Sunday’s FIBA World Cup Final between Spain and Argentina had a few ties to the Houston Rockets, including former Rockets forward Luis Scola and guard Sergio Llull.
The 2019 FIBA World Cup final featured former Houston Rocket Luis Scola and Argentina facing off against Sergio Llull and Spain. While Llull still has not played in the NBA, the Rockets have held the rights to the guard dating all the way back to 2009. While Scola and the surprising Argentine national team had a dream run to the Final, they ultimately came up short facing a more talented team in Spain, losing 95-75.
The NBA has evolved internationally, as there are always several NBA players on the rosters for other countries during international competitions. We’ve seen several international players become stars in today’s NBA, such as Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and last year’s MVP winner Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Current Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, born in Geneva, Switzerland, played for his home country in the earlier rounds of the World Cup.
The growth of international talent is is also partly why Team USA struggled so mightily during this year’s World Cup, as the talent gap has shortened with other countries outside of the United States. Obviously not having the best star players on Team USA’s roster played a huge part as well, but the talent gap has shortened significantly outside of the United States nonetheless.
The World Cup Final featured Argentina and Spain, both of which have ties to Clutch City. Argentina forward Luis Scola played five years for the Rockets and last played for the team in 2011, which seems like a lifetime ago. In fact, Scola never even played with current Rockets superstar James Harden. Scola’s last year in the NBA was in 2017 when he finished his career with the Brooklyn Nets.
The 39-year-old ageless wonder continued his stellar international play during this year’s World Cup tournament, as he posted averages of 17.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, in addition to being named to the All-Tournament Team.
In the World Cup Semifinal match, Scola dominated reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and the French team, scoring 28 points and grabbing 13 rebounds en route to an 80-66 victory. Scola struggled in the final, however, finishing with just eight points while shooting 1-for-10 from the field. Still, Scola led a miraculous run for Argentina — a team that wasn’t even expected to make it to the semi-finals going into the tournament.
Sergio Llull was Spain’s second-leading scorer in Sunday’s Final, finishing with 15 points and two assists. Llull averaged 10.5 points and 3.8 assists over the course of the tournament, but in the last two rounds averaged 16 points and four assists.
Llull has teased the Rockets for a decade, turning down several opportunities to join the team, which is why we have previously questioned whether the Rockets should still be holding out hope for the guard.
If he continues to play at this level, expect Houston to keep propositioning Sergio whenever possible.