After watching the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup it is clear that the United States has distinguished itself as a class unto itself. This US roster was not comprised of the NBA’s elite tier of players but its second tier. James Harden and Stephen Curry were the only players to claim All-NBA honors while half of the team was not even considered. The US displayed a distinguished style of play, much of which was heavily criticized by commentators throughout the tournament. Chastised for selfish, individualistic, culture of play they were warned would come to bite them as competition stiffened. Funny thing, it never did. Kyrie Irving who did not make an All-NBA selection won the tournament Most Valuable Player award and his offensive talent won the championship game before it really even started.
Was this the reality of world basketball today? The US leaps and bounds beyond the rest of the world. Would it be more competitive to have our college kids play? Should there be something similar to the Nike Hoops Summit which fields a world team versus American team … what would that look like? Here are some of the names that came up for the world team: Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Dirk Nowitzki,Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili, Andrei Kirilenko, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng, Boris Diaw, Bojan Bagdanovich, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Milos Teodosic, Patty Mills.
Recalling most of the games I kept thinking that if only these teams (Serbia, Lithuania, Turkey … France, Spain could be included if they played the US) had backups as good as the starters they could make a game of it. Viewing the depth of the above world roster I would argue that they may have caught up and then some.
This conclusion brought me to two realizations. One, the depth of talent the US has is a result of its sheer size. Two, International players may struggle in the NBA not because of a lack of talent, but a completely different style of play. Being on a team with coaches who have a different offensive and defensive schemes may completely disrupt a talented player’s ability to contribute and in many cases impact their confidence. There are the exceptions to those rules. We see immense talents of Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowitski excel but often overlooked are equally talented players like Darko Milicic and Andrea Bargnani who never seemed to take off the way their predecessors had.
It is something to note what happens when someone coming from a particular background comes into an overwhelmingly different majority culture and is forced to adjust. There are coaches and organizations who have learned how to incorporate those from different backgrounds and maximize their talents. Still others get buried on a bench and never receive an opportunity. Differences are a reality of our world that can be ignored, embraced, or rejected. No matter what we choose some will make it, some will not, just depends which particulars are yours.