For nearly 30 years, USA Men’s Basketball has been at the forefront of international basketball competition.
Since the 1992 Dream Team, the first time NBA players were eligible to play in the international tournaments, USA Men’s Basketball as been on a tear. As they’ve won the gold medal in every Olympic competition since 1992 except for the 2004 Olympics, and they’ve won gold in three of the six FIBA Basketball World Championship/Cup tournaments since 92.
During this time USA basketball has relied on the upper echelon of NBA talent to win the gold medals. The teams during this stretch that failed to win gold still had NBA all-stars and future stars (04 with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony) but lacked both the overwhelming amount of established superstar power and the chemistry to win the gold.
While chemistry remains to be seen, it’s no secret, the 2019 FIBA World Cup Men’s USA Basketball team will be one of the weaker rosters established since NBA players became eligible for international play.
To be fair every player that makes the team will be an NBA pro with at least two seasons of NBA experience, and several of their young players have experience competing in FIBA competitions at various U17, U18, and U19 tournaments. It’s also unfair to think this team will be a total letdown, as the top two teams from the Americas will qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics, and it’s not crazy to think this team will accomplish at least that.
However, it cannot be overlooked that the young talent is not as established even in comparison to the 2014 World Cup team. In 2014 while players like Steph Curry, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving hadn’t become what they are today they had all shown flashes time and again of the MVP forms, they’d all soon show. There were also players like Anthony Davis, Demar DeRozan and Demarcus Cousins who were all about to break out as yearly all-stars.
Whichever way one looks at it the 2019 USA basketball team is in trouble and the reasons for concern lie even beyond the potential final roster.
Other Top International Teams Have Top NBA Talent
The days of the USA Men’s team being the only team with several NBA/NBA caliber players are long gone. While not every country in the tournament has several stars the ones that the USA will have a good chance at seeing in the second and medal rounds of this tournament have talent.
Spain, a familiar foe to USA Men’s Basketball, will have international veterans Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio lead the team. Joining them are former NBA players Rudy Fernandez and Victor Claver, and two current NBA players in Willy and Juan Hernangómez.
Serbia will be led by budding NBA superstar Nikola Jokić, fan-favorite Boban Marjanović, three-point specialists in Nemanja Bjelica and Bogdan Bogdanović, and if healthy Miloš Teodosić, arguably the best international point guard in the world.
France will be headlined by Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum, and Evan Fournier. Countries like Germany and Australia will also have several NBA players on their rosters. There is also Greece, they’re led by a player you may have heard of, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
While team USA will have an entire roster of talented NBA players, other teams will be built around their own stars that will be more than capable of matching team USA.
International Guard Play
A highly underrated fact about the Olympics, FIBA, and international competitions is how much guards play a role in dictating outcomes.
Just look to the 2017 EuroBasket tournament, Slovenia won that for the first time by a team headlined by soon to be NBA sensation Luka Dončić and the MVP of that tournament, point guard, Goran Dragić.
Going back even further, when the USA Men’s Basketball program regrouped after losing in 2004, the 2006 FIBA team only won Bronze because at the time their point guards, a 19-year-old Chris Paul, and a 23-year-old Kirk Hinrich, were overwhelmed by the veteran international guards.
While team USA will have the superior talent in guards like Kemba Walker, and Donovan Mitchell, experience matters. Teams such as Spain, Serbia, France, Australia, and Argentina will all have veteran guards who have all played in several international tournaments. Some like Rubio and Teodosić (who again is questionable due to injury) and Patty Mills have all played in Olympics before.
These international guards have played the game with the international FIBA rules, know how to pick up foul calls and can control the pace of the game. While the USA will almost always have the talent advantage, the lack of experience will hurt them at times in the tournament.
Age and Overall Inexperience
If you weren’t already notified of the story, the Instagram page @draftexpress showed the select team that scrimmaged the USA main team today. The select team is primarily made up of guys who play in the NBA G League or play overseas after having short NBA careers.
This select team also beat the main team in two scrimmages yesterday with the final score of one of the scrimmages being 36-17.
Now in all fairness, a scrimmage is a scrimmage. The main team could have been not trying, had an off day, etc.
This isn’t the first time a USA main team lost a scrimmage. The 1992 Dream team lost a now-infamous scrimmage to a select team filled with collegiate players.
However, the main difference between the loses is that the collegiate team in 1992 featured Grant Hill, Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, all multiple time all-stars.
Compared to their main competition in the aforementioned teams like Spain, Serbia, Greece, France, and Australia, the USA men’s team will be the youngest team by average when compared to those countries.
On the positive the amount of youth on Team USA means the players selected will be hungry to prove themselves against all of the criticism they’ve faced. On the other end, having a very young team in international play has proven to backfire on the USA before (2004).
Fair or not to criticize them as much as they have been, time is running out as the FIBA 2019 Basketball World Cup is set to begin August 31, 2019 and whether Team USA dominates or not remains to be seen.
What can be said that if this 2019 team is going to try to make Team USA the first-ever three-peat team in FIBA Basketball World Cup history, they’ll have to earn it the hard way.