Yesterday, the United States brought their record in the FIBA Americas Championships to 3-0 with a 50 point throttling of Canada, 113-63.
Through the first three games, the US is averaging a winning margin of 52 points per game.
While these early opponents aren’t all that impressive, the dominance of the victories IS, and it is a very good sign for the return of United States competitiveness in international play. And really, it seems to be a simple solution to their past problems – the US seems to have actually taken the situation SERIOUSLY for the first time in some years.
On the whole, the United States has more great basketball players than any other country in the world (the large size of the population might be a factor, but why quibble?), so you would think that they would be able to adjust to whatever weird type of system of basketball that the international teams play, whether the US players “bond” together as a team like the other countries do or not.
The problem being is that, after the second Dream Team, the US seemed to take an approach of, “Hey, EVERYone can get a medal!,” as the best players began to skip the Olympics, leading to a diminishing squad where, in 2004, the United States only had one legitimately GREAT player in their main rotation, Tim Duncan, who FIBA wouldn’t let him play his game, so with Duncan not being allowed to dominate as he logically should, the rest of the team just wasn’t talented enough to dominate strictly on talent, so they had to play by FIBA rules, only the US didn’t HAVE anyone who would play by FIBA rules (true point guards plus three point specialists), so it was just logical that the United States would have a problem (now, perhaps if coach Larry Brown had played the other TWO legitimately great players, Lebron James and Amare Stoudemire, and given the fourth legitimately great player, Dwyane Wade, more than spot backup point guard minutes, then perhaps the US team COULD have won on talent alone, but we’ll never know).
In 2006, at the World Championships, they attempted to alleviate this a bit by allowing James, Wade and Carmelo Anthony to be the stars of the team, but it was clear that as much of an improvement over the 2004 team that the 2006 team was, the star power was lower (Wade, James, Anthony < Wade, James, Amare and Duncan) and like I mentioned before, if the star power is not there, then the US team has to go with players who fit into FIBA rules (true point guards and three point specialists), and while they attempted to do so a bit by adding Kirk Hinrich and Chris Paul for the point guard roles, they somehow managed to avoid adding a SINGLE three-point specialist for the 2006 team.
Luckily, this year has shown a true commitment to winning, as James and Anthony have remained on the team (no Wade, but they are joined by a healthy Amare), but Paul and Hinrich were replaced by (wait for it) Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams. Then Michael Redd FINALLY was added to the team, along with Mike Miller, and suddenly the team had not only three-point specialists and true point guards, they had, in Kidd and Billups, STAR point guards.
Oh, and then they added Kobe freakin’ Bryant.
So suddenly, the United States has a team that is filled with stars AND players who fit into FIBA rules.
Things are looking up.