The US men’s team grabbed their 58-game winning streak of NBA players in international competition when they were eliminated by France on Wednesday in the quarter-finals of the FIBA World Cup.
The Americans could not win gold in a major international tournament for the first time in 13 summers. The best thing they can do in China right now is fifth place. The last time the US did not win medals was in 2002, when it finished sixth.
There are enough reasons for this big setback. Here’s a look at the top five:
Lack of commitment from top talent. To say that this is a B-list team would be an understatement. The list of players who either withdrew or declined invitations included James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Zion Williamson. CJ McCollum talked about All-Star players signing off in early August and said, “Why should I possibly be the face of what a lost roster could be?”
The reasons for the passing on of Team USA efforts are plentiful, especially if it is not the Olympics. Many older players, such as LeBron James, need the off-season to rest up, and committing to more basketball could, for the same reason, be turned off for younger players whose main targets are an NBA title and contract dollars. Risk of injury is also an integral part; Paul George broke his leg in 2014 during a Team USA scrimmage.
Donovan Mitchell reacts after the defeat of USA against France in a quarter final match of the 2019 World Cup.
But the general mindset hampers the culture, which was redesigned in 2008 when Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski led a team with the best NBA talents. It starts at the top. If the elite players commit, as Kobe Bryant and James did in 2007, the supportive talent follows.
Apart from Donovan Mitchell’s 29-point breakout against France, the previous single game scored highly for any US player at this World Cup was Jaylen Brown’s 20-point game against Japan. This value captures where a Harden or Lillard could have compensated for poor team performance.
New Coaching Turnover
So who is to blame? Not coach Gregg Popovich or assistant Steve Kerr. This situation does not reflect what happened to Larry Brown at the 2004 Athens Olympics when the team won bronze. But the departure of former US head coach Krzyzewski created a natural transition that will entail some adjustments, though Popovich was under coach K as assistant during the Olympic gold medals. They are two different coaches and the allure that Krzyzewski has brought as the leading synergistic college coach has had another appeal for NBA players competing against Popovich in the NBA.
Small ball, no answer for Bigs. Kemba Walker and Mitchell are big guardians with explosive abilities, but the lack of talent on this team started on the frontcourt, where the USA eliminated 41-28 against France. The French center Rudy Gobert (21 points, 16 rebounds) came ten times to the free throw line in the first 20 minutes of the match and it was obvious that US center Myles Turner was outperformed by the twice defensive player of the year. In addition, Brook Lopez went scoreless against France and found no groove in China (2-of-16 on 3-pointers). Davis and strikers Paul Millsap and Montrezl Harrell were among the frontcourt players who decided not to play in this squad. They were missing.
Team USA was without Jayson Tatum (sprained left ankle) in the defeat on Wednesday, missed his fourth game in a row. Kyle Kuzma also suffered an ankle injury that kept him away from the FIBA competition. Team USA had to resort to a role-playing player like Mason Plumlee, rather than a star like in previous years.
Other countries are rising. Popovich suggested in interviews that team USA would have a difficult time, and he was not wrong. The strong game of other teams (Australia also beat the US in the show) this year commemorates the rise of other countries in the early 2000s, which led to Argentina’s gold medal in 2004. Argentina, Spain, Italy, Puerto Rico and Lithuania are other great teams.
USA vs. France
USA defeated France in the fourth quarter with seven points before crumbling. This is due to a lack of experience and team chemistry – something that France and other international teams have much more.