Smith: Coaching takeaways from the 2019 FIBA World Cup

After watching close to 15 games live at the FIBA 2019 World Cup, a lot of trends have appeared. Here are some team, player and general observations from the tournament so far.

(Piece has been lightly edited for clarity.)


Everyone who's decent runs some kind of action into pick and roll, pick and roll, pick and roll. The masking and misdirections are interesting, but essentially teams are targeting either who they want offensively from their team (Spain's Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol) in the pick and roll, or defensive players they want to target. Hamed Haddadi from Iran for example, is a poor pick and roll defender.

The three most important aspects to team success this tournament: pick and roll offence, pick and roll defence and shooting.

The most common coverage I have seen, is to go under uphills and show/trail downhills or to the middle pick and roll. The better teams can actually pick and choose who and where/when they play different coverage. It also can come down to a defender - Matthew Dellavedova is really good at getting up and into his guy, trying to squeeze over screens at times, but again this is the exception than the rule in the majority of the games.

Offences still break down and players need to get creative. I've always known this as playing in the spaces. Every team needs a guy (or guys) who have this ability. Leandrinho Barbosa from Brazil has been a master at this during these games. His crafty ability to work off a late-shot clock pick and roll or one on one breakdown has been invaluable for Brazil.

I'm surprised at how many teams actually seem to be poorly coached. A lot of the teams have highly talented players, but little to no structure on either end of the court, or poor lineup choices and balance. (I'm looking at you: Senegal, Philippines, Ivory Coast, China, Germany). On the contrary - many teams, well-coached, have overachieved: Poland, Puerto Rico, Tunisia, Czech Republic.

You can see when coaches get it right and teams buy in - there's a nice harmony to observe and success follows: Australia, USA, Spain, France, Argentina.

Games are so short, that a bad 3-4 minute stretch can blow your whole tournament. Serbia showed in their bow out loss that they just found themselves in too deep of a hole. Argentina managed the clock out and the scoreboard pressure proved too much. Players and coaches need to be on point the whole time: game situations, clock management, decision making in split seconds. Missed timeouts can make or break games and final standings.


I'm shocked at how many players take right-handed layups on the left side and vice versa. Shots get blocked, altered, or most commonly fly over the opposite side of the rim.

A fundamental flaw: the amount of players that penetrate and don't jump stop. They get airborne with nowhere to go, and end up making poor plays. I'm not telling you to jump stop 100% of the time, but you should jump stop 100% of the time you don't know what you're doing.

Turkey learnt the hard way that free throws win, or lose matches. Still a basic, closed skill that needs to be mindful attended to daily.

Furthermore, Turkey and other teams have learnt through poor execution pain. When defensive awareness turns into breakdowns, fouls can also hurt. Fouling a three-point shooter especially when, if you don't touch him, he airballs and you win. Even in the Australia-France game, we saw France foul Mitch Creek as he threw a three-quarter court heave. Other games have seen similar crazy fouls.

The "Euro foul" on fast breaks is an instant unsportsmanlike foul now. Almost every game has had the "two arms above your head" fouls, with some games having three or four from both teams. One player got ejected over having two that were so innocuous.

Also - why not just try running back and playing defence?

General observations


Referees are human too, but there's a sense of the "us vs them" problems that occurred in the NBA recently. We saw Lithuania's coach Adomaitis absolutely blow up at a press conference. He subsequently resigned and the three referees from this game have been banned. There needs to be a better way. The Brazilian coach was ejected in the second quarter vs USA in what was understandable circumstances. I probably would have lost my cool too. Giannis was, highly controversially, fouled out against the Czech Republic with what I thought were at least three suspect calls against him. He fouled out with 5+ mins to go. If he had stayed on, maybe they go through.


The ticketing system has also been a debacle here. I have been on the ground in China for six weeks now. For example, I was trying to get tickets for the Australian group stage games. Games appeared blocked out (as if sold out) for weeks at a time. During any day, tickets would randomly appear, or disappear for sale. The cheapest seats were $30 and we could "only" purchase ones that were about $90, only to go to the stadium and see that it was about 30-40% full at best. Almost every game, we simply ended up going and sitting wherever we like after quarter time anyway. I know this is not a coaching point, but it surely affects the atmosphere in what are generally the biggest stages for many players and coaches.

Body language

Teams' body language say a lot. Nigeria look splintered, Senegal looked despondent, and China - I would expect better team behaviour from my under 14's. Coaches, this starts with you. Not giving 5 when a player comes off? Not putting hands in after every time out? Not huddling during breaks in play? One coach even, every single press conference blamed the players' poor performance for the losses (not spoken in English).

Qualification system

I think there needs to be some sort of review of the qualification system. No offence, but how and why teams like Japan and South Korea made it in, I don't know. We can add Ivory Coast, Jordan and maybe the Philippines to that list too. I'm sorry, but they were a waste of time being here. It may have been good for their players' experience, but their performances weren't even close to a challenge for other teams.

In conclusion, the games have been fascinating to watch live. As good as TV is, seeing the play calls live, player behaviour and interactions, coaches'mannerisms, the crowd vibe and everything else in between has been something I am extremely grateful for. I highly recommend going to any tournaments like this in person, should you ever have the opportunity in the future.

So who's going to win the thing? USA, Argentina, Spain, Australia, Czech Republic France? I'm hoping the Aussies vs USA in the final!

Will Smith hails from Adelaide, Australia. He's an international coach, with 10+ years experience coaching and 14+ as a professional player from back home.

Follow Will on Twitter at @willsmithcoach and LinkedIn. Will can also be contacted on email.