Constructing an All Non-American Basketball Team
When it comes to virtually meaningless basketball-related events held in Las Vegas, Team USA’s recently concluded minicamp just edges out the NBA Summer League. With no international basketball event happening this summer (the newly titled FIBA World Cup of Basketball will take place next summer), this camp is essentially an introduction of Gregg Popovich as Team USA’s new head coach and a failed attempt to make things extra awkward for Kawhi Leonard.
A big part of the camp’s shruggy vibe is thanks to the international basketball landscape in which it exists. After a brief crisis of confidence in the mid-aughts when the NBA was still mired in post-Jordan hero ball, Team USA has re-established its juggernaut status by winning the last five best-on-best tournaments. The rest of the world is producing more elite basketball talent than ever before, but no single country is producing nearly enough to seriously threaten Team USA’s reign.
But what if we didn’t leave it up to single countries? What if we set up a Ryder Cup style series between the USA and the rest of the world in a seven-game battle to the death?! How goddamn fun would that be?! Ok, I may have gotten a little carried away with the whole death idea, my apologies.
In case the decision makers at FIBA ever get their heads on straight, here’s what the Team World 12-man roster should look like:
1.) Ben Simmons, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (Australia)
The Rookie (or "Rookie?" for Donovan Mitchell fans) of the Year gets the nod at point guard. It’s not like there’s a host of other option, but Simmons could prove an especially tough matchup for presumptive Team USA starter Steph Curry. His length and athleticism on defense could close the space Curry needs to get off his dagger 3-pointers, and there’s no way Steph is slowing down Simmons’ galloping offensive game without getting into foul trouble. At 6’10 with sublime passing skills, he’d basically be a cheat code if he could shoot.
2.) Jamal Murray, SG, Denver Nuggets (Canada)
I know. I get it. You’re extremely underwhelmed right now. But shooting guard is the weakest position among international NBAers, both currently and historically. The Mount Rushmore of international 2-guards is just Manu Ginobili with four different expressions (all due respect to Peja Stojakovic, but he’s not nearly good enough to get in the way of that joke). At least Murray is a capable scorer (16.7 points per game last year) and creator who could take over ball handling duties if Simmons gets doubled. This team could really use his shooting as well, which is weird to say about a roster of international players.
3.) Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks (Greece)
The best player on the team. You’d usually expect him to dominate, but with LeBron as his matchup all series that can’t happen. He might be best advised to use his freakish athleticism defensively to slow down LeBron, ceding control of the offense to Simmons or Joel Embiid until his star power is needed late in games. We’d finally get to see LeBron and him clash after missing each other in the Eastern Conference playoffs the past couple of years.
4.) Al Horford, PF, Boston Celtics (Dominican Republic)
The least fun pick I’ve made so far, but it’s probably the right one. With a dearth of international power forwards to choose from, we’ll have to downshift one of the many centers at our disposal. Not only does Horford have ample experience at the 4, but he’s the only one agile enough to possibly hang with any of Team USA’s oversized wings. I don’t feel great picking him since he moved to Michigan in high school, but he spent his entire childhood in the Dominican so I’ll accept it. (Karl-Anthony Towns has Dominican eligibility because of his mom, but the dude’s from New Jersey so I’m not including him.)
5.) Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers (Cameroon)
It speaks to Embiid’s talent that his selection is a no-brainer considering the center depth on this team. He has the ability to be dominant at both ends of the floor, but so does the guy he’d be matched up against. Watching him and Anthony Davis go toe to toe for a series would be captivating, which is the only silver lining of a possible Davis to the Celtics trade