The End of an Era – Again

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.


  1. I think what this loss says is that Greece was better than the US in this particular game…no more than that. It doesn’t indicate US born players are getting worse, European players are getting better, blah blah. Greece just beat the US by 6…that’s all.

    It might indicate European players play a better team game. Seems to me that the NBA players are 1-1 players, but I haven’t watched an NBA game since MJ quit the first time.

  2. I wrote this before I watched the game…and after having watched the game, I feel even stronger about the implications of these shortcomings. MJ and Pippen were dominant perimeter defenders. Both were decent 3 point shooters and both were excellent free throw shooters in the 4th quarter.

    It’s easy to dismiss the game, but I believe this game is related to other recent performances. If I cared about USA hoops, I’d be concerned. They’ve lost seven games in the last three competitions. They hadn’t lost games in their entire history through the Dream Teams.

    If you saw the game, you’ll be crystal clear that it was a sound beating – even with the missed 3’s and free throws because the US couldn’t get stops in the half court. Perhaps a strong defensive point guard and someone like Ray Allen could have fixed the problems today – but no matter how you cut – it wasn’t pretty. They went from being up 33-21 in the 2nd to trailing 77-65 entering the 4th.

    Arleen – you gotta watch s’more games!!

  3. By the way, I’m not suggesting that Europeans play a better team game…I think they have better chemistry because their teams have been together longer – and because they play under FIBA rules all the time. That has to be worth about ten points per game – still, when you let a team shoot 62%, miss 3’s and freebies, you can’t complain.

  4. I don’t know – NBA doesn’t do anything for me. I used to watch college basketball a bit, but this is boring now too in my opinion. Not sure what’s up, just can’t relate.

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