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Alternate History

Yugoslavian Basketball Today

The incredible seasons Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic are having got me thinking about what kind of international team could be assembled today if Yugoslavia was still united. Before Yugoslavia collapsed it finish with the Silver over team USA in 1988 and featured, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja, and Stojko Vrankovic. Most were 20 to 21 years old at the time and we never got to see what they would have been capable of vs the Dream Team in their prime. A hypothetical Yugoslavian team in 2022 with cornerstones of Jokic and Doncic would certainly have a chance at gold. Lets take a look at what other former Yugoslavian Countries have today that could have been put around them.

Nikola Jokić
Luka Doncic
Bojan Bogdanović
Jusuf Nurkić
Mario Hezonja
Dario Šarić
Bogdan Bogdanović
Nemanja Bjelica
Aleksej Pokusevski
Alen Smailagić
Miloš Teodosić
Goran Dragić
Vlatko Čančar
Nikola Mirotić
Nikola Vučević
Cedi Osman
Ivica Zubac

These are the names NBA fans would recognize, and I didn’t even list a few like Boban and Dragen Bender I thought would have little chance of making the team.. As you can see this is a hypothetical team that would be loaded with big men, similar to how Spain was in 2008. Obviously, all of them can’t play, and there would be non-NBA names that were needed on the wing certainly, and at guard to fill out this team. That would be the biggest weakness as it is for many international teams, trying to guard USA wings like Durant. The counter to that is any USA team would certainly have their hands full of Jokic and Doncic who might be the top two players in the NBA currently.

This is the starting lineup/core lineup/closing lineup I would envision.

Nikola Jokic6-11, 284
Bojan Bogdanovic6-7, 226
Cedi Osman6-7, 230
Bogdan Bogdanovic6-6, 220
Luka Doncic6-7, 230

Bojan Bogdanovic as the 3rd option the way he has played this season feels out the team well. He’s averaging 20.9ppg on .634% true shooting and playing nearly half of his minutes at the wing. He’s also capable of playing at PF and would fit well their way Doncic and Jokic rebound. Cedi Osman might be the closest NBA player a Yugoslavian team would have as a wing stopper. He plays on the wing in the NBA and even played 32% of his minutes at Shooting Guard last season, so I think it’s possible he starts given the lack of other options. The team would need a more defensive-focused spot-up shooter player. Bogdan Bogdanovic is also quietly having a nice season averaging 17.7ppg, on .581 True Shooting. Putting another 40+% three point shooter around passers like Jokic and Doncic would be trouble. He played 73% of his minutes at shooting guard last season and is capable of defending there.

This hypothetical team could also certainly go bigger as well at PF. Any team that could bring talents like Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Vučević off the bench is stacked. There would probably even have to be some NBA players cut on this team in the post. There simply aren’t the minutes or room on the roster. They would need more defensive role-player wings and guards to fill out the rest of the team in my opinion. They already have plenty of offensive engines with guys like Jokic and Doncic. Their 5th or 6th options are nearly 18ppg type of NBA scorers currently.

If this team had played this summer internationally, it’s likely the best non-NBA team ever assembled. If it had played last year in Tokyo it probably would have a gold medal.

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