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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

Team USA's FIBA Failure

Team USA entered into Asia as the prohibitive favorite to win Gold at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

They leave Asia not even medaling.

IMAGE: Team USA standouts Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, and Cameron Johnson walk off the court lamenting an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Team Canada in the Bronze Medal Game at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Team USA, led by HC Steve Kerr, sealed their medal-less fate early Sunday morning with a 127-118 OT loss to Team Canada in the Bronze medal Game -- A Bronze medal game that saw one Dillon Brooks drop 39 points & 7 three-pointers. Yes, the same Dillon Brooks that was relentlessly receiving "Get ready to learn Chinese" jokes after it was reported that his former team, the Memphis Grizzlies, had informed Brooks that he would not be brought back "under any circumstances" after their humbling 1st-round defeat to the LA Lakers. Brooks was also buoyed by Team Canada standouts Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and RJ Barrett, scoring 31 & 23 points respectively. Before the tournament began, it was actually both of these teams that were most favored to take home the Gold. Canada wound up in the Bronze game in the first place because of a disappointing defeat vs Serbia.

That brings us back to Team USA.

After 4 consecutive wins to kick off the tournament, in which USA did not allow more than 81 points defensively, they then went on to lose 3 out of their last 4 games of the World Cup, surrendering 110+ points in each defeat, capped off by giving up 127 to Canada to eliminate themselves from medal contention.

Note the phrasing there. "Eliminate themselves."

Team USA should have won this tourney, taking home the Gold. And it's absolutely inexcusable for them to leave empty-handed with THREE whole medals up for grabs. And, what's worse: that can be said for the last TWO FIBA World Cups that Team USA has competed in -- they didn't medal in the 2019 tournament as well. Team USA Basketball's last medal in FIBA WC play came in 2014 -- a dominant Gold-medal showing, spearheaded by the ultra-dynamic play of future Hall-of-Fame guards Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving.

Players such as Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson and Brandon Ingram headlined this year's FIBA squad, and, yes -- while the talent pool here up against the aforementioned 2014 USA Team looks feeble -- a roster including these three, rounded out with quality scorers & playmakers, should have locked in enough to win.

So, why did they fail? How did they fail? Where does the blame lie heaviest?

It's always important to note the difference between playing basketball under FIBA rules as opposed to NBA rules. Simply put, FIBA basketball today remains reminiscent to the pre-2010 NBA style of play -- the paint area is packed, and the play of the bigs, especially when it comes to physicality, is absolutely paramount. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the defending Defensive Player of the Year in the NBA, yes. But Steve Kerr placed full-time center duties on his shoulders in this tournament, and hindsight shows that to be a major miscalculation. JJJ failed to grab more than 6 boards in EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 7 games he played in. He averaged 2.9 (!!!) rebounds in the World Cup in entirety. And while it's easy to point the finger at Jackson Jr., Team USA as a whole was clearly missing a certain type of edge -- not just on the glass, but defensively on the perimeter as well.

In the Sept. 3rd loss vs Lithuania, USA was out-rebounded 43-27 and allowed Lithuania to shoot an incendiary 56% (14-25) from 3pt range. Dribble penetration, drive-and-kick into open shots from 3 allowed on repeat -- time, and time, and time again. A similar theme followed in the Sept. 8th defeat vs Germany: USA was once again out-rebounded & allowed Dennis Schroder, Franz Wagner & Germany to shoot 43% from three as Team USA wasted a stellar offensive showing in the 113-111 L (Team USA recorded 59/48/95 shooting splits). USA did wind up out-boarding Canada by three (Utah's Walker Kessler got the bulk of the Center minutes today as JJJ was inactive), but once again, the Americans didn't do much better than turnstiles would've defensively -- allowing the Canadians to shoot 46% from three -- on 37 attempts!!

And once again, we just have to point out...


As someone who was captivated by Team USA's Olympic teams in 2008 & 2012 -- not just because of the insane collection of talent on those rosters, but the sheer ferocity, tenacity, and grit as well -- I can objectively say that this summer's iteration of Team USA was such a far cry from those groups of the past. Obviously, Kobe Bryants, LeBron James', and Carmelo Anthonys don't grow on trees. But what was apparent to me more than anything I just stated about Team USA's FIBA failure was the inadequate mentality from the entire program -- from those responsible for putting this roster together, from the flawed coaching strategies, to the lack of grit from the players on the court.

The big rotation of Jackson Jr, Walker Kessler, and Bobby Portis was an abject failure. We've already documented JJJ's struggles, Steve Kerr deemed Kessler too green for a bigger role for the majority of the tournament, and Portis' skillset was too redundant with Jackson Jr's, with less of the defensive ability.

Jalen Brunson was far too up-and-down, far too hot-and-cold in the World Cup, which should not be the case for someone that Kerr deemed the leader of the group before the festivities began. Many fans argued that fellow PG Tyrese Haliburton should've been starting in Brunson's place, but Haliburton went through struggles of his own, especially on the defensive end, which is THE reason the squad got sent home medal-less.

Speaking of struggles, the plethora of wings on the roster outside of Anthony Edwards just couldn't really find consistent solid footing throughout the World Cup. Austin Reaves, who just enjoyed a breakout sophomore season with the Lakers, got picked on repetitively on the defensive end, especially in the losses to Lithuania and Germany.

So, while folk like American sprinter Noah Lyles would say things along the lines of "the World has caught up to the USA in terms of basketball" after this outcome... and while the literal head coach of Team USA appears to second such notions...

I'm not quite there yet. This USA World Cup roster was definitely not the best the country had to offer. Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, etc. all were not present in Asia. Now, if you want to blame "American arrogance" as the reason why those guys didn't choose to play in the tournament... that's a fair point, but an entirely different discussion. I will still take the USA's best vs any other country's best on a basketball court any day of the week. Has the gap closed? Without a doubt. Has it closed significantly, even, especially within the last decade? I'll even say that too. Between Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, & Luka Doncic, that's 4 out of the top 7-or-so players in the NBA currently, which would have been unheard in generations past; that many foreigners at the top of the food chain.

But even with that being said, if this disappointment of a World Cup serves as a real humbling to the Team USA Basketball program -- if the roster constructors at the helm now realize that real lunch-pail type bigs are needed in FIBA competition, no matter how much skill & finesse you have stockpiled on one roster -- if the upper-echelon American players commit to playing in the Olympics next summer -- My money will remain on the States to take home the Gold.

But if the arrogance persists with the players, coaches, and general managers? Outcomes like this could start to become a recurring theme. Which is a harrowing thought to consider.

Some very uncomfortable conversations will start to be had.

But I don't think that'll be the case if the right lessons were learned here & the requisite level of urgency is raised.

We'll see next summer in Paris.


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