Kemba Walker, Gregg Popovich
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

Team USA’s stunning loss to Australia raises plenty of questions ahead of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, but that’s where the concern should end.

Danny Small

The last time Team USA lost an international basketball game came in September of 2006. Donovan Mitchell was probably preparing for elementary school when Greece was taking down the mighty Americans in Japan.

Nearly 13 years later, he was in the starting lineup as Team USA dropped another high-scoring heartbreaker in international competition.

In order to contextualize Team Australia’s win over Team USA on Saturday, it’s important to remember two things. First, it was only an exhibition game, but perhaps more importantly, the loss highlights Team USA’s vulnerability in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

With that said, Team USA’s global dominance will continue no matter what happens in China this summer.

Wide Open World Cup

Here we go. The World Cup is up for grabs. If it wasn’t clear when players were dropping off the USA roster left and right, there was no mistaking it during Patty Mills’ fourth-quarter surge on Saturday.

The Boomers are no joke. Mills showed he’s capable of guiding Australia with winning plays down the stretch. Mills, along with Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, Andrew Bogut, and Aron Baynes, show that the Aussies have no shortage of NBA talent.

The Greeks are bringing Giannis Antetokounmpo, perhaps the best player in the world right now. The Serbians have Nikola Jokic, the man who finished fourth in MVP voting this past season.

The French have a stout defense anchored by two-time reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. Not to mention, the Spanish are always in the thick of things. Ricky Rubio leads a talented, albeit aging Spanish roster, but experience and continuity are key, even in international competition.

Team USA, on the other hand, lacks any semblance of continuity. The crudely constructed roster is made up of a combination of lesser stars and top-notch role players. LeBron James, James Harden, or Stephen Curry aren’t showing up to China to put the country on their backs.

Rather, Kemba Walker will be asked to play the role of Captain America. He’ll be flanked by guys like Joe Harris, Brook Lopez, and Derrick White.

NBA

Let’s not overreact. Team USA is going to advance from the first two rounds of group play with ease. That much is a certainty.

However, once head coach Gregg Popovich and his squad reach the quarterfinals, it’s do-or-die. As evidenced by the Boomers on Saturday, anything can happen in a single game.

Sure, Team USA is by far the most talented roster heading to China. Even the so-called “B Team” of USA Basketball is a significant favorite to win it all, but by no means are they a lock for gold.

Truth be told, the 2019 FIBA World Cup should be one of the more competitive international tournaments in the last 25 years.

No Shifting Power Balance

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for Team USA’s struggles to recruit top-tier talent. The change from 2018 to 2019 for the tournament is a possibility. The growing trend of “load management” and limiting wear-and-tear fatigue is another. The shifting power dynamic in the league is another story entirely.

However, once a few players dropped out, the hits just kept on coming. Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum appeared on the Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski and he offered some insight into the potential mindset of NBA stars.

“I think other guys looked at it like: ‘Why would I go and potentially be the face of a losing roster?’ Or the workload part. If we all play, the workload is less — 20-25 minutes, you get blowouts, you’re moving on,” McCollum said. “A lot of guys don’t play, your minutes might go up, your usage might go up, and that affects your summer as you go into March when that crash comes. January is where that crash comes before the All-Star break and then after the All-Star break, guys start to break down in March and April.

“Those extra miles and summertime hours… I’ve led the league in miles or close to it every year, I don’t want to run around in Australia or China and then come back and have to get ready for the season when I can be strategically planning my workload.”

USA Basketball faltered for the first time in almost 13 years. It’s a significant moment in time and as stated earlier, it puts the World Cup in play for a handful of teams. But let’s put this loss into perspective.

The dynamic between Team USA and the rest of the world hasn’t changed all that much. The Olympics, set to take place in Tokyo next summer, will draw much better talent than the World Cup.

The best of the best will be back in the fold and Team USA will cruise to gold for the fourth-straight time and seventh in eight tries.

To be clear, the rest of the world is catching up to the United States, but not as fast as the World Cup could imply.

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