USA Basketball result at FIBA World Cup is disappointing but no longer a surprise

Bronze medal, silver medal, no medal, second place, third place, fourth place or worse, anything short of gold for the U.S. men’s national basketball team at a major competition is a failure.

Yet, reality is that gold is not guaranteed for the U.S., especially at the FIBA Basketball World Cup − not with the roster it sends and not with the quality of rosters in Europe, South America and now North America with Canada’s marked improvement.

Canada sent the Americans home empty-handed on Sunday, beating the U.S. 127-118 in overtime for the bronze medal. It was Canada's first medal at the World Cup in 87 years, a monumental accomplishment for a nation with Olympic medal aspirations next summer in Paris.

The U.S. finished seventh in the World Cup in 2019 and hasn't won it since back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2014 when disappointment from the 2004 Athens Olympics (bronze) and 2006 World Cup (bronze) was fresh and painful and the U.S. was focused on re-establishing global basketball dominance.

And the U.S. did that, winning every Olympic gold medal since that bronze in Athens. But the big blue ball spins, ever precariously, and the world changes.

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The World Cup doesn’t have the same prestige as the Olympics, and the U.S., which qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics in men's basketball, has not been able to send its very best. Does anyone think a team with a combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jimmy Butler, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Trae Young, Julius Randle, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, Ja Morant and Tyrese Haliburton loses? No.

Of that group, only Edwards, Brunson, Jackson, Bridges and Haliburton committed to USA Basketball for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Tyrese Haliburton (4), Jalen Brunson (11), Anthony Edwards (10) and Austin Reaves (15) of the United States react in overtime during the FIBA World Cup game against Canada.
Tyrese Haliburton (4), Jalen Brunson (11), Anthony Edwards (10) and Austin Reaves (15) of the United States react in overtime during the FIBA World Cup game against Canada.

The rest of the world has closed the gap, no question there, and that’s evident by the growing number of international players in the NBA. The last five NBA MVPs have been awarded to players born and raised outside of the U.S. Still, the USA’s best players, collectively, are better than any other country’s best players.

However, with the 2024 Paris Olympics next summer, U.S. players are not giving up substantial offseason time in back-to-back summers for international events. The Olympic event remains the preferred competition for U.S. players. So USA Basketball had to go to FIBA World Cup with a B team.

This U.S. team was flawed – and that was apparent early – with its lack of size and go-to playmakers. The hope was that the U.S. would just out-talent its opponents, and in most cases, it did. But against some of Europe’s top teams, talent alone was not enough.

The U.S. lost to Lithuania in group play and Germany in the semifinals. Germany’s core of Dennis Schroder, Franz Wagner, Mo Wager, Daniel Theis and Andreas Obst have played together for multiple FIBA events, including last year’s EuroBasket team that earned silver and now gold over Serbia in this year's World Cup.

The U.S. doesn't have that continuity. The Americans began practicing for the first time together in August and played five exhibition games before the World Cup where the 32-team field is more competitive than the 12-team Olympic field.

Also, FIBA ball is a different style, one that favors the defense – or at least favors the defense more than the NBA – and limits some of the offensive freedom enjoyed in the NBA.

Size and strength play a factor, and the U.S. World Cup team didn’t have enough. There aren’t many American bigs who excel at the FIBA game, and even if Joel Embiid decides to play for the U.S. and not France, he likely would not have played in the World Cup. He may play in next year’s Olympics.

The U.S. will be favored to win gold in Paris, regardless of the World Cup result. It was a learning experience for U.S. coach Steve Kerr and his All-Star coaching staff of Erik Spoelstra, Ty Lue and Mark Few, and they will be better next summer.

It was also a necessary experience for USA Basketball men’s managing director Grant Hill who assembled his first team since taking over for Jerry Colangelo.

There is pressure on Hill to pick a team that will win a fifth consecutive gold at the Olympics. With a field in Paris that includes Serbia, Germany, Canada, France and Australia, Olympic gold isn’t a guarantee either.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USA Basketball result at FIBA World Cup disappointing, not surprising