With the United States faltering, one of the other basketball giants got their chance to claim gold at the FIBA World Cup. Spain stepped up to the challenge, defeating Argentina 95-75 in the final in Beijing for La Roja’s first title in 13 years.
Led by tournament MVP Ricky Rubio, who collected 20 points and three assists, Spain used a healthy amount of pick and roll in the final to down the South Americans. Marc Gasol had 14 points and seven assists in the contest, becoming only the second player behind Lamar Odom of the USA to win both an NBA championship and a FIBA Gold Medal in the same year.
Rubio started his professional career with nearby Badalona before moving to FC Barcelona for three years. Even as a teenager, he set himself apart as one of the best European prospects that the NBA had ever seen and he was drafted in 2009 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since then he has suited up for the Utah Jazz and this season with be playing for the Phoenix Suns.
Marc Gasol, meanwhile, was born in Barcelona but attended high school in Memphis where older brother Pau played for the Memphis Grizzlies. The younger Marc returned to Barcelona to start his professional career in 2003, winning the Spanish league before moving to Girona in 2006. After being attached in a trade for his brother that sent him to the Grizzlies from the Los Angeles Lakers, he played 11 seasons in Memphis before winning this season’s NBA Championship with the Toronto Raptors.
Current FC Barcelona players, Víctor Claver, Pau Ribas and Pierre Oriola were major role players in Spain’s 8-0 record in the tournament. Oriola got the starts against Serbia and Argentina in the final to deal with the big bodies of those teams while Claver came off the bench against Serbia to score 14 points in the win. Claver was held in check when he started against Australia in the semi-final, but his offensive rebounding still proved an asset throughout the tournament. Ribas was a bench option on the wing behind long-time Real Madrid shooting guard Rudy Fernández. Ribas’ hard-nosed defense plays well in an international game that doesn’t restrict the time for bodies to bang in the paint. Of the current Blaugrana, Claver is the only one with NBA experience, playing for the Portland Trailblazers from 2012 to 2015.
Captain and three-point specialist Fernández was hot and cold throughout the tournament, averaging 7.8 points per game for the tournament. Yet, every time the former Portland Trailblazer (2008-2011) went cold, Madrid back-court mate Sergio Llull was red-hot. Llull averaged 10.5 points per game and 3.8 assists per game, regularly playing alongside fellow point guard Rubio to create a barrage of pick and roll action with Gasol. The highlight of Llull’s tournament came in the double overtime win against Australia in the semi-final, nailing a buzzer beater on the run.
Former Real Madrid and current Charlotte Hornets center Willy Hernangòmez flashed both skill and strength as Gasol’s back-up. Younger brother Juan, who plays for the Denver Nuggets, started at the small forward position and used his length and shooting to average 10.5 points per game in the tournament. Former Barcelona wing Xavi Rabasseda appeared in four of the eight games in garbage time.
For the Olympics next summer, fans may be treated to current Barcelona forward Nikola Mirotic and former Barcelona player and two-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol. Sergio Rodríguez, who spent time in the NBA and six years with Real Madrid could also add guard depth. The last big addition would be Serge Ibaka, who just won the NBA title alongside Marc Gasol with the Toronto Raptors. The inclusion of Mirotic would unequivocally improve Spain’s shooting and on paper Ibaka would improve the already smothering Spanish defense. All four players would give Spain coach Sergio Scariolo plenty of options against what is expected to be a revitalized United States, as well as Australia, France and Argentina teams with revenge on their minds.