For years, we’ve been watching the game of basketball become more popular amongst international countries. With more popularity came more development & more talented players arising from these various countries. The international presence has increased rapidly in the NBA as well. Has the international game caught up to USA?

What’s Up With Team USA?!

Last night, Team USA Basketball lost an exhibition game to Australia 91-83. It’s their 2nd consecutive exhibition loss as they lost to Nigeria 90-87 earlier this week. Nigeria & Australia both have some NBA talent on their rosters but there are no excuses for Team USA. Since 1992, Team USA is 54-4 in exhibition games. These two L’s are the first back to back exhibition losses since 1992. The seemingly worst part about this is that the loss to Australia marked Team USA’s 4th loss in their last 5 games, going back to the World Cup of 2019. As favorites to defend their 2016 Olympic Gold Medal in Tokyo, Team USA needs to get their shit together if they want to repeat. 

International Basketball

The ONLY excuse I can give Team USA is that some of the players are fresh off of playoff runs/appearances. Also, a few players, including Devin Booker, are still competing in the NBA Finals & will join the team shortly after. The roster isn’t as strong as previous years due to all of the NBA injuries & players opting out, but that shouldn’t even matter. There’s still a ton of talent on this roster. They haven’t practiced together much & the international teams have. Other than that, there’s no excuse for this. I believe Team USA will figure it out as the days go on & better on-court chemistry is developed with this new roster, but a Tokyo Gold Medal seems like it’ll be harder to come by than other years. Why is that?

International Basketball Trending Upwards

International presence in the NBA is growing increasingly fast the past few years. In the 2019-2020 NBA season, there were 108 international players on opening day rosters representing 38 different countries across the globe. It was the 6th consecutive season in which there were over 100 international players on NBA rosters. This means international players basically account for a fourth of the league entirely.

SIX international players were named to 2019-20 All-NBA Teams, including now MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, & Nikola Jokic. That equals 40% of the All-NBA Teams coming from oversees. At least two international players have been drafted in the top 10 of the NBA Draft the past 7 seasons. International basketball is trending upwards & is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Why Is This Happening?

International Success

International Basketball

There are many factors that go into this overall trend of international basketball becoming more popular & developing a larger & better pool of talent for NBA scouts recently. First, these international players who are having tons of success are showing younger kids in their home countries that it’s possible. They are going back to their countries & running basketball camps, teaching & developing the kids. This helps these young athletes tremendously. Years ago, there were far fewer resources for international basketball. The awareness of the game of basketball wasn’t as far spread back in the day & the international athletes’ exposure & influence on a global scale was significantly less than that of the American-born NBA players. Now, that’s all changed. The Giannis’ & Luka’s of the world are quickly becoming the face of the NBA. College & NBA scouts are working hard to find their next international diamond in the rough like Pascal Siakam.

NBA Programs Targeting Overseas Talent

The NBA is part of the reason for the international presence growing as well. With programs like Basketball Without Borders, the NBA is essentially developing the rest of the world when it comes to the sport of basketball. They take top prospects from all over the world & have them participate in camps in front of NBA & College scouts. It’s their way of finding and developing the top talent Earth has to offer. Before programs like this came about, less talent was discovered.

The Physicality of the Game

The NBA used to be a very physical game. When you think about the Bad Boy Pistons & other teams like that; you can hardly recognize today’s NBA as the same league. Back then, international players who tried to compete here in America & in the NBA were probably in for a rude awakening. Historically, the physicality of the game internationally could not compare to the level of the NBA and that’s a tough adjustment & could have been a major disadvantage. Now?! The NBA is soft. International Basketball is physical. These players are coming from a land of basically no blood no foul, to the NBA where they’re at the free throw line if a pinky touches them. It’s probably a bit harder for them to not pick up fouls, but I’d imagine it’s a lot easier to get buckets.

Team USA’s Recent Lack Of Success

Who Wants It More?!

Beating Team USA is every team’s Olympic Gold Medal. For the Team USA roster, winning an NBA Championship is the main focus every year. Yes, they obviously should want to go win an Olympic Gold Medal when given the opportunity to, but these other countries & other athletes have more riding on it. Team USA’s biggest motivation (besides the medal itself) is just to simply save themselves from the embarrassment of losing.

Years ago, Team USA could just go out, hoop, & win Gold Medals. It was easy. They didn’t HAVE to want it more. They barely even had to care, the talent levels were just so different. That’s not the case anymore.

It is different. In the past when I’ve watched, you’ll see one guy on a different team that is in the rotation in the NBA, and they might have a guy on the bench that’s just on a team. Now you go out there and the whole starting five is an NBA Team, they’re all rotational players. These other teams from these other countries just continue to improve. These players, they get better, they get more confident, and they also want to beat us badly.

Damian Lillard

Dame kind of summed this all up perfectly with that quote. The rest of the world is getting better as Team USA got worse. It’s not the best recipe if you ask me.

The Future of Basketball

International Basketball

I believe this trend is here to stay. NBA programs like the one I mentioned previously, Basketball Without Borders, as well as others are going to continue to drive an upwards trend in the overall state of international basketball. They’ll continue to develop more & more athletes. This will accelerate the growth of international basketball & its presence in the NBA will also continue to grow.

Basketball is becoming more & more popular, even just in America’s culture. The NBA has been growing in the USA but also globally & the trend won’t just stop out of nowhere. There was a time when the NBA playoffs weren’t even broadcast on national television, now every game is prime time TV. The game has changed & it will continue to do so.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the NBA began to do more overseas games or even consider an international team somewhere down the line. The international game has caught up & Team USA needs to figure out how to stay on top.

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