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Friday, September 08, 2023

Germany Advances to FIBA World Cup Finals After Upsetting Team USA, 113-111

Team USA will have to settle for the bronze medal--at best--in the FIBA World Cup after losing 113-111 to Germany. Andreas Obst led Germany's balanced attack with 24 points while shooting 6-11 from the field (including 4-8 from three point range) and 8-9 from the free throw line. Franz Wagner added 22 points, while Daniel Theis (21 points), Dennis Schroder (17 points), Moritz Wagner (10 points), and Johannes Thiemann (10 points) also scored in double figures. Keep in mind that FIBA games last 40 minutes, so giving up 113 points in a FIBA game is mathematically equivalent to giving up 136 points in a 48 minute NBA game--and that is a horrible defensive performance that will add up to a loss almost every time.

Anthony Edwards led Team USA with 23 points, followed by Austin Reaves (21 points), Mikal Bridges (17 points), and Jalen Brunson (15 points). Brandon Ingram missed the game due to an upper respiratory illness, but he has been a non-factor during the FIBA World Cup, averaging just 5.7 ppg. Team USA shot well--38-65 (.585) from the field, including 12-25 (.480) from three point range--but Team USA also shot well and scored over 100 points in their loss to Lithuania. It has been proven time and time again that Team USA's success in FIBA competition is linked to defense in general and three point defense specifically. Much has been said about Team USA's roster composition--specifically, the lack of size--but Germany only outrebounded Team USA 30-28. The real issue is that Team USA did not use their speed and depth to put enough pressure on Germany to create turnovers and contest shots. Germany committed 10 turnovers while Team USA committed nine turnovers, but it is vital for Team USA to force a large number of turnovers and then convert those extra possessions into easy scoring opportunities; the turnovers that Team USA failed to force combined with the numerous wide open shots that Team USA conceded proved to be the difference. 

From an individual talent standpoint, there is no German player who would start for Team USA, and few if any German players who would have even been selected for the Team USA roster had they been American citizens, so USA Basketball has to take a long, hard look not only at roster composition but also coaching philosophies. Should the Team USA roster be constructed based primarily on individual talent, or on actually putting together a group of players who can collectively play championship-caliber basketball in FIBA events? Is Team USA's coaching staff putting enough emphasis on the importance of perimeter defense, and is the roster comprised of players who grasp and implement that message? Two of the best Team USA squads ever--the 1992 Dream Team and the 2008 Redeem Team--featured guards/wing players who applied tremendous defensive pressure on the perimeter, primarily Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in 1992 and Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd in 2008.  

The current version of Team USA is not good enough at pressuring ballhandlers, and is not disciplined enough in terms of getting back on defense and making sure that every shot is contested. It is safe to say that the 1992 U.S. team and the 2008 U.S. team would beat this year's Lithuania team and this year's Germany team by more than 20 points each, so while it is true that other countries have improved at basketball it is also undeniably true that Team USA has regressed from both a talent standpoint and an execution standpoint. I understand that the 2023 FIBA World Cup squad is not our "A" Team, but even our "B" Team should beat Lithuania and Germany, because those squads are not as good as the truly great FIBA teams from outside the United States such as Argentina's squads led by Manu Ginobili and Spain's teams led by Pau Gasol--and it must be noted that many other countries also sent their "B" Team, as Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are just the two most prominent of many non-American players who skipped the 2023 World Cup. 

The bottom line is that we have seen this story before: Team USA losing to less talented teams because Team USA played awful defense.

Germany took an early lead with lights-out shooting and then prevailed after a late Team USA rally fell short. Germany shot 41-71 (.577) from the field overall, including 13-30 (.433) from three point range, but even those exceptional numbers do not tell the full story of how well Germany shot--or how poorly Team USA defended, depending on your perspective. Germany led for most of the game, and led by double digits for most of the fourth quarter. Germany built a 25-15 first quarter lead while making 4 of their first 7 three pointers and also scoring on several backdoor cuts to the hoop. Germany led 33-31 at the end of the first quarter while shooting 9-14 (.643) from the field overall, including 4-8 (.500) from three point range. Team USA shot 11-20 (.550) from the field, including 3-7 (.429) from three point range. Mikal Bridges topped Team USA with seven first quarter points, while Franz Wagner and Andreas Obst scored nine points each for Germany. As is often the case, the first quarter set the tone for the entire game; despite all of the attention often paid to late game heroics and "clutch time" statistics, what happens in the first quarter is very important and is mistakenly overlooked by commentators who do not understand the sport.

Team USA led 60-59 at halftime. Team USA's offense was productive and efficient with 22-37 (.595) field goal shooting, including 8-15 (.533) from three point range, but Team USA's defense was not good, permitting Germany to shoot 20-36 (.556) from the field, including 7-14 (.500) from three point range. Germany outrebounded Team USA 18-13. Bridges and Edwards led Team USA with 15 points each, while Franz Wagner (14 points) and Daniel Theis (13 points) paced Germany.

The third quarter was a defensive disaster for Team USA, as Germany poured in 35 points on 13-19 (.684) field goal shooting, including 5-10 (.500) from three point range. Keep in mind that 35 points in a 10 minute quarter projects to 168 points in a 48 minute game. With all due respect to Germany's team, any NBA team that gave up 168 points to a squad led by Schroder, the Wagner brothers, Theis, and Abst would quite possibly be the worst defensive team in league history--but much more should be expected of a Team USA roster that includes the 2023 Defensive Player of the Year (Jaren Jackson Jr.), the 2023 Rookie of the Year (Paolo Banchero), and a host of highly touted young players such as Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Tyrese Haliburton.

Germany led 94-84 heading into the final stanza. Facing elimination, Team USA had their best defensive quarter of the game, holding Germany to 19 points on 8-16 (.500) field goal shooting, including 1-6 (.167) from three point range, but it was too little, too late, and that lone three pointer proved to be a dagger: Obst's trey with 1:14 remaining put Germany up 111-107, and then Schroder sealed the deal with a step back jumper at the :40 mark to push the lead to 113-107.

Germany will play Serbia in the gold medal game on Sunday, while Team USA will face Canada in the bronze medal game. It will be very interesting to see how focused and motivated Team USA is when battling a Canadian team that is less talented than Team USA but talented enough to pull off the upset if Team USA continues to play poor defense. It will also be interesting to see how Team USA's failure is spun by media members and by USA Basketball personnel; this is without question a failure, and that failure is caused by poor defense in general and poor perimeter defense in particular, the same factors that have caused previous failures by Team USA in FIBA events.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:58 PM



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