After winning the Naismith Trophy in 2010 and 2014, Team USA will end back-to-back FIBA Basketball World Cup runs without making an appearance in the championship game.
Germany shocked Team USA in Friday’s semifinal matchup, holding off a late surge to secure a 113-111 victory. The Americans will still play for a medal in the third-place contest, but it is certainly not the one that they wanted.
USA Basketball fans who didn’t set their alarms for the semifinal round may have hopped out of bed with one big question: What the heck happened in this tournament?
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What went wrong for Team USA at FIBA World Cup?
Team USA didn’t have the country’s best players
Let’s not bury the most obvious point here. This was not a loaded Team USA roster.
Consider this list of American players that didn’t participate in the FIBA World Cup: Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum… should we keep going? There was not a single All-NBA player in the rotation.
Simply put, the level of talent wasn’t as overwhelming as it has been at previous international events.
“These games are difficult. This is not 1992 anymore,” Team USA head coach Steve Kerr said after the loss to Germany. “Players are better all over the world. Teams are better. It’s not easy to win a World Cup or an Olympic game.”
Team USA couldn’t overcome the size disadvantage
Speaking of roster construction, the Americans clearly had a frontcourt problem.
Montenegro, Lithuania and Germany all took advantage of Team USA’s lack of size. In those three games, it was outrebounded on the offensive glass 53-24. The Germans had 25 second-chance points compared to only eight for the Americans in the semifinals.
Jaren Jackson Jr. in particular had a rough tournament, often struggling to stay on the floor because of foul trouble and not helping out much in the rebounding department. Paolo Banchero served as the primary backup big man, and Walker Kessler rarely came off the bench.
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As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor noted, Kerr could have experimented with more lineups featuring Jackson playing alongside Kessler. Jackson has thrived next to a true center in Steven Adams with the Grizzlies — perhaps Kessler could have filled that role if he had been given more minutes.
Team USA lost the 3-point shooting battle
The size issue created a domino effect, as Team USA defenders often had to collapse into the paint on mismatches, leading to open looks.
“[Germany has] a lot of big, strong guys in there on the switches. They put a lot of stress on your defense,” Kerr said.
Lithuania drained its first nine 3-pointers in a 110-104 win over Team USA, shooting 14-of-25 overall. The Americans shot a better percentage from deep than the Germans (48.0 to 43.3), but Germany hit more total 3-pointers (13 to 12).
It’s also worth pointing out that Team USA fouled German sharpshooter Andreas Obst three times on attempts from beyond the arc. He converted on eight of his nine opportunities at the free throw line in a game that was decided by just two points.
Put all of those elements together, and you have another disappointing finish for the Americans at the FIBA World Cup.