Some players are widely recognized as obvious legends. They’re so good that they’re recognizable even with just their first names. Michael. LeBron. Kobe. Magic. Larry.
Then, there are cult legends. Players who have repeatedly played a high level of basketball under a very specific situation. You know these players because they seem to flip on a switch when they’re in that given circumstance. Players like Game 6 Klay, Masked Kobe, Headband LeBron, or Playoff Rondo are treated as GOATs when they bust out their special games for those given occasions.
FIBA tournaments are part of these very specific situations. Several NBA players are just “okay” when playing in the league. But once they don their country’s colors, they start playing out of their minds.
With the FIBA World Cup 2023 all wrapped up, here are three players who have achieved cult legend status for their play in the tournament.
Last season, Schroder was a serviceable back-up point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a dependable hand who would come in to stabilize the team when needed. These past two weeks though, Schroder looked like the best point guard in the world.
For the second straight World Cup, Germany leaned heavily on Schroder. Back in 2019, he could only push them as far as 18th place in the tournament. This time around, he led a more talented German squad all the way to the promised land. Schroder averaged 19.1 points and 6.1 assists in this year’s edition.
He was practically untouchable the entire tournament. He had the ball on a string, weaving around the court with ease. When he did choose to attack, that’s when the magic happened. Once Schroder got into the paint, he was finishing over the defense with crafty flips, floaters, and bankers. Because of his ability to score, the defense would take notice of him when he got to the paint. That would then open up a world of opportunities for the rest of his team.
Save for a stinker against Latvia, Schroder was phenomenal. He dropped 30 on Australia, had a 21-10 double-double that lifted Germany past Luka Doncic’s Slovenia, and finished off the tournament with 28 points on 53 percent shooting. There’s no question he was the tournament MVP after the show he put on in the gold medal match.
The fact that Serbia made it to the finals of the tournament even without their star Nikola Jokic is a testament to their basketball program. But make no mistake, Bogdanovic played a huge role in Serbia’s success in the World Cup.
Bogdanovic is the main weapon off the bench for the Atlanta Hawks because he can score, shoot, and create. He can slot in at any of the wing positions and seamlessly play with any group. He’s a smooth operator who never gets flustered and almost always makes the right plays.
That versatility and efficiency were on full display in the World Cup. He was top three of his team in points, rebounds, and assists. He averaged 19.1 points on 52 percent shooting to lead the team and also averaged 3.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists throughout the tournament. Everything he does for the Hawks, he did at a higher level with his national team.
It was refreshing to see Bogdanovic, usually calm and collected, play with more fire and intensity. He was more aggressive attacking the basket and had more of a pep to his step out on the perimeter. Whenever he would hit a big basket, he would let out a big roar to celebrate.
That fire he showed in the tournament, ended up galvanizing a team missing a key player in Jokic. They rallied around Bogdanovic and he led them to within a couple of shots of a World Championship.
After his first couple of games for Team USA, it was clear that Reaves is massively being underpaid by the Lakers.
The flashes he showed last season, especially during the playoffs, weren’t just flashes anymore. His shiftiness and bag of tricks made up for the lack of athleticism when compared to his teammates. He was able to get separation by using momentum, angles, and off-timing to get his defender off balance. When he did get to his spots, he could finish through contact or at the very least get to the line.
Reaves looked like a US-made Manu Ginobili in his first time representing the country. In a team full of max players, oftentimes it was Reaves who looked like the best player on the court. He was second only to Anthony Edwards in scoring, averaging 13.8 points per game at a highly efficient 56 percent clip.
His best stretch came at the end of the tournament where he tried to lead Team USA to big comebacks only to fall short at the end. He dropped 21 points on 70 percent shooting against eventual champ Germany in the semis and scored his tournament high of 23 in the bronze game against Canada.
With reports of LeBron James forming a super team for the 2024 Olympics, the King might want to save a spot for Team USA’s newest superstar.