MANILA, Philippines — The basketball talent that came to the Philippines probably won’t compare to next year’s Paris Olympics.
Having said that, the competition level at the 2023 FIBA World Cup was robust as is often the case in major international events.
Fans will get their last look at the World Cup stars in Sunday’s final two games of the tournament, starting with Team USA and Team Canada in the bronze-medal game (4:45 a.m. ET, ESPN+) and then the gold-medal game between Team Serbia and Team Germany (8:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2).
Topping off some terrific performances and clutch play, here is a look at the players who made the biggest impacts:
As coach Steve Kerr said, he proved this summer he can be “the guy.” Yes, he’s a first-class scorer (18.1 points per game) who can create his own shot, execute at all three levels and is a highlight machine. But he’s also a strong-willed defender who works hard at that end, setting a great tone for the team.
A megastar in full bloom, Gilgeous-Alexander backed up his best NBA season with a dominating performance in the Worlds. Among the leaders in scoring (23.6), shooting (54%) and steals (1.9), Gilgeous-Alexander had a couple of clutch performances that led the Canadians to the best finish in program history and clinched an Olympic bid. Serbian coach Svetislav Pesic, one of the most respected coaches in Europe, called SGA one of the best players he has coached against.
It was vintage Doncic. His brilliant blend of body control, force and technical skill repeatedly tortured defenders. He is probably fouled on almost every play because he’s so difficult to handle, and over the first five games he got to the foul line nearly 15 times a game. But he feels he gets fouled every play and his consistent complaining ruins his chances with the officials. It sets a terrible example as his coach and teammates mimic his behavior and hurts his team’s defense because he doesn’t run back. He got ejected from the team’s elimination game for a second straight major tournament.
The Serbians were missing several key players, including Nikola Jokic. Bogdanovic, an Atlanta Hawks guard, got benched in a loss to Italy after a miserable game and responded by going 24-for-32 shooting over the next three games to lead his team to clinching a valuable Olympic berth and into Sunday’s finals. He averaged 19.4 points, 4.6 assists, 2.3 steals and shot 85% from the line.
Schroder is a classic NBA role player who morphs into a superstar on his national team. Guard play is such a difference-maker at the World Cup and his full-throttle attack is invaluable. Sometimes Schroder did a little overdribbling and overshooting, but his leadership of the German team is clear.
The steadiest American player over the past three weeks, Bridges was the point-of-attack defender who always took on the toughest assignments, even against smaller and quicker guards. Bridges also displayed his blossoming offensive game when needed, especially against Italy (24 points in a win) and Germany (17 points in a loss).
A potential powerhouse player for the Aussies for the next decade, Giddey showed his ability to bully opponents with his size when he got downhill on basket attacks. Giddey averaged 19.4 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. He shot a sizzling 62% on 2-pointers but, and this is the rub with the Oklahoma City Thunder too, just 17% from 3.
Jones was one of the best guards in the tournament powering one of the best stories in South Sudan. He averaged 20.4 points, 10.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds in leading the Bright Stars to an inspiring Olympic bid. The 2022-23 G League Player of the Year looks like he will be a contender to win playing time with the Chicago Bulls.
Nikola Milutinov | Serbia
A 2015 first-round draft pick of the San Antonio Spurs, Milutinov has long been highly regarded for his blend of force and skill. The Brooklyn Nets traded for his rights two years ago, but he’s not coming as the center just signed a multiyear deal to play in Greece. He averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds in powering Serbia to the championship game.
Proudly playing for his mother and her country, Towns averaged 24.4 points, eight rebounds and shot 39% on 3-pointers, and nearly led his team to the medal round. Frankly, the New Jersey native’s choice to play for the Dominican Republic a decade ago is part of the reason the U.S. is in such need of size.