Team USA basketball falters at FIBA World Cup

Analysis: The puzzling overseas failure spells potential trouble for Olympics

By Will Pembroke | Staff Writer

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Shortly after one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, there is still drama to be had — extending into the national basketball team.

Although you likely didn’t know it, Team USA was indeed competing in this year’s FIBA World Cup.

The tournament, which alternates years with the Olympics, proved to be a struggle for the national basketball team.

In the quarterfinal round of play, Team USA found itself struggling for answers against an experienced French team featuring an impressive onslaught of NBA talent.

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert locked down the paint while the Orlando Magic’s Evan Fournier dominated offensively in the pick-and-roll. The two combined to lead France to an 89-79 victory over the United States. Team USA finished in a measly seventh place — the lowest in recent memory.

There was much distress surrounding the makeup of our team leading up to the tournament. Many of the country’s most talented players were invited to join the team only to drop out soon after training camp began.

Top NBA athletes in the past handful of years have chosen to stay out of both the World Cup and the Olympic Games because of the potential injury risk and added wear and tear.

The 82-game NBA regular season is no picnic, especially for those who are dealing with nagging injuries and rehabilitation.

Modern sports science has shown the importance of rest and recovery for players. This does not help the case for Team USA during the recruitment process for NBA talent to play intense basketball for an extra month and a half each year.

This year’s team was destined to struggle from the outset. A lack of elite perimeter shooting, size in the paint and team chemistry made it difficult against international squads, many of which have been playing together for years.

The discrepancy in experience between the United States and European teams was especially sizeable. The eventual champion Spanish national team was not more talented than Team USA on paper. What it lacked in talent it made up for in on-court chemistry and experience in game-deciding moments.

The international arenas Team USA played in were often extremely loud and crowded. Combined with a different team dynamic than a typical NBA team and trying to develop some rhythm with teammates who had likely never played together, it is easy to see where the United States was at a disadvantage.

What’s next for the U.S. team you may ask? Well, for starters, It needs a serious overhaul.

It was nice to see younger players like Jalen Brown, Jason Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and others take on the challenge of international basketball, but higher-grade talent is needed to restore the team to prominence.

Elite-level veteran leadership was sorely missed. Luckily, both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors have verbally committed to the Olympic team next summer.

On top of adding veteran experience, the team could use some fresh blood in the coaching ranks.

Head coach Gregg Popovich is a surefire Hall of Fame candidate when he retires, but his San Antonio Spurs have somewhat outdated strategies, which also show up in the way Team USA plays.

Offering the job to a younger, more analytically-driven coach like Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics, Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets or any number of qualified coaching candidates would be a welcome sight.

Americans are fortunate enough to have an overwhelming wealth of basketball talent at the nation’s disposal for international competitions compared to our rival countries.

A small amount of restructuring to the roster is all that’s needed for Team USA to win gold — the same as they’ve done at the last three Olympics — in Tokyo.