Part of the reason I watch sports is the competition of two evenly matched sides and the thrill of not knowing who’s going to win. When you take that thrill of the unknown away, I lose interest. This is why I don’t watch Team USA during the Olympics or FIBA World Cup. Team USA should never lose a basketball game to another nation unless someone has made a huge mistake or the top American players start refusing to play for the national team.
The 2014-2015 all-NBA First Team had only one non-American player: Spain’s Marc Gasol. The All-NBA Second Team also only had one non-Yank, and that was the other Gasol brother, Pau. The All-NBA Third Team was entirely composed of American players. Of the 15 players to receive All-NBA honors, 13 were from the United States. With that much of the NBA’s elite talent coming from the U.S., it’s hard to imagine which other teams can compete on the international stage.
Spain is one of the teams that often come up as one of the best international teams, as they can muster a formidable frontcourt choosing from the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Mirotic. However, when the team gets further from the basket, some deficiencies start to emerge. Spain’s possible guards include Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and a bunch of Spanish League players (Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull, for example). They don’t really have an NBA-caliber small forward to choose from (you could argue that Rudy Fernandez is NBA-caliber), unless they want to try to run Mirotic at the 3.
Another national team that has a good amount of NBA-level players is the French squad. They can boast a potential starting five of Tony Parker, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert, while also having access to other NBA players such as Joakim Noah. But although the French could field a serviceable NBA squad, expecting them to compete with the best American players seems unrealistic when you look at the caliber of team the U.S. can put on the court.
Let’s start with the All-NBA First Team and just switch Pau Gasol out with the next American center on the list. That gives the U.S. a starting five of Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Can the Spanish squad really compete with that starting lineup? If you were to combine all of the best international players into one team, they’d still lose to that group
A lot of players don’t end up competing in international basketball, so let’s say everyone on that starting lineup decided they’d rather stay home. The U.S. could still have a lineup of: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They all decide to stay home, too? New lineup: Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan. They’re out? Let’s go with John Wall, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love and Dwight Howard.
That’s four lineups worth of American players that the other countries simply cannot match up with, and I could probably put together two or three more. The U.S. losses in the 2004 Olympics and 2006 FIBA World Championships were an embarrassment of the inability to utilize what should consistently be an insurmountable talent advantage. Since those losses, Team USA hasn’t lost a single game in Olympics or FIBA play. I fully expect that streak to grow as long as the U.S. can get at least some of their top 20 players to join Team USA.