Milwaukee Bucks: What was gained for FIBA World Cup participants?

BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 14: (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 14: (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With the Milwaukee Bucks’ part in the FIBA World Cup at an end, what was gained by having five players compete in China in recent weeks?

Milwaukee Bucks fans certainly won’t have been complaining about having the offseason basketball void filled with the chance to watch some of their favorite players in action over the past two weeks.

With competition play at an end for the five Bucks players who have represented their countries at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, though, now is the time to be a little bit more reflective about that whole experience.

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Training camp is just around the corner and the emphasis is truly set to shift to the new NBA season in the days ahead, so the most obvious and intriguing way to frame the World Cup at this point is to ask, what did the Bucks gain from the past two weeks?

Considering no Bucks player will come back to the US carrying a medal in their back pocket, and the seventh placed US team was the highest finisher with a Milwaukee representative, the easy answer would be to say they didn’t gain a whole lot. A look closer offers up room for more positive insight, though.

First and foremost, and certainly for better or worse, the five Bucks got extended and meaningful run playing in very different systems to what they’ll primarily be a part of under Coach Mike Budenholzer in the upcoming season.

The utility of that may not be obvious from day one, but its long-term value shouldn’t be overlooked when you consider how a potential lack of high level contingencies hurt the Bucks when their Plan A became less effective at the business end of last season’s playoffs.

That could be as simple as a role player such as Ersan Ilyasova feeling more comfortable if the need to do a little more was to arise, or Khris Middleton playing a more varied, playmaking role given the loss of Malcolm Brogdon.

It’s unlikely and would be unwise for the Bucks to ever implement anything resembling the way Greece set up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but even that may have a silver lining as the the 24-year-old will feel as if he’s been set free when he returns to action with the Bucks.

In discussing Giannis, another potential benefit for the Bucks comes to mind. The Greek coach was pained to stress his team wasn’t built like the Bucks and therefore he couldn’t use his star player in the same fashion. In that regard, players such as Middleton, Ilyasova and Giannis got to taste high stakes, playoff comparable action, but to do so in situations where there was undue pressure and emphasis on their individual contributions.

When the postseason rolls around and those players then have each other for support, the comfort level should be significantly higher than it was in China, not to mention the benefits of the experience the Bucks picked up in the Conference Finals last season.

That notion feeds into what the FIBA World Cup may do for the confidence of those involved. Even taking Brook Lopez, who notably struggled throughout the tournament, the opportunity to work with some of the NBA’s best coaches and players for a month in the offseason, along with the sheer boost offered by the honor of being selected could do wonders.

US assistant Steve Kerr noted that when the team first got together, Lopez was one of the most notable examples of players who seemed to be a little out of shape and having to fight back toward game shape.

By the time training camp gets underway, Lopez and his Bucks teammates who were also in China, should have something of a head start in terms of conditioning considering they already have multiple games under their belts. The Bucks have occasionally struggled through individuals starting the season slow in recent years, but given three of the five starters were in China, that may not be an issue this time around.

Of course, over the years there has also been evidence of NBA players getting something of a post-tournament bump and enjoying career seasons following national team duty.

Beyond any of that, there’s the more obvious positives of the players who really played well at the World Cup being fueled to carry that into the season. That may not apply for Lopez and Giannis compared to their usual high standards of performance, but Middleton, Ilyasova and Thanasis Antetokounmpo can all come away pleased with their World Cup performances.

Middleton struggled in the exhibition schedule and hit something of a bump in the middle of the tournament, but he thrived at the beginning and end of the World Cup slate while playing fewer minutes than he’s accustomed to and a slightly altered role overall. A testament to that is the fact that Middleton even registered a positive plus/minus in Team USA’s two losses, and didn’t register a single negative mark in that regard throughout the tournament. Simply, the USA were better when he was on the floor.

An off night against the Czech Republic may ultimately have cost him and his team a spot in the second round, along with others’ missed free throws against the US, but before that Ilyasova produced two truly eye-popping performances for Turkey that showed just how much he can be capable when his team requires it of him.

Perhaps most interestingly given his newcomer status, Thanasis offered a very clear indication of how his energy and enthusiasm can change a game in his appearances for Greece, and he even showed positive glimpses with his long-range shooting.

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All told, the results may not be what everyone would have hoped for, but there’s no shortage of reasons to believe the Bucks can ultimately gain from what their players demonstrated at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.