- The 2023 FIBA Tournament had an embarrassing ending for Team USA
- Major questions are raised about the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games
- International teams no longer feat the once-mighty Americans
The criticism heading the USA’s way is far and wide following the disastrous 2023 FIBA World Cup. The major criticism was that the Americans sent their “C” Team without any known stars outside of Anthony Edwards, who is only 22 years old without major tournament experience as a professional in the NBA or on the international stage. Clearly, that was not good enough to beat top teams including Germany, Serbia, and Canada.
The first major warning sign was the loss against Latvia in the group stage as the Americans lost 110-104. Conceding 110 points is clearly a result of poor defensive play, and much of the country was worried once Germany was the next opponent in the semifinal. As expected, Germany won thanks to their teamwork and defense in a 113-111 result. Once again, conceding 113 points is very worrying. In the bronze medal game, the USA once again lost, this time to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Canadians in a 127-118 result.
While these results are shocking in terms of the scorelines, there are major questions about the upcoming 2024 Olympics. It is true that the Americans can field a version of the Redeem Team with superstar players, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is afraid. In fact, nobody is afraid of the USA anymore.
In the past four Olympics, it wasn’t exactly a sweep every time. In 2008, the USA needed Kobe Bryant to handle the tough Spanish team in the Finals as the score was close for most of the game before Bryant and company managed to win gold in a 118-107 victory. In 2012, the USA needed Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant to manage a 7-point victory against Spain. These scorelines aren’t exactly blowouts by any means.
In the next two tournaments, in 2016 and 2020, Kevin Durant was forced to save the day as the Americans won gold on both occasions. No doubt, without Durant, the scorelines would have been much different. Needing a single player or specific players to win gold is not a great sign, especially when the last two FIBA tournaments have ended in disaster for the Americans.
Nobody is afraid of the Americans in international basketball and that is truly a shame due to a variety of reasons that will be discussed below. Buckle in NBA fans, because basketball is truly a global sport right now.
There Isn’t Great Defense In The NBA Anymore
One of the key factors contributing to the change of the USA’s fear factor is the marginalization of defense in the NBA, which has made it increasingly difficult for American players to dominate on the international stage. After all, the NBA, often considered the premier basketball league in the world, sets trends for the sport globally. Over the past couple of decades, there has been a noticeable shift in the league’s style of play. Teams are prioritizing offense over defense, with a focus on three-point shooting, fast-paced transitions, and high-scoring games. This evolution has shaped the skill sets and mentalities of American players.
Basketball talents in the United States are groomed with an emphasis on scoring and individual offensive skills. While this approach has produced incredibly skilled offensive players, it often comes at the expense of defensive fundamentals. Players are encouraged to excel in offensive situations, but the importance of team defense is often overlooked with the goal of out-scoring teams.
Unlike international teams, which often have players who specialize in defense and can shut down opposing stars, Team USA has been lacking in this department. The NBA’s focus on offense means that American players are rarely celebrated for their defensive prowess. As a result, Team USA often fields lineups that lack defensive specialists.
As a result, International players have adapted to this shift in the basketball landscape. They have honed their skills to exploit the weaknesses of American players on the defensive end. This includes using pick-and-roll plays, exploiting mismatches, and taking advantage of defensive lapses that have become more common among American players.
Not to mention, Euroleague basketball is one of the most competitive leagues in the world and is built on old-school philosophies such as toughness, defense, teamwork, and aggression. While ball-sharing is at an all-time high in the NBA, toughness, aggression, and defense isn’t. It is surprising that the greatest athletes in the world are not playing as hard as players in the Euroleague for example.
The fact that Team USA only had Jaren Jackson Jr. as the main defensive paint enforcer on the roster in the 2023 FIBA World Cup shows how brainwashed coaches and players have become in an NBA that has taken away aggression and allowed for ticky-tack fouls that won’t fly anywhere else in the world. Without defensive aggression, there is no way any USA team can win a gold medal in the 2024 Olympics, and the rest of the world knows this.
International Players Would Die To Be There For Their National Teams
Veteran NBA swingman Rudy Gay said it best, international players would literally die to compete for their country. Unlike their American counterparts, international players often exhibit an unwavering commitment to representing their national teams.
