Red, White and Blew It!
With the expectation to continue the streak of American men’s dominance in international basketball competition since the debacle in 2006, Team USA blew it.
Most American basketball fans automatically assumed the USA team of 12 NBA players would bring home the gold medal in the World Cup games.
Unfortunately, the world hasn’t just caught up with the USA, but in some respects, have left America in the dust. If you count the televised exhibition game against Australia (without Ben Simmons and Dante Exum), leading up to the World Cup tournament, Team USA lost a total of three games in the past month. And they didn’t just lose, they were humiliated by France in the semi-finals, which removed them from medal contention.
If that wasn’t the low point, they were dominated by Serbia, the most recently independent FIBA national team whose coach taunted the US by saying, “if we meet, may God help them (USA)”.
The teams that the US team lost to on consecutive days had two of the best young centers in the world, but that alone is not a legitimate excuse for them to lose. Withdrawing the center position from the American lexicon will haunt the US, but that is a topic for another day.
Not only did the US field a team of 12 highly talented NBA players, but they were led by perhaps two of the game’s best coaches in Greg Popovich and Steve Kerr. Scouting, preparation and game planning for your opponents are all part of winning basketball, therefore accountability for the demise of Team USA must be shared with the coaching staff.
In assessing what went wrong, we must be transparent with the following gaps:
The development of American players: Certainly there has to be a disconnect with the overall development of American players for international basketball. Although US players individually are faster, stronger, more athletic and talented, they aren’t trained in the nuances of team symmetry. Playing with pace, space and all players being comfortable in all areas of the court, including the abandoned low post, is a staple of European basketball.
The Coaching and selection of Team USA: The true measure of a great coach in any sport is being able to take lessor talent and win. Notwithstanding the simple math that 12 NBA players should beat 4/5 NBA players of comparable talent every day of the week, but having a coach who is in consideration as the best coach in the game is the quantifier.
Those on the sideline who still question why the team perform so poorly, must look at the coaching staff and Team USA manager Jerry Colangelo for constructing this roster. Selecting a slew of talented, iso scorers, including the starting point guard will not defeat a seasoned core of well coached international players.
Years ago, the brazen Serbian head coach, Sasha Djordgevich was my point guard for FC Barcelona when we won the championship. He cherished the opportunities to play against the elite American point guards because they would soley focus on their individual point guard matchup with him by outscoring him.
He would wink at me when we walked off the court with another victory. A foreshadow of how he viewed the Team USA and American players is that he would call me in his room to watch film of our opponents and point out where and how our matchups liked the ball.
He would say that the American players (usually a point guard and power forward), were the easiest to game plan because they played the same on every team: a score first lead guard and a physical undersized power forward with limited offense. Therefore, the calculus of defending Barnes would be the same as for Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell- clog the middle and send help when they’re in isolation- the ball won’t move and the mid-range game is almost obsolete.
Pride for country: This political climate since the 2016 election and the Colin Kapernick dilemma has lessened the enthusiasm to wear the red, white and blue for NBA athletes. The fact that every NBA player is making an average of $15 million a year already for eight months doesn’t have any incentive to play- especially if he wants to protect his brand/value from a disappointing showing.
In conclusion, one thing that we can be assured of is that if Team USA doesn’t do a complete overhaul of team structure, player development and coaching style, the 2020 Olympics in Japan will be more disastrous as the fear of American NBA players has been vanquished. It’s unfortunate that the red and white….blew it in China.