Team USA was embarrassed in China this week, losing twice in succession to end up fighting for 7th place. After taking the Gold in the last two FIBA World Cups, this version’s Team USA will be remembered as one of the disgraced ones. In all of the Team USA’s illustrious basketball history, their rank has never sunk as low as 7th ever before.
Kobe Bryant says the days of automatic gold medals for the US of A are over, regardless of who is on the roster. The rest of the world has been catching up on the US in the last couple of years. The years of the 1992 Dream Team composed of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley are gone. Even the Redeem Team composed of Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Jason Kidd had found the going tough in the 2008 Olympics. Kobe is resigned to the fact that “It’s to the point now where the U.S., we’re going to win some and we’re going to lose some. That’s just how it goes.”
This US World Cup team was not glittering with stars, after top-tier talents dropped out before the on-court selection process. The Americans lost a tune-up game to Australia prior to the Games, a portent of things to come. They would win their first five games, but lost to France in the quarterfinals and then to Serbia in the consolation round. Clearly, there is no more awe, no more respect for the Americans in the hardcourt. Reduced to mere mortals, the Americans were mercilessly cut down to size during the tourney.
The debacle clearly shows that the international basketball environment has finally caught up with the NBA standards. Gone are the days when the NBA’s new innovations and techniques would find its way across the ocean in a few years. Today’s technologies have seen to it that training methodologies and team philosophies and more advanced metrics are dissected and disseminated across the cage kingdom. And in real time.
Team USA lost to France due to an erratic offense anchored on the isolation play, and a woeful defense with a less-than-stellar frontcourt. The coaching staff also came up short, opting to go for small-ball when the world has clearly found an antidote for this.
On offense, previous lineups of Team USA had so much versatility and 3-point firepower. This was absent in this year’s edition of Team USA. In the game against France, they led 74-67 with 7 minutes to play, before conking out on offense. Once Rudy Gobert and company tightened up on their transition defense, the small-balling Team USA could not find an answer, finishing the game on the shorter end of a 22-5 French final assault.
On defense, contrary to the assessment of many other observers, I believe that their defense did not perform well enough as well. They had Myles Turner for their starting center. His credentials would pale in comparison with such talents as Defensive Player of the Year awardee Rudy Gobert, or all-stars Nicola Jokic and Marc Gasol. Gobert toyed around with Team USA’s rebounders, with Myles more often pulled out for a smaller Harrison Barnes in the hope that more quickness could provide the answer.
Clearly, the world is capable of matching talents with the NBA’s best now. European ballers know that they can compete – whether it’s speed-wise, size-wise, smarts-wise or otherwise. You can see that in Facundo Campazzo, Argentina’s speedy point guard, whose disrespectful inside forays almost always result in nifty drop passes to their bigs under the goal, or their freed-up 3-point artists at the wings. You can see that in Nando De Colo, the French combo guard, whose wily in-out game baffled the US defenders no end. You can see that in Marc Gasol, Spain’s stretch big man, who can protect the paint, defend the wings easily and still shoot those 3-point bombs if need be, despite his bulk. Or Serbia’s Nikola Jokic, whose uncanny ability to find the open man makes him such an exciting point-center.
Euro basketball is on the rise. And so are the rest of the world’s caging countries. If the NBA doesn’t make a move to regain respect by sending their best talents, if its top players will not care to play ball against the rest of the world, if they continue to believe their raw talents will suffice, then their game will suffer. And the mantle of invincibility will slowly be eroded. And when that happens, the allure of the NBA will surely go down.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of : The Ringer. Other pics courtesy of FIBA, SB Nation, Rappler, CNN International, California, Yahoo sports, KSL Sports, Interbasket, Denver Post, First Post, Euro Hoops, The Ringer, Sportskeeda and Inquirer.net.
I think you nailed it on the World Cup and the state of basketball worldwide. I didn’t see any of the games so I can offer only general observations. The rest of the world is getting much better at basketball. No doubt about that. The great thing about basketball is it is so easy to play from an equipment and team standpoint. You can play organized 5 on 5 full court or any thing down to 3 on 3 half court or even 1 on none shoot arounds. It is hard to think of other team sports where you can improve so much just playing by yourself. And money is no issue.
The USA’s problem as you point out is the best players don’t play in the World Cup. The Olympics is another matter, but even at the Olympics the US doesn’t field its best team these days. Other countries seem to always have their best players on the court for international competitions and they have often played together as a team for years. In terms of depth, the world is still way behind the US, but there are only five players on the court at one time. Also, many of the best players in the world develop their games in US high schools, academies and colleges. There is less awe of the best US players because foreign players know them, have learned from them, and have beaten them at various levels.
By the way, ESPN Sports Center featured an awesome reverse dunk by a player on a Philippine university team on its Top 10 the other day.
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absolutely right! if the US continues to send its second/third team, they will experience more of these debacles, and the rest of the basketball world will slowlycut down Team USA’s advantage here.
Yeah, the guy’s name is Ricci rivero, an upcoming star for the University of the Philippines.