A World Cup for basketball—what a novel idea. And something that you would think Americans, fans of both the FIFA World Cup and basketball, would love. But since NBA players were first allowed to participate in 1994, the FIBA World Cup hasn’t really caught fire in the United States. And if you were to ask the casual basketball fan why not, they would likely tell you it’s because the U.S. team is too stacked or that they don’t want to watch international teams with no-name players.
I have good news for those casual fans: The 2019 USA FIBA roster only has two all-stars (assuming neither Kemba Walker nor Khris Middleton drops out before the final cut) and the two best players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic hail from Greece and Serbia, respectively.
In years past, Team USA has been spoiled with talent, frequently playing four players together who earned their spots by scoring 25 points per game at volume but lack other critical, team-optimizing skills. At its best, Team USA had a run-and-gun style offense that struggles in the half-court, and at its worst, stumbled through games with a collection of inefficient shooters that take quick shots and are unable to get critical stops.
During past FIBA tournaments, it even felt natural to have resentment toward Team USA. So much talent on paper, but a team that found itself frequently tied or losing to teams with three or fewer NBA players. But this year’s crew of previously looked-over number twos or threes, or even fourth, fifth and sixth options is much more likable. The roster is composed of a balance of all-around scorers complemented with lengthy shooters, and scrappy defenders whose invitations only came after the first batch of players rejected theirs. It’s an anomaly among past Team USA rosters, but the 2019 team could be described as having a chip on their shoulder.