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The problem with Team USA is that they don’t have the best players

De’Aaron Fox, who we just could not shut up about last week, dropped out of consideration for Team USA’s FIBA World Cup team on Saturday, which means there are 13 finalists to make the 12-man roster:

  • Harrison Barnes; Jaylen Brown; Joe Harris; Kyle Kuzma; Brook Lopez; Khris Middleton; Donovan Mitchell; Mason Plumlee, Marcus Smart; Jayson Tatum; Myles Turner; Kemba Walker; and Derrick White 

This team, talent-wise, continues to get worse, which is probably fine with Gregg Popovich, who earned his stripes coaching a bunch of Division III benchwarmers, not an embarrassment of NBA All-Stars.

But what’s most concerning/intriguing/emblamatic of a growing game is that Team USA, for the first time since perhaps 2002, will not have the best player in the tournament.

Or the second best player. Or maybe even the third?

Here’s a rough top-10 list of the best players in the World Cup, which begins on August 31 in China.

10. Jayson Tatum (USA) 9. Danilo Gallinari (Italy)  8. Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro) 7. Rudy Gobert (France) 6. Donovan Mitchell (USA)  5. Khris Middleton (USA) 4. Kemba Walker (USA) 3. Marc Gasol (Spain) 2. Nikola Jokic (Serbia)  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece)

That’s a subjective list, for sure, but it’s at least in the ballpark, and there’s a huge fissure between the first two players and the rest. Walker and Middleton are USA’s only two All-Stars from last season, and they were in the East.

If you go by All-NBA selections, the USA has one (Walker, third) while France has one (Gobert, third). Serbia and Greece both have a first-team selection each.

Giannis is far-and-away the best player in this tournament; the only thing hurting him is an inferior cast of teammates, including his brother, Thanasis.

The best player with the best supporting cast might be in Serbia, though France and Australia also have a competent cast.

Jokic has Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica and, of course, newly-signed Maverick Boban Marjanovic, plus a crew of familiar Serbians who take tournaments like this more seriously than most Americans can understand.

In FIBA’s mind, Serbia is second-best in the world behind USA, despite the junior varsity roster.

(These two won’t be able to play each other until the knockout round. Here are group stage matchups.)

Obviously, this go-around for Team USA won’t be 1992 all over again, but it also might not be 2014, when Team USA went undefeated en route to winning the FIBA World Cup.

The rest of the world sees an opportunity to dethrone the champs. Sasha Djordjevic, Serbia’s coach, is all the proof you need: “Let’s let them play their basketball and we will play ours and if we meet, may God help them.


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