played more in drop, and had moments closer to the screen. My guess is they continue to mix and match based on each game and personnel.

As for personnel, can we talk about Bec Allen? I love Bec Allen’s game, and it’s been on full display at FIBA.

I wouldn’t consider Allen a great passer, her accuracy can be shoddy, but she makes very quick decisions, which is pivotal for her role. She touches the ball a lot, but rarely for very long. She shoots, or she moves the ball and moves herself. This is what makes it so humorous that she soaks up so much of the offense’s touches/usage. She exemplifies what I find funky and fun about this roster.

They lack a true downhill ball-handling threat, so the majority of their looks to set up any sort of paint touches are borne out of weave action, East/West movement, and secondary pick and rolls. They equally thrive and die on their shooting.

The majority of their playmaking reads and ability to manipulate a defense come through pick and roll, and the way a defense adapts to their ability to take and make shots off the dribble. When the shots are falling, they open the gaps that open up Ezi Magbegor on the roll or allow a quick drive and kick to secondary or tertiary action. It’s incredibly fun to watch.

Turnovers and missed shots are killers, though, proving costly as the game closed out against France, and they went cold. They have a ton of quality ball-handlers and defense throughout the team, but if they make a run, it’s going to be reliant on their shot-making.

Shifting to another team showing out; Canada. No longer undefeated after a fantastic game that ended with a loss against the host-nation Opals, Canada has really impressed me. I thought coming in that they’d be fun, but their guard play gives them a verve I’ve really enjoyed early on. Shay Colley is extremely fun!

I was so hot watching when this didn’t end up an assist! Nirra Fields brings a shiftiness on the ball alongside her shot-making and crafty passing that’s difficult not to admire and appreciate.

Add Kia Nurse back into the fold, playing currently on a minutes restriction, and you have a trio of players who can all shift on and off the ball to varying degrees. That’s proven difficult for opposing teams to defend.

Canada also has the size in the frontcourt with Kayla Alexander and Natalie Achonwa. South Carolina player Laeticia Amihere brings crucial depth as well and has had really intriguing flashes in spite of some struggles from the field.

While multiple teams have stood out, individual players have shined equally, if not more. French team Gabby Williams is special.

The team at large is in an odd spot, as with Marine Johannes sidelined; they are pretty lacking with respect to ball-handling and playmaking off the dribble.

Finishing through contact, pull-up jumpers, coast to coast strafes, Williams has had it all as a scorer in international play as the French team has primarily played through her. She runs point in transition and comes off of screens into secondary actions in the half-court. Her stellar all-around play has mitigated many of France’s offensive issues.

Her playmaking has been fantastic, routinely generating paint touches, drawing, and manipulating the defense. Her assist numbers don’t imply her true value as a passer, especially given some of France’s struggles from the field in their latest game against Canada.

Arella Guirantes has played inspired basketball for Puerto Rico. The former Sparks player has dazzled as the hub of the team’s offense, scoring with step-backs, pull-ups, fadeaways, and at-rim finishes. While she doesn’t create separation in a typical sense with speed and acceleration, her strength and handle give her just enough room to get her game off.

She currently leads the field in scoring, averaging 20 points per game across three games on 53.7% true-shooting. Guirantes struggled against the United States, as they really squeezed her with pressure and were adept at forcing her into tough attempts, but she handled aggressive coverages much better against Belgium. Her blend of playmaking and shot creation at the wing spots is incredibly tantalizing.

Mya Hollingshed has also been impressive for Puerto Rico. She still has some rawness in her defensive feel and how she sees the court, but her rim protection has flashed repeatedly. Her shooting stroke is incredibly smooth, and I love her pick-and-pop game.

The player I probably knew the least about who’s plastered themselves in my mind for the future is Li Meng of China. First and foremost, China traveled incredibly well for last night’s game in Sydney against the USA; that crowd was jam-packed and raucous. Meng has incredibly fun and funky pacing as a wing. She moves well without the ball, which opens her up to be even more effective when she’s on it.

I really like her dump-offs and flips to the dunker spot when she gets driven to the interior. The shot is for real, by the way, folks!

Last season in the WCBA, Meng shot nearly 50/40/90 (42% from deep), averaging 15 points and nearly 5.5 assists. She possesses really good functional strength, I like her handle for her role, and she hasn’t seemed overwhelmed defensively either. She can flat-out play.

The World Cup has been a joy already, and it’s still in its early stages, be sure to check out the games on ESPN + as the tournament continues to heat up!

WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs..