Congrats, World: You Beat Our E Team
Bringing some sanity to Team USA's loss at the World Cup.
Confession: I’m having a hard time caring all that much about Team USA and their supposed flameout in the FIBA World Cup.
If you hadn’t heard, the Americans finished fourth, losing to Canada in overtime in the Bronze medal game on Sunday morning. Canadian wing/villain Dillon Brooks scored 39 points in the game, earning our northern neighbor’s first medal in a major international competition in 87 years. Good for them.
I promise I’ll care next year. Call me unpatriotic but I just can’t get worked up about our nation’s performance against everyone’s best when Josh Hart and Bobby Portis represent the Americans in place of Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
On that note: The Athletic reported on Monday morning that LeBron has committed to the 2024 squad in Paris and already launched a recruiting campaign for his Team USA “last dance.” Word is that he has already spoken to Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green, who are all apparently on board. Other stars like Damian Lillard, Devin Booker and De’Aaron Fox are eyeing Paris as well.
As an aside, I think it’s interesting to note the deliberate framing of that Athletic report. LeBron is being characterized as the de-facto leader of Team USA, making the calls and assembling his Avengers roster. That is not the angle that Brian Windhorst took in his similar ESPN report on Monday. That said, it should surprise no one if LeBron, the man behind The Decision, would attempt to make himself the protagonist on Team USA.
In any event, the calvary is coming. If you’ve been paying attention to the hand-wringing about the American’s performance over the weekend, you would have believed that the world has leveled up to the United States. Part of that notion was fueled by USA Basketball itself, soothing its wounds from the early exit. After Team USA lost to Germany in the semifinals, head coach Steve Kerr explained that the world has caught up to the Americans ever since the Dream Team globalized the game, saying “This is not 1992 anymore.”
Slow down. While it’s true that the Dream Team did wonders to popularize the sport of basketball around the globe, we need to pump the brakes on America’s vulnerability. Yes, they’re technically branded as “Team USA” but the FIBA World Cup and Olympics should be treated as two wholly separate entities.
It’s the Olympics that American hoopers care about. That stage is what brings out our “A” Team. And on that stage, they’ve blasted the competition for the majority of the past two decades, earning four straight gold medals. Here are Team USA’s finishes at the Summer Olympics beginning in 1992: gold, gold, gold, bronze, gold, gold, gold, gold.
Look at this chart I put together, putting FIBA World Cup and Olympics medals side by side dating back to 1992.
When we frame it that way, our performance in the Philippines doesn’t seem indicative of Team USA’s supposed fall, does it? When the LeBrons, KDs and Stephs show up, they decimate the competition. To put it in NBA terms, the Americans placed fourth in the midseason tournament after winning the last four Finals. Big whoop.
Any sky-is-falling reaction to our FIBA World Cup performance ignores the fact that all of our best players are gearing up for the Olympics next year. One name that was notably absent on The Athletic report is reigning MVP and Cameroon native Joel Embiid, who holds both United States and French citizenship and has been recruited by USA Basketball czar Grant Hill in recent months (years?) to play for Team USA. I’m predicting that he’ll join the yanks in Paris. The Americans need his size, and the chance of being cast as America’s hero might be too tantalizing to pass up.
If Embiid indeed joins Curry, LeBron and Durant on Team USA, the games won’t be close. The talent gap between Team USA’s 2023 FIBA and 2024 Olympics is so vast that Anthony Edwards, who was widely considered America’s best player in Manila, may not even make next year’s squad. Come to think of it, there’s a chance that none of the American FIBA players will make it to Paris at all.
For a refresher, here’s the FIBA 2023 World Cup Roster:
Guards: Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton
Wings: Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves, Cam Johnson, Brandon Ingram
Bigs: Jaren Jackson Jr., Paolo Banchero, Bobby Portis, Walker Kessler
Yeah, I don’t think it’s a lock that any of them make it to Paris. Don’t believe me? Let’s have a serious look at America’s talent. Watch as I easily construct a team without a single member of the FIBA players.
I mean, look at this squad, which I’ll call …
The A Team
Guards: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Ja Morant
Wings: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler
Bigs: Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green
Look at that roster.
Not a single member of the 2023 squad. And to be candid, it wasn’t all that hard to do.
I didn’t even bother naming Kawhi Leonard to the list because I’m guessing his knees won’t let him. Talent-wise, you absolutely put him on there. I didn’t even add 2022-23 All-Stars Jrue Holiday, Donovan Mitchell, De’Aaron Fox, Paul George or DeMar DeRozan to the squad.
Who is Anthony Edwards replacing on that A list? Ja Morant? Draymond? Reasonable people can disagree.
But keep in mind, Edwards low-key shot with iffy efficiency (31.1 percent from 3-point land and 70 percent at the free throw line) and his 18.9 points per game trailed Bogdan Bogdanovic (19.1) and Dennis Schroder (19.1) on the FIBA leaderboard, just ahead of Italy’s Simone Fontecchio (18.0). Love Ant’s future, but if we’re being honest, it was hardly a dominant performance and the early anointing feels a bit premature in retrospect.
You know what? Screw it.
Let’s make two Team USA squads better than the FIBA one.
The B Team
Guards: Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, De’Aaron Fox
Wings: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jaylen Brown, James Harden, Jrue Holiday
Bigs: Brook Lopez, Zion Williamson, Aaron Gordon
Yeah, I think they’d beat the 2023 FIBA squad, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. Brook Lopez may not carry the same box-office power as some other names on the list, but he’d be a really smart add for next year’s squad in Paris. I don’t think a starting five of Irving, Mitchell, Leonard, George and Lopez would have a problem with the one that we sent to the Philippines.
To be honest, you could put in any of the above names in that starting quintet and I’d probably say the same.
Can I make a “C” squad better than this year’s group?
I’m very confident that I can.
The C Team