2023 FIBA World Cup Day 6 Recap: First phase of play is over and Team USA, Slovenia, Spain, and Serbia finish 3-0

Day 6 of the 2023 FIBA World Cup brought an end to the first phase of play. Anthony Edwards, Luka Doncic, Juancho Hernangomez, and Nikola Jovic led their teams to 3-0 finishes.

Apr 1, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts to a foul against
Apr 1, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts to a foul against / Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

There were no surprises in today’s FIBA World Cup games. Team USA blew out Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jordan, and Greece prevailed over New Zealand to grab the second spot in Group C. 

Spain blew out Iran and Yago Dos Santos continued his impressive play for this summer by leading Brazil to a 12-point victory over Iran that got the South American side second place in Group G. 

Serbia ran South Sudan out of the gym while Puerto Rico took care of business against China to advance to the second phase from Group B. 

Slovenia and Georgia came out on top against Cape Verde and Venezuela to finish first and second respectively in Group F. 

Here are key takeaways from today’s games.

Three Points: Team USA makes a starting lineup change and Anthony Edwards thrives, Serbia and Spain are quietly firing on all cylinders, and Luka Doncic and Yago Dos Santos are awesome

Josh Hart’s heart plays a key role in Team USA’s strong start

The biggest question with every Team USA squad at these FIBA tournaments is who comes off the bench? 

Whether the United States brings their A team or worse, they almost always have a roster full of guys who are starters in the NBA.

And being a starter means a lot to American players, one of many notable differences between them and international players, who are used to very fluid starting lineups in club play. 

Today, head coach Steve Kerr made the bold decision to change his starting lineup, inserting Josh Hart in place of Brandon Ingram. 

While it’s hard to argue any tweak against such inferior opponents worked the evidence indicates this did make a notable difference. 

Slow starts had been an issue for the United States. They led by one point at the end of the first quarter in their opener against New Zealand, and by four against Greece in the following game. 

Today against Jordan, they led by 19 at the end of the opening period. 

Anthony Edwards also had his best game of the tournament so far, finishing with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in only 19 minutes. Hart finished with a very impressive 12 rebounds.

The offense seemed to flow better for Edwards with Hart on the floor instead of Ingram. That’s no disrespect to Ingram, either. Simply put, lining up two awesome defenders and floor spacers in Hart and Jaren Jackson Jr. with Jalen Brunson, Edwards, and Mikal Bridges makes a lot of sense. 

It will be interesting to see if Coach Kerr sticks with this for the rest of the tournament. The evidence says he should.

Serbia and Spain’s basketball heritage is prominently on display

The greatest talking point of the tournament so far is France’s early exit. It’s easy to see why. Whenever a predicted medalist gets eliminated in the first phase it’s going to dominate conversation. 

You know what isn’t going to dominate conversation? Teams who are reaching expectations, such as Spain and Serbia. 

Let’s face it, a team that’s supposed to win, wins isn’t exactly the most thrilling topic of conversation. The playing field has been cut in half now though, and we need to recognize quality play whether it was expected or not. 

Spain has beaten the Ivory Coast, Brazil, and Iran by a combined 68 points. Brazil was their closest game, which they won by 18. 

Their biggest concern heading into this summer’s FIBA World Cup was their drop in point guard play. Ricky Rubio is taking a break from basketball to focus on his mental health, Jose Calderon has retired, Sergio Rodriguez has retired from international play, and Sergio Llull is now 37. 

They quickly went from the deepest international point guard rotation in Europe to who the heck can even bring the ball up the floor for us? Juan Nunez can. 

The 19-year-old 2024 NBA Draft prospect has thrived upon being thrust into the high-pressure situation of being Spain’s starting point guard. He’s averaging 7 points per game and just under 7 assists per game so far. 

If his strong play continues, Spain is ready to play for the gold medal. 

Serbia is another team that has done nothing more than meet expectations, but they've done it exceptionally well.

They have won their three games by an average margin greater than 30 points. 

Bogdan Bogdanovic is averaging 18 points per game, Nikola Jovic is averaging 17 points per game, and Nikola Milutinov is averaging 13.3 points per game. 

They’re not doing anything special. They’re getting open shots and making open shots, and defending as a unit at the other end. 

But with their talent, just doing their jobs could help them go far, and even cause an upset against a better team who has a bad day. 

They need to be feared going forward, simple as that.  

Yago Dos Santos and Luka Doncic are why people fall in love with basketball

There are a lot of reasons we all love watching basketball. Too many to list really, but chief among those reasons are players' ability to provide jaw-dropping entertainment.  

Two players who have done that in abundance this FIBA World Cup are Yago Dos Santos for Brazil and Luka Doncic for Slovenia. 

Doncic doesn’t need an introduction and barely needs an overview but we’ll give you one anyway. He’s averaging 30 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists per game through the first phase of play, and he’s posting those numbers while looking like he’s not doing anything more than taking a walk in the park. 

This Slovenia team will eventually come up short against a team with too much depth in talent for them but for now, we all just need to soak in Doncic’s basketball poetry. Doncic may be a known quantity, but Brazil’s tiny point guard, Dos Santos, likely is not to plenty of viewers. 

Dos Santos is 5-foot-10 and about 190 pounds. He’s only 24 years old, and last season, he helped lead German club Ratiopharm Ulm to the Basketball Bundesliga title - the first ever in their history. 

He started this summer by signing with Euroleague club Crvena Zvezda Belgrade and then played for the Chicago Bulls in NBA Summer League where he impressed and averaged 8.25 points per game and 4.5 assists per game. Now, he’s hooping for Brazil, averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 assists per game so far at the FIBA World Cup.

His match-ups in the next phase of play will be delightful. He’ll face Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Canada, and Arturs Zagars and Latvia - the other small point guard who’s stolen viewers hearts this summer. Win or lose, we know Dos Santos will be entertaining in those games at the very least.

2023 FIBA World Cup Line of the Day:

24 points, 12 assists, and 6/7 from three-point range. As we said above, Yago Dos Santos is awesome.

2023 FIBA World Cup Play of the Day:

We’re going to pretend this Usman Garuba self-assist was intentional.

2023 FIBA World Cup Quote of the Day:

He may be naturalized, but Thomas Walkup has Greek pride. No denying that.

What’s coming tomorrow at the 2023 FIBA World Cup?

Nothing! Okay, not nothing, but the second phase of play does not begin until Friday, September 1st. Tomorrow’s games are all related to places 17-32, and they could potentially impact Olympic qualifying which we outlined here.

Final note Today, there won’t be a recap tomorrow. We’ll resume coverage on Friday following the opening day of the second phase of play where Serbia faces Italy to tip things off, Team USA will host Montenegro, Slovenia will face Australia, Lithuania will face Greece, and more. 

See you then! 

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