Team USA Discovering New FIBA Identity

In international basketball tournaments, the United States is typically an overwhelming favorite to win. The American roster usually consists of NBA all-stars; the unbeatable teams won gold in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics and captured the 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Cups.

This time around, though, prominent stars in the league withdrew from consideration for the roster before camp started.

So, the 2019 FIBA World Cup Team USA roster features a young core of players who have a lot to gain from an intense international tournament before the regular season.

There are only two all-stars on the roster, Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker and Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez. Then, there are many names that only avid NBA fans would know, like San Antonio guard Derrick White.

This is the first international tournament in which the best players, like MVP Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (Serbia), are not playing for Team USA.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is running Team USA, replacing Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski at the helm for the first time.

Walker, an emerging leader on the team, is taking advantage of the opportunity to play the most intense basketball of his career. After eight seasons on the struggling Charlotte Hornets, Walker signed with the Celtics, a team with championship aspirations, as a free agent.

Celtics forward Marcus Smart, whose defensive intensity and toughness bring an edge to any team he is playing for, has emerged as one of Team USA’s leaders. Walker and Smart will also have an opportunity to build chemistry with fellow Celtic and USA teammates forwards Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

The FIBA World Cup can be a springboard for budding players to follow up the international tournament success with a breakout NBA season. In 2010, Derrick Rose followed up a World Cup win with an MVP season. Stephen Curry did the same in 2014. With an inexperienced roster featuring young players in significant roles, Brown, Tatum and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell have an opportunity to use this experience.

Through training camp and the first four games of the World Cup, Team USA has had its struggles. The roster has lacked a big man who is able to match up with the skilled international big men on display in the tournament and there are not any true power forwards on the roster.

Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes (a natural small forward) has played almost exclusively at power forward and, at times, center.

Team USA’s exhibition loss to Australia broke a 78-game international winning streak and free throws from Bucks forward Khris Middleton were required to defeat Turkey in overtime in the group stage.

Team USA also lost Tatum to an ankle injury in the Turkey game.

Team USA successfully contained the NBA’s reigning MVP. Antetokounmpo scored only 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a 69-53 loss to the United States.

While Team USA is favorited to win the FIBA World Cup, the team is facing significantly more adversity than the dream teams of the past.