For many of them, playing for their country is the pinnacle of their basketball careers. This dedication is rooted in a deep sense of patriotism and pride, which fuels their desire to compete at the highest level.
Meanwhile, not one recognizable star decided to suit up for Team USA and compete for their country. It is truly a shame that modern stars lack patriotism and do not feel the need to represent the sport of their country that has given them millions of dollars and fame. While some of the NBA veterans should be given a pass due to age and attrition (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant), there isn’t an excuse for the rest of the NBA All-Stars. Even coach Steve Kerr had to admit turnover every tournament is making it difficult for America to win internationally.
International teams are fielding their best players while the USA scrambled to put together a roster of rookies, young players, and unproven talents on the international stage in the FIBA World Cup. The fact that 22-year-old Anthony Edwards was the best player on the team just shows how shallow the talent pool was this season and has been in past tournaments. It is unacceptable that American players don’t feel the patriotism that other players do for their country.
The fact that international players view representing their nation as an honor and privilege means nobody fears the Americans any more. They understand the significance of wearing their country’s jersey and competing for their fellow citizens. This strong sense of national identity and pride often leads to a level of commitment and determination that is unmatched.
USA Players Are Not Dominant Anymore
We can ignore it all we want, but American players are not as dominant globally anymore. The evidence is there to see. Basketball has become a global phenomenon, with a surge in talent from various corners of the world. International players have honed their skills to a level where they can now compete on par with, and sometimes surpass, American players. The globalization of basketball means that the gap in talent between the USA and other nations has significantly narrowed.
International players like Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid have risen to superstar status in the NBA. These players have demonstrated their ability to dominate games, win MVP awards, and lead their teams to success at the highest level of competition, further eroding the perception of American players as the sole dominant force in basketball.
The last five regular-season MVPs have been international players Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid while Luka Doncic is considered the future face of the NBA at only 24 years old. There is no doubt that arguably four of the top-five players in the world are not American and they are dominating in more than one aspect on the floor, unlike past American MVP winners before them.
Slovenia will feel they have the best player in the 2024 Olympics, and so will Greece, Serbia, and even Canada with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The most dominant stars in the NBA right now are Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Devin Booker, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum, and Kawhi Leonard. Most of these players are offense-first players while the rest are constantly injured and are somewhat disregarded in major individual awards as a result.
International stars are in their prime, always available, and dominating the game in more than one aspect. This is not 1992 when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Charles Barkley among others were by far the greatest talents and leaders in the world. There aren’t even Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, or other elite international stars competing anymore.
It is truly unfair to rely on the greatness of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant who are each over 34 years old and dealing with their own injury issues. Speaking of LeBron James, the greatest leader in basketball, he will be 39 years old and counting in the 2024 Olympic Games.
LeBron James Will Be 39 Years Old In The 2024 Olympic Games
LeBron James is motivated to suit up for Team USA in the 2024 Olympic Games and is doing his best recruiting job by trying to convince Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and others to join him on the path to the gold medal. The Americans need a leader for the Olympics because bringing together young players is only going to end in disaster. USA needs The King, but unfortunately, he will be 39 years old and counting by the time the tournament rolls around.
While LeBron continues to be a remarkable player, age catches up with even the most exceptional athletes. As players age, their physical abilities, such as speed and agility, decline, impacting their performance on the court. We saw glimpses of LeBron looking gassed in the playoffs last year and will continue to see it in the upcoming NBA season as he looks to win his fifth NBA championship.
As LeBron James and other aging stars advance in their careers, they may transition from being dominant scorers to providing leadership and experience on the team. While their basketball IQ and leadership qualities are invaluable, they may no longer possess the explosive athleticism that once struck fear into opponents. International might fear LeBron’s basketball IQ, but by the time the Olympics roll by, they will be healthier and more athletic.
With the knowledge that LeBron James is not as invulnerable as he once was, international players are approaching games against Team USA with increased confidence. They are less intimidated by the reputation of American superstars, knowing that age can level the playing field, and that is not a great sign for the Americans.
The hope is that LeBron James can be the leader of the team while Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis do the rest for the Americans. Team USA needs their absolute best in a similar form to the 2008 Redeem Team to avenge the back-to-back FIBA World Cup disasters, and we better see it before global embarrassment becomes the norm.