One question for every team at FIBA 3x3 World Tour Final 2021
JEDDAH (Saudi Arabia) - The FIBA 3x3 World Tour will end with a bang during its showpiece event in Jeddah on December 17-18 and as we get closer let's ask a question for all twelve teams.
Will Riga stamp themselves as 3x3’s undisputed power?
For so long, Novi Sad were 3x3's powerhouse. The last couple of years has seen a little more parity in the top with a big three created between Novi Sad, Liman and Riga.
This season has seen a power shift with a new-look Novi Sad falling off while Liman have remained highly competitive but amongst the pack without a Masters title.
Riga, in contrast, have gone up a level with their awesome foursome unforgettably winning gold in Tokyo for Latvia while they go into Jeddah with swagger after consecutive Masters victories in Abu Dhabi and Mexico City.
It feels like their time is now to cement themselves as 3x3's premier team. Karlis Lasmanis has probably taken Dusan Bulut's mantle as best player in the game and his biggest competition might be teammate Nauris Miezis.
Riga claimed their first World Tour Final crown in epic fashion 12 months ago and if they repeat then there is no doubt the Latvians sit firmly on 3x3's crown.
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Can the 'Maestro' rewind the clock one more time?
Novi Sad great Dejan Majstorovic struggled in 2020 leading to some to speculate his game was about to fall off a cliff. But a shock move to Serb rival Ub has rejuvenated the 33-year-old, who sits fourth overall in points scored on the season.
The 'Maestro' had a year to remember. He won Olympic Bronze and the Europe Cup, played a key role in Ub's two Masters wins and really seemed to elevate his teammates' game.
It is true the Serbian sniper took a step back in Abu Dhabi averaging just 4.2ppg - down from 5.5ppg this season - and shot just 20% from 2 which is well down on his season average of 31%.
But if the 'Maestro' can rediscover his best for two days in Jeddah, Ub could well be in position to end their breakout season with the ultimate high.
Can Liman finally break their drought?
It's been the biggest riddle for Liman this season. How is it possible that this 3x3 power has still not won a Masters this season? They've had an unsettled line-up at times, sure, but they have enough class at every event to continue collecting trophies.
Liman have one last chance to ensure they don't go winless throughout 2021 and they can also break their drought at the World Tour Final too. Despite their dominance over the years, Liman have never won 3x3's showpiece tournament and cruelly were denied victory last season at the hands of cold blooded assassin Miezis.
If they win we'll know Liman are still at the top of the 3x3 tree but if they don't then it means the Serbs have dropped a level over the course of a disappointing 2021.
Are we ready to label them a favorite?
The brilliant Belgians have taken the World Tour by storm in their debut season with three semi-final finishes from five Masters.
Led by Thibaut Vervoort and Nick Celis, they have the firepower to match it with the big boys but still feel a little short of the top contenders. They probably don't quite yet deserve to be rated amongst the favorites.
While they have a dynamic one-two punch, Antwerp need consistency from Thierry Marien and Rafael Bogaerts to go all the way. They can be a little erratic - particularly from 2 - but if they fire then there is no reason why Antwerp can't create history.
Can they find the right balance on offense?
In a quirk, Amsterdam Talent&Pro won their first ever Masters in Doha without the services of star Dimeo van der Horst. That's not to say they are better off without him, Van der Horst may be their most offensively gifted player.
Dude has a transcendent performance at the 3x3 Unites Utrecht Challenger (53 points in 5 games, the best scoring performance in the pro season in 2021) and Amsterdam ended up lifting the trophy.
But on the World Tour, when 'Dimes' played well like in Debrecen where he averaged 6.0ppg, his teammates looked out of sync and lacked the beautiful teamwork displayed in Doha.
Much the same happened in Abu Dhabi where DVDH was the only reliable threat on offense as the Dutchmen crashed out in the quarters in their worst performance this season.
If they can find the right balance then Amsterdam should have a four-pronged attack to combine with their league-best defense. But they need to get their chemistry right when they have all the stars together.
Will Uzupis rediscover his best?
The Lithuanians have had a disappointing World Tour season and they feel a level below their breakout in 2019 marked by winning the Montreal Masters.
Back then Marijus Uzupis brought out the deadliest uzis seen since the original Terminator film in an MVP performance. In 2019, he averaged a staggering 6.6ppg highlighted by a sizzling 35% from deep.
But the 28-year-old has struggled since coming back from an ACL injury and averages just 3.8ppg this season on 28% from 2. If he can get his radar right in Jeddah then Sakiai might be able to recapture the heights of 2019.
Can the comforts of home give Jeddah an edge?
One year ago, Jeddah showed they belonged among the elite 12 with a spirited display at home, where they reached the quarters and had tough losses against Riga and Liman.
Twelve months on, they are much better having won their first ever Masters in Prague and will be hard to stop in front of their home fans.
Comprising players from different backgrounds, sort of a United Nations 3x3 team, Jeddah have developed the right communication on court and become fan favorites back home.
That support might be enough for them to create even more history on home soil.
Can they play well beyond North America?
It's been tough for the American power ever since the pandemic and they've struggled to get consistency on the court due to logistics.
They haven't played as much as others so deserve slack but a semi-final finish in Montreal was their only time they've gone beyond the quarters from five events over the last two seasons.
But Princeton is still stacked with veterans with Kareem Maddox, Damon Huffman and Craig Moore having played in their runner-up finish two years ago at the World Tour Final.
Don't write them off but they need to start playing well beyond North America.
Will their steady improvement continue in Jeddah?
This is Lausanne's season in Masters: 11th, 9th, 7th, 5th. Does this mean they will finish 3rd in Jeddah? Or go even deeper?
It's maybe quirky reading but these unpredictable Swiss are clearly trending in the right direction after being winless in Lausanne and Debrecen.
Such a fan favorite on the World Tour due to their entertaining brand of style, Lausanne have never quite been able to deliver and were winless at last year's finale.
They are had to read but at least are building momentum at the right time and that will undoubtedly strike fear in opponents.
San Juan PCI Group
How much will they miss Gilberto Clavell?
The fairy tale team of 2021 gets their chance to end a comeback season on the ultimate note. But Puerto Rican legend Gilberto Clavell will be missing.
He inspired this proud 3x3 nation's resurrection in Lausanne, where he topped the scoring charts with 40 points, including an epic 12-point explosion in the final against Ub.
Clavell lives for the big moments so his absence on the grand stage in Jeddah is obviously a blow, but San Juan proved they can win without him after a runners-up finish in Mexico City.
This team is loaded and can make up Clavell's absence although more burden will be on the shoulders of Angel Matias, who fortunately loves having the ball in his hand during money time.
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Is their time to break through now?
The Russians are 3x3's Jekyll and Hyde - brilliant at international events but underachievers on the World Tour. It was much the same this season where Gagarin's young core won Olympic Silver medals even though success eluded them on the pro circuit.
But maybe that's changing with Gagarin reaching the semis in Mexico City in a statement to rivals ahead of Jeddah. And with star Alexander Zuev hungry to take the next step, Gagarin feel like their moment has arrived.
Can they reach Day 2?
Goals are modest for the Austrians but such is life as the 12th seed. And their task is made even more difficult by playing two of the best teams in 2021 - Antwerp and Amsterdam Talent&Pro.
It looms as a tough ask for the Austrians, but they do punch above their weight and can take extra confidence in that their best performance this season was in the Middle East - in Doha where they made the quarters only to lose an OT classic against Riga.