The United States of America is no longer the home of the best teams in international competition. For the past six years or so, the US has repeatedly lost to teams from around the world in basketball. This morning, in Japan, the US lost 101-95 to Greece. What does all of this mean?
It does not mean that there are international teams which are better than the best NBA teams – even though many of the best NBA teams are led by international players. It’s safe to say that elite teams like the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons would whip up on most international teams, especially if they played under NBA rules. It is also safe to say that elite teams like the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs would be significantly less competitive without the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobli. Still if players like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were substituted for Dirk and Manu, I’d like their chances against any other international team – including Germany and Argentina. It’s also safe to say that the best individual players are still US born. After all, even though this team had players like LeBron and Carmelo and DWade, they didn’t take any of the NBA’s elite jump shooters along for the ride. Nor did any of the elite free throw shooting scorers make the trip.
With that said, what does all of this mean? To me, it doesn’t mean much except that I have identified three central weaknesses in American NBA and college hoops that appear to lie at the bottom of these recent team failings.
1 – Perimeter defense. Admittedly since I live in New York, I can spot the failure to play perimeter D a mile away. The Pistons and Heat both play tough D on the outside. They have players who are willing to move their feet and work together to shut down opponents. But this is actually easier to do in the NBA and college than in the international game because of reason #2.
2 – Three-point Shooting. There simply have not been many US national team players who were dominant 3-point shooters in the past few years. 3-point shooters really stretch the demands placed on perimeter defenders. A good perimeter defender has to be able to cover shooters and stop penetration by shooters after challenging or negating a shot opportunity. In the international game, most players can shoot from deep – and effectively attack the hoop (even in only to pass to a cutter or to pull up for a shorter J). US teams in the pros and college generally don’t play that way as often. Dwyane Wade dominated the NBA Finals without shooting much from the 3 point line. The same was true of the Pistons a couple of years ago. The Spurs and Mavericks shoot 3’s with greater success – and also use the dribble-drive-kick approach with great success.
3 – Free Throw Shooting. Georgetown Hoyas. Nuff said.
The Hoyas were/are my team, but I can’t front.
These three issues have to be substantively addressed in roster decisions and practicing before the US national team will win again. For now, it’s looking forward to Beijing.