Orlando Magic FIBA World Cup Preview: 5 things to know entering group play

Franz Wagner had a breakout tournament in helping Germany win a bronze medal at EuroBasket. (Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Franz Wagner had a breakout tournament in helping Germany win a bronze medal at EuroBasket. (Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Paolo Banchero, United States
Paolo Banchero showed some good signs in the United States’ win over Puerto Rico. Banchero logged significant minutes at center as the team starts to come together. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

5 things to know for the FIBA World Cup

Paolo Banchero is a cog in the wheel for Team USA

When Paolo Banchero takes the floor for the Orlando Magic, he is the guy. He is the star. He is going to have the ball in his hands and the freedom to take as many shots as he wants to take. The Magic trust him to do that and are growing him to be their star player.

That is not the Banchero that Team USA needs.

On a team that is full of young stars, everyone is having to learn a new role. There can only be so many players who have the ball in their hands and the exhibition games helped develop the pecking order and what those roles are.

Just because Banchero is a cog in the machine though, does not mean he is not going to make an impact. It is clear Banchero is going to figure into the U.S.’s plans.

Throughout the exhibition run, Banchero logged a lot of minutes as the team’s backup center. As coach Steve Kerr reasoned, the U.S. really benefited from having a center who could grab the ball and take it upcourt quickly and make plays like they did with Bam Adebayo at the Tokyo Olympics.

The experiment so far has looked pretty good. Banchero has been solid at setting screens and keeping pace with the fast-paced running that Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves are bringing to the second unit. It seems like the U.S. is going to stick with this experiment throughout the tournament.

The weaknesses are still apparent though. Banchero is more engaged defensively than ever, but he still struggles to make low-man rotations and to commit to protecting the rim in the half-court (he still has had some impressive blocks). Banchero struggled with rebounding against bigger players too.

There are still a lot of finer points for Banchero to work out. And that does not even get into how he is struggling a bit offensively to find his rhythm with the ball out of his hands.

All of this will ultimately make Banchero a better player in the long run by forcing him to focus on other parts of his game to help the team win. The experience will help him understand what it takes to play at a high level and use his versatility in a different way.

But there will undoubtedly be some rough moments for Banchero as he continues to adjust to this role with the national team.

USA Overall Outlook

The U.S. as a whole though should have a fairly easy ride to the knockout stage. Greece was the big matchup in their group (Monday, 8:40 a.m.) but all the teeth from that matchup was taken out after Giannis Antetokounmpo announced he would not play while he recovered from an offseason knee surgery.

The U.S.’s overall tournament draw seems fairly easy too. The top two teams in their group play the top two teams from Group D — likely Lithuania and Montenegro or Mexico — meaning the U.S. avoids any of the heavy hitters of this tournament now until really the semifinals.

Even the cross-group for the quarterfinals has had its teeth taken out with Serbia playing without Nikola Jokic and Italy not having Paolo Banchero (whoops). Although watch out for Karl-Anthony Towns and the Dominican Republic.

The way the bracket is set up, it would have to be a disaster for the U.S. to repeat the seventh-place finish from the 2019 World Cup. And this team has shown already it is good enough to win a medal.