Five takeaways from Team USA’s World Cup performance
Going home empty-handed was not the result the United States expected or what this roster looked like it might achieve after sweeping its five-game set and its first four World Cup matches. The United States looked golden.
The Americans lose three of their next four games and go home without a medal. What happened, and what should we read into the United States’ second consecutive World Cup without any hardware? Here are five takeaways from Team USA’s performance at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
1) Welcome to the new normal
The most important thing to learn from the World Cup is that there is not much to be learned, and this is the new reality.
It’s that simple: If Team USA doesn’t send their best shot, it’s 50/50 — at best — if they win a medal.
“The game has been globalized over the past 30 years. These games are tough. It’s not 1992 anymore,” said USA coach Steve Kerr. His team fell to eventual champion Germany. “The players are better all over the world. The teams are better. It’s not easy to win the World Cup or the Olympics.”
The U.S. sent a talented roster to Manila, but not its A team — nor did it send a single NBA player, nor a single player who was on the roster at previous World Cups or Olympics — and the U.S. needs that overwhelming talent to overcome Its difficulties. Another deficiency…which brings us to:
2) America’s issue is cohesion, and this is what appeared in the defense
Team USA couldn’t beat any team it couldn’t beat athletically.
I’m not alone in this observation, or this: The fundamental flaw in the system put in place by USA Basketball is the lack of cohesion. The talent pool in the USA is so deep that we can just take players who are ready to go and put them in training camp for a few weeks and hope that will be enough.
It has nothing to do with training or whether it’s a B or C team. These other countries have players who want to be there, and we have players who have been selected.
– Rudy Gay (@RudyGay) September 10, 2023
That’s been enough for a long time, but not only has the rest of the world caught up with our level of talent, they have fewer players at the NBA level, so there’s pressure on those players to come almost every summer and represent their country. This means that these elite players are playing more games together over the years (often since youth) in the same system, they know each other and they play with a cohesiveness that the US lacks.
You see it more on the defensive side. Kerr and his deep coaching staff – Erik Spoelstra, Tyrone Law and Mark Few – had a solid game plan for Canada in the gold medal game and it didn’t take long for Shay Gilgios Alexander to tear it up and the American defenders.
International defensive rules are different – no defensive three seconds, no illegal defensive calls, more physicality allowed – so the best teams help at the post very early on with the belief that if a penalty kick comes through, they can scramble to fight for the ball . The shorter 3-point line. The U.S. and their split roster had none other than Garen Jackson Jr. as a legitimate protector and he was often in serious trouble (they had Walker Kessler on the roster but he was usually sticking to the bench while Steve Kerr leaned in to a volley with Paolo Panchero in the five). The arrival of help after that was slow, and sometimes smaller American flankers were targeted (Lithuania did this with Austin Reeves). There were also limited quality defenders and American defensive spins weren’t as sharp.
The three teams that beat the United States at the World Cup – Lithuania, Germany and Canada – scored more than 100 points in a 40-minute match. The USA had plenty of attacking talent but couldn’t stop the ball, and it was more about consistency and teamwork than raw talent.
The problem is that solving this requires something Mike Krzyzewski did, which is for the player to play in the Olympics, he must commit to the World Cup. The problem is a few cycles before FIBA moves the World Cup to the year before the Olympics, so requiring a player to do both would mean requiring them to play for two full calendar years in a row. Grant Hill, president of the NBA, realizes that this does not happen with elite players in the recovery-based NBA, so he has wisely abandoned the practice.
Which brings us back to this being the new normal for the United States, having to choose between the World Cup and the Olympics, The game’s elite players will choose the Olympics. So we’re putting up a good but not elite roster that can physically overwhelm most teams but not all, and here we are. The Americans are losing some big games.
3) Anthony Edwards looks ready to make a leap
“He’s the guy, no doubt,” Kerr said of the Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards after he led the comeback from 16 down against Germany in a match setting. “You can see he knows that. But now the team knows that, and I think the fans see that…He really believes he’s the best player in the gym every night. And he’s a dynamic young player. I think he’s making a leap.”
Edwards looked like a player ready to follow a proud tradition of using USA Basketball as a springboard to take the next step in his career. Or they might announce that they’re about to make the leap. Either way, that’s what Devin Booker and Kevin Durant did, and now Edwards looks ready. Edwards was the only American to make a World Cup team, averaging 18.9 points per game during the World Cup.
That’s good news for the Timberwolves, though it could mean some roster massages to build around Ant and get players a better fit for him. He looks poised to be a top 10 player in the NBA, and build a title contender around that kind of player. It will be interesting to watch him bring that confidence to the NBA this season.
4) Tyrese Halliburton, Michal Bridges, and Austin Reeves all had starring roles
A number of US players looked fine at the World Cup, but three of them stood out above the rest in my eyes.
It was Tyrese Haliburton who changed the game for the USA – when he came on as a substitute, his tempo picked up, the ball started moving, and the USA looked better. He’s shown to be one of the top three passers in the game, shooting 47.2% from 3, plus he’s fun to watch (which is why Haliburton and the Pacers offense has one TNT/ESPN game all season). Haliburton leads Team USA with 5.6 assists per game, but the most telling stat is that he led the list with a +13.6 plus/minus for the World Cup.
Austin Reeves, with Haliburton, made the American bench a force and ended up second on the all-time scoring list with an average of 13.8 points per game. He does all the little things well. Watching him was a reminder that the Lakers got an absolute steal of their new contract — four years, $53.8 million — thanks to restricted free agency.
Mikal Bridges showed why he looked like a guy to jump on the Nets after he was traded there last season – 13.6 points per game, shooting 55.6% from 3, and had a championship performance to force overtime against Canada, getting his own goal. He rebounded a missed free throw and hit a contested layup 3.
5) The USA still qualifies for the Paris Olympics and brings the big guns
The United States’ primary goal at the World Cup was to qualify for the Paris Olympics, and Team USA did just that (by being one of the top two teams from the Americas). The United States has won four consecutive Olympic golds because that is what takes priority over the World Cup.
And the United States brings the big guns.
LeBron James reportedly wants to play She has reached out to Stephen Curry (who did not have an Olympic gold medal and was expected to play), Kevin Durant, and they could also be joined by Jason Tatum, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard and Dir Aaron Fox. and Kyrie Irving, among others.
The USA didn’t beat any team in Manila, they couldn’t just overwhelm the talent, they brought this roster to Paris, and there is no team the USA can’t beat.