LAS VEGAS — The NBA’s decision to invite a pair of international teams to the Summer League showed promise, even as it also demonstrated the competitive challenges facing the host team for the 2019 Basketball World Cup.
China struggled to beat NBA-affiliated squads made up largely of rookies or relatively inexperienced pros, closing out its stay in Las Vegas with a 30-point loss in Friday’s (Saturday, Manila time) consolation round and heading home with one victory in five games.
Croatia, which will not be participating in the World Cup, was the other international team joining the fray. Croatia narrowly fell short of its maiden Summer League victory in its finale on Friday.
The World Cup will be played Aug. 31-Sept. 15. So when the NBA decided to add a pair of international teams, China seized an opportunity for a tuneup.
China and Croatia could have anticipated Summer League competition to be tough for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that the NBA brand of basketball is officiated differently than the international game and has certain court dimensions — including the 3-point line — that are different from courts used in the Olympics and World Cup.
But if the focus was on how much they’d improve, there were some encouraging signs.
China was routed by 41 in its opener against Miami, but broke through with an 84-80 victory over Charlotte in its third game before regressing in its sluggish finale.
Croatia lost each of its first two games by 16 points before losing by eight in its third and fourth games and by a single point in its final game.
There were some standout individual performances as well.
China’s Guo Ailun, a 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 16 points in his first two games, when he shot 50 percent. His highlights included a crossover dribble that sent Charlotte’s Cody Martin sprawling.
Zhou Qi, China’s 7-1 center and a former Houston Rocket, averaged 11.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks through his first four contests. He complemented his expected above-the-rim play with several 3-pointers.
Croatia’s Zeljko Sakic, a 6-foot-8 forward who plays professionally in Poland, averaged 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in his first four games.
Those were timely performances, considering the plethora of NBA front office personnel on hand.