After another loss in exhibition play, this time to Australia following Nigeria’s massive upset, USA Men’s Basketball is 0-2, sending fans around the United States into a state of confusion. The roster is full of star talent, and dominance in the past has seemed to be the norm, which begs the question: What the heck is going on?
There’s probably more than one answer.
For one, the 12 players on the team haven’t had all that much practice time. Training camp began less than a week ago in Las Vegas, meaning head coach Gregg Popovich and his staff might not have been able to institute their principles in such a rapid fashion. Remember, the individuals who are a part of the 2021 version of Team USA haven’t played together before, while other nations’ teammates are more familiar from a togetherness standpoint, as well as a veteran-leadership standpoint.
Also, the majority of this Team USA group is coming off of a grueling 72-game schedule plus the NBA playoffs, meaning their bodies are likely a little more worn down than in the past.
We also can’t forget that this is a roster featuring U.S. Select team members at the moment, with Darius Garland and Keldon Johnson seeing action as Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton take part in the NBA Finals.
USA players (and staff members) likely won’t want to hear that, though, and could consider it an excuse. So, let’s get to another point that might explain some things: the FIBA officiating. Referees at this stage thus far have allowed for a tougher, more physical game than a typical contest in the NBA.
There’s even a great thread from Cranjis McBasketball on Twitter, who pointed out numerous occasions of foul-hunting that didn’t fly with the international officials. Maybe we should keep an eye on that for the rest of exhibition play and the upcoming games that count in Group Play.
These guys are STRUGGLING without NBA refs lol pic.twitter.com/xK6hssOffC— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) July 13, 2021
On the floor, USA seems to be too content with the three-ball and going one-on-one. It’s kind of reflective of the culprit that holds NBA teams back in stretches -- although when guys like Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum are on your roster, you’re likely going to live with it by default. That has not been the case thus far, however, as international basketball preaches the fundamentals of the game with selflessness being the number-one priority. There's a commitment to making sure everybody touches the ball, and teammates play for one another and communicate on both ends.
In addition, perimeter defense is going to be paramount to keeping opposing countries from getting wide-open lanes to the basket. There are two “bigs” at Popovich’s disposal in Bam Adebayo and Kevin Love, and the latter has played a total of four minutes to this point. If the competition is running layup lines and getting by guys like they’re turnstiles, chances are things won’t go well.