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What we’re looking forward to in Austin Reaves’ FIBA tournament debut

The upcoming FIBA tournament will be an opportunity for Reaves to gain experience and develop his game — which could aid him to take that exciting third-year leap that the Lakers are hoping for from him.

2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men’s National Team Practice - Las Vegas Photo by Joe Amati/NBAE via Getty Images

This summer, the USA men’s basketball team is looking to regain the number one seed in the FIBA world rankings. After giving up the honor to Spain in 2019 and finishing seventh overall, it’s worst-ever finish since featuring NBA players on its roster, Team USA is no longer viewed as an unbeatable squad. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not the team to beat in this year’s FIBA World Cup tournament.

There are multiple names featured in this year’s roster that are considered upcoming superstars in the NBA, such as Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, our old good friend Brandon Ingram, Jaren Jackson Jr., and of course, our very own Austin Reaves among others.

Yes, the undrafted rookie who worked his way up to a starting position on a team that made it as far as the Western Conference Finals in the previous NBA Playoffs, is part of the notable group of players who will be representing the United States in the grandest global basketball stage. It’s not everyday that we see a player take such great leap the way the Arkansas native has.

From earning himself a well-deserved four year $53 million dollar contract, to a seven-figure signature shoe deal with Chinese brand Rigorer, to now representing the United States, Reaves’ remarkable summer continues to unfold.

But before we talk about Reaves’ impending Team USA and FIBA debut this month, let’s weigh in what’s at stake for the US men’s basketball team this upcoming FIBA tournament — which will be held in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia from Aug. 25 until Sept. 10. Here’s some notable information worth taking note of:

  • The FIBA World Cup tournament is where Team USA will attempt to book a slot to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The squad will play every game in Manila, Philippines, starting Aug. 26. They will first go up against the teams on their pool (Group C) specifically New Zealand (ranked 26th in the FIBA standings), Greece (ranked 9th but might be without superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo), and Jordan (ranked 33rd). The country’s overall record against these three teams is 6-1, the only lost was coming against Greece in 2006.
  • If the Americans advance from the pool play (which, not so spoiler alert, they definitely will), they’ll face one of the top two teams in Group D namely one among Lithuania, Mexico, Montengero and Egypt. Then if they take care of business, the quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals await them. Team USA needs to finish at least top two in the Americas group in order to book their ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
  • Not one player in this Team USA roster has any US national team experience as each player will be competing in the FIBA tournament for the first time. However, as I mentioned on my first graph, they’re still the team to beat simply because of the names on paper. The team also has a stacked coaching staff including Steve Kerr, Erik Spoelstra, and Tyronn Lue who are arguably three of the best coaches in the NBA.
  • Before they step foot in the Philippines, Team USA will travel to Malaga Spain where they will play two exhibition games against Slovenia (led by Luka Doncic) and Spain on Aug. 12 and 13. Then, they head to Abu Dhabi where they’ll match up against Greece and Germany on Aug 18 and 20, respectively.

It’s indeed a fully-packed itinerary for Team USA and Reaves who have a long and fruitful month ahead of them. For Reaves in particular, it’s an opportunity for him to gain experience outside of the NBA and develop his game — which could play a significant role for him to take the exciting third-year leap that the Lakers are hoping for from him. This FIBA experience for Reaves will aid in doing just that because of the following reasons:

The experience of playing along side All-Stars

Reaves will be backing up Jalen Brunson, Haliburton, and Edwards off the bench, a far cry from his current role with the Lakers. Depending on the matchup, the 25-year-old will most likely be exchanging minutes every game with the guards mentioned above. The challenge for Reaves is to prove why he deserves minutes (which he successfully did in less than a year with the Lakers) and adjust to fit in alongside his teammates who will most likely get more opportunity.

The experience of figuring out how to thrive on a roster occupied by All-Stars and key players who are used to being the focal point of their corresponding NBA teams will help Reaves improve his ability to fill in the team’s intangible gaps with his skillset.

Reaves is a ball-handler, shot creator, and considered a two-way player. He finds ways to get to the foul line, run in transition and be a playmaker when he’s asked to. He’ll have to figure out what skill to utilize in order to thrive and fit in Kerr’s system and principles for Team USA — a learning process that might just come in handy when he enters training camp with a new Lakers roster next season.

2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men’s National Team Practice - Las Vegas Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Learning how to play under a new coaching staff and system

For Lakers fans and those who have watched Reaves’ over the past two seasons, it wasn’t a surprise to find out why he received an invite to compete in this year’s FIBA tournament. Austin is a Steve Kerr type of player: A shooting guard with high basketball IQ, can shoot and defend, and one who plays with sharp focus, poise, attention to detail and effort. As Kerr reiterated after Sunday’s practice, Reaves is the type of player who enhances any lineup that he plays with.

Playing under Kerr’s system, which we all know is one of the most pristine and efficient in NBA history (it led to four titles and a golden dynasty), will be tremendous learning opportunity for Austin. The constant battling through screens, off-ball movement, cutting to the basket, creating high-quality shots for himself and his teammates, and battling on the defensive end should get him out of his comfort zone and be an enlightening moment for him to pick up and thing or two outside of the Lakers’ shadow.

And based on the clips and quotes circulating around from Team USA’s training camp, it already looks like Reaves has impressed.

The international basketball experience

The thing with the FIBA tournament is that it’s different compared to the NBA in more ways than one. From the competition, to some rules and regulations and even the way teams execute their game plan (expect to see a lot more zone in FIBA), it’s just a different experience — one that actually takes time for some NBA players to get used to.

That’s not to say that the FIBA tournament is going to be a completely new ball game but one that will require Austin and Team USA to adjust their style of play and game plan accordingly. This isn’t going to be a walk in the park for Team USA like it was in the past.

For one, the field has significantly improve over the years. There’s Team Canada that’s loaded with NBA talent, France who — even without Victor Wembanyama — can go toe-to-toe against the US as we saw in the Tokyo Olympics, Australia, Germany, Slovenia, Dominican Republic, and of course, the defending champions, Spain. Some of these teams have even built the continuity that Team USA does not have.

Luckily for Team USA, they have enough talent to overwhelm their competitors. They have 10 legitimate two-way players, enough wing depth, size on all positions, and frontcourt height to match up well against anyone from the field.

Zooming in on Reaves, he’ll be exposed to unique competition on a different setting that he’s never been exposed to in the past. He’ll be squaring up against guards who play a different brand of basketball compared to what NBA players are normally used to. Will he be able to get his foot wet instantly? Is he built for the international stage? And most importantly, can Reaves leave a lasting impressing on the USA men’s basketball team program? We’re due to find out.

And while that all remains uncertain, what I can assure you — as someone from the Philippines who will be covering the FIBA tournament in a few weeks — is that the Lakers is already a shoe in fan favorite in the country.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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