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Comparing the 2019 U.S. men’s senior national team to other recent FIBA World Cup teams

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During the 1998 FIBA World Cup, the United States was unable to send NBA players to represent the country due to the league’s ongoing lockout. Instead, the U.S. men’s senior national team was forced to send professionals playing overseas and college players, and they were ultimately unable to walk away with the gold medal.

In the four World Cups since, the United States has gone back to using NBA players, and they have had some serious success, as they won three medals (two golds, one bronze) during that span. The program is trending in the right direction as well, as it went from finishing without a medal in 2002, to winning the bronze medal in 2006, to now having an opportunity this summer to become the first team to win three consecutive gold medals in the tournament’s history.

But before the tournament officially gets underway at the end of the month, it seems like a good time to take a look back at the United States’ recent World Cup squads since that ’98 lockout season, and how they stack up against the current team. Below you will find the roster, location, and result for each of the past five U.S. World Cup teams, as well as a brief comparison to the current squad.  

2002: A disastrous finish for Team USA

  • Coach: George Karl
  • U.S. finish: No medal (81-78 loss to Yugoslavia in quarterfinal)
  • Tournament host: United States
POINT GUARD SHOOTING GUARD SMALL FORWARD POWER FORWARD CENTER
Baron Davis Reggie Miller Paul Pierce Elton Brand Antonio Davis
Andre Miller Michael Finley Shawn Marion Raef LaFrentz Jermaine O’Neal
Jay Williams Ben Wallace

Comparison to 2019 team: The 2002 team is probably the closest comparison, roster-wise, to the 2019 team. There’s talent on both teams, but both lack the superstar-level players that the other iterations had at their disposal. The 2002 U.S. team was ultimately an enormous disappointment, as they failed to qualify for a medal and instead finished sixth, despite being the host country.

How bad was that 2002 team? Consider this from The Ringer“No, but seriously: Team USA played nine games and lost the free throw percentage battle in every single one of them. Puerto Rico shot 56.5 percent from the line in the classification round that determined whether the teams played in the fifth-place game or the seventh-place game — they still shot better from the stripe than Team USA. The U.S. shot 62.8 percent over those nine games, the equivalent of Tristan Thompson‘s career free throw percentage. They lost their three games by a combined 16 points; they left 71 on the table. 

This isn’t to reduce the tournament to a game of inches cliche; the U.S. wasn’t good enough to win gold in 2002, even if they did make 25 percent more of their freebies. There was zero accountability on the team from top to bottom, and that includes head coach George Karl.” 

Hopefully, things go better for the 2019 team.

2006: Team USA bounces back and wins a medal

  • Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
  • U.S. finish: Third place (101-95 loss to Greece in semifinal)
  • Tournament host: Japan
POINT GUARD SHOOTING GUARD SMALL FORWARD POWER FORWARD CENTER
Chris Paul Dwyane Wade LeBron James Chris Bosh Dwight Howard
Kirk Hinrich Joe Johnson Carmelo Anthony Elton Brand Brad Miller
Shane Battier Antawn Jamison

Comparison to 2019 team: In 2006, the U.S. was coming off of an extremely embarrassing performance in the previous World Cup, in which they failed to qualify for a medal despite the fact that they were the host country, and looking to re-establish themselves as a global basketball powerhouse, Though they ultimately fell short of winning the gold medal and instead finished with the bronze, this team was extremely important, as it continued to provide many of the league’s top young talents — guys like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony — with international experience.

There are at least six future Hall-of-Famers on the 2006 roster, which is certainly something you can’t say about the 2019 squad.

2010: Kevin Durant’s MVP performance leads U.S. to gold

  • Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
  • U.S. finish: First place (81-64 win over Turkey in Gold Medal Game)
  • Tournament host: Turkey
POINT GUARD SHOOTING GUARD SMALL FORWARD POWER FORWARD CENTER
Derrick Rose Stephen Curry Kevin Durant Lamar Odom Tyson Chandler
Russell Westbrook Eric Gordon Rudy Gay Danny Granger Kevin Love
Chauncey Billups Andre Iguodala

Comparison to 2019 team: By the time the 2010 World Cup rolled around, the U.S. was hungry for a gold medal, as they hadn’t won one since 1994, and they were ultimately able to take care of business, thanks largely to a young Kevin Durant, who was named MVP of the tournament. Durant had a lot of help though, as Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, and Derrick Rose were all also key contributors. Overall, the 2010 team had much more top-tier talent than the 2019 team does.

2014: Team USA makes it back-to-back titles

  • Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
  • U.S. finish: First place (129-92 win over Serbia in Gold Medal Game)
  • Tournament host: Spain
POINT GUARD SHOOTING GUARD SMALL FORWARD POWER FORWARD CENTER
Derrick Rose James Harden DeMar DeRozan Anthony Davis DeMarcus Cousins
Kyrie Irving Klay Thompson Rudy Gay Kenneth Faried Andre Drummond
Stephen Curry Mason Plumlee

Comparison to 2019 team: The 2014 U.S. World Cup team was stacked with stars, and even though many of the top players on the team were just coming into their own at that time, you already knew that they were on the path to greatness. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Anthony Davis are all in the conversation regarding the league’s top players today, and considering the talent on the team, it’s not surprising that they were able to win the second straight gold medal for the United States. Overall, the talent on the 2014 team was clearly superior to the talent on the ’19 team.

2019: Superstars withdrawing puts pressure on Team USA

  • U.S. finish: TBD
  • Coach: Gregg Popovich
  • Tournament host: China
POINT GUARD SHOOTING GUARD SMALL FORWARD POWER FORWARD CENTER
Kemba Walker Khris Middleton Harrison Barnes Kyle Kuzma Brook Lopez
De’Aaron Fox Donovan Mitchell P.J. Tucker Mason Plumlee Myles Turner
Derrick White Marcus Smart Jaylen Brown
Joe Harris Jayson Tatum

Team USA has made a lot of headlines this summer due to all of the top-tier talent that has withdrawn from the roster. James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Kevin Love are just a few that have decided not to participate in the late summer international tournament for various reasons.

As a result, the 2019 team clearly doesn’t have the surefire superstar-level talent that past teams have had, but the lack of established stars also provides an enormous opportunity for the players that are participating; something managing director Jerry Colangelo is excited about.

“If you look at the history of USA Basketball, in ’08 we had 12 players when we won the gold medal in China—and in ’10 we had 12 different players, and four of those young players [Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry] all went on to be MVPs,” Colangelo said. “But they were 21, 22-year-old guys at the time,” Colangelo said. “So, some of the young players here are in that same boat. They have the opportunity to showcase. … Donovan Mitchell, Kuzma, Fox, whoever they may be, it’s kind of exciting.”

Entering the ’19 FIBA World Cup – which will occur in China from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 – the U.S. men’s senior national team has an all-time overall FIBA record of 123-27; a number that they will clearly look to improve upon at the end of the month. The faces may be different, but the goal remains the same for Team USA.

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