Mid-season takeaways from a compelling FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2022
MIES (Switzerland) - It's been a wild start to the FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2022 but the action is set to go into overdrive during a busy upcoming stretch across different continents.
While we can still catch a breath, let's have a mid-season temperature check.
Ub Huishan NE are looking unbeatable
Three Masters. And three titles for Ub Huishan NE, who with swagger said they want to overtake legendary Novi Sad's insane record of 32 straight Ws in 2018.
They still have a long way to go having won 14 in a row since a first up loss to Princeton at the Utsunomiya Opener. They've been literally unbeatable ever since with an awesome foursome that might really be the best 3x3 team we've seen in four years.
After finishing 2021 as world No.1, the Serbs have gone up a level with the muscular Nemanja Barac proving a brilliant addition and he has become the glue guy of the team.
Lethal lefty Marko Brankovic is no third wheel and can take over a game whenever it's needed. And Ub surely have the best duo with Strahinja Stojacic and Dejan Majstorovic looking like they've been playing together for a decade - not just 18 months.
It's scary to think but Ub might just be getting warmed up and you wouldn't bet against them getting close to Novi Sad's seemingly untouchable record.
Strahinja Stojacic is No.1 for a reason
The only time Stojacic didn't win MVP at a Masters this season was in Manila, where he bravely played through a leg injury to help Ub claim the title.
Other than when he was limited by pain, Stojacic has been lights out and the best player in the world. His ranking confirms this and so does the eye test. The 6ft. 6in (1.98m) beast appears faster and stronger than basically everyone else.
The 30-year-old can drive to the rack and put defenders in a body bag or shoot from the logo like they're free throws.
The numbers back up his lofty standing with Stojacic leading most categories including player value (91) and highlights (59), which he has 24 more than second best Majstorovic to make him not only the best player but also the most watchable.
He's not 'Doctor Strange' he's 'Doctor Success'.
Have powerhouses Liman and Riga been overtaken?
It's been a tough start to the World Tour for the last members of the famous 'Big 3' alongside Novi Sad with the trio dominating the pro circuit for years.
With some tweaks, Riga have had to adjust on the fly resulting in quarter-final exits in Utsunomiya and Prague. The Latvians have relied on Nauris Miezis who really should be cast in a Marvel film because he's 100% a 3x3 superhero.
In a spark for Riga, newcomer Arturs Ausejs heated up Prague with a shooting exhibition and if he's the real deal then the Latvians aren't done with in 2022.
Fellow power Liman Huishan NE have had a mixed season. They are absolutely invincible in Challengers after four straight titles and 20 - 20! - wins in a row. But the Masters have been their kryptonite although they were runner-up in Manila.
There is no reason to panic for Liman as we've seen their best enough times on the pro circuit to think they will snap their Masters drought sooner rather than later.
Boasting sniper Stefan Kojic along with big fella Mihailo Vasic and red hot Aleksandar Ratkov, these 3x3 favorites are still most equipped to end Ub's winning streak.
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The World Tour is deeper than poetry night
Yes, Ub have walked away with the gigantic cheques but the depth of talent in 3x3 is one the rise, which probably just makes their achievement even crazier.
Belgrade Partizan (SRB) made a statement in Prague with a runner-up finish while excitement machine Washington DC (USA) and Tel Aviv (ISR) made the semis.
It was a similar story in Manila where Australian team Melbourne - led by Commonwealth Games 2022 silver medalists Greg Hire and Jesse Wagstaff - stormed to the semis alongside Mongolian sensation Sansar MMC Energy.
Don't be surprised if a bunch of surprise packets emerge in the Masters ahead.
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Washington DC are must watch
Speaking of Washington DC, these dudes lit up Prague with an exhibition of dunks, crazy dimes and insane shot making.
Recent NBA player Hassani Gravett frequently melted down social media as he fitted in perfectly to 3x3, a game he seemed born to play. And his teammates are equally as dynamic in a four-headed monster that might go down as one of the most entertaining teams we've seen on the pro tour.
But they just aren't playing for fun, Washington mean all business and they are only getting started.
One thing is already clear in the tiny glimpse we've seen - Washington DC are must watch every time they step on the half court.
New stars have emerged
We've already named a few of the new kids on the 3x3 block above but here's a few more. Anand Ariunbold from Sansar MMC Energy is a flame thrower and the 26-year-old can go to head-to-head with anyone on the pro circuit.
Tel Aviv's Netanel Artzi should be in the dunk contest because this dude almost broke the rims in Prague, while step over AI because Washington DC's high-flyer Khalil is the new Iverson in town.
And we just can't forget Mark Tallo from Cebu Chooks who lit up Manila with some of the most ridiculous plays ever seen in 3x3.
Imagine what he will do at the Cebu Masters later in the year in front of his home fans, who will be hyped like they are going to Coachella for the first time.