For most of us here in the United States, the FIBA World Cup is a significant though secondary international competition compared to the Olympics. Because of that, the USA men’s national basketball team is coming to China this weekend with a roster of very good, but not superstar-level players.
Superstars like Anthony Davis and James Harden have declined invites. And Wizards guard Bradley Beal also declined an invite because his second child is due. Ultimately, Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker is the only American on the All-NBA team for this year’s World Cup.
With the USA men’s national team being a shell of what it could have been, they will not come into the World Cup as a runaway favorite. In fact, they lost 98-94 to the Australia men’s national team on Aug. 24 in Melbourne, ending a 78-game winning streak that started in 2006.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell played for the Americans and downplayed the loss as a “learning experience” in an a postgame interview with The Athletic. To a good extent, I agree. One loss can’t define a team or its projected progress in the World Cup.
But there is still a talent and a chemistry drain for the Americans. Since 2010, they have relied on cobbling a roster of NBA players before the World Cup or the Olympics and hoping talent alone will be enough to win the gold medal.
The 2006-08 men’s national teams had a more consistent core group, culiminating in the “Redeem Team’s” gold medal finish in the Beijing Olympic games. One of the main reasons why the Americans won gold was because of the talent.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant were all part of the team. But most of the players during that time also agreed to a three-year commitment before playing for Team USA. That commitment allowed the stars to develop great chemistry with one another. It’s the same chemistry that the current USA men’s national team just doesn’t have.
Regardless of where the Americans finish this year, they will probably make the Olympics next year in Tokyo, Japan, whether they win the gold medal this year or qualify through Olympic qualifying tournaments. But the Americans need a clear core group of players whom they can depend on for multiple years.
Do these players all have to be NBA superstars? Not necessarily. Perhaps Walker, Mitchell and Barnes could be the key players who develop great team chemistry for another two or three world tournaments.
But until they start getting that core together, it will be difficult to see how the USA can continue winning gold medals in major international tournaments like the World Cup and Olympics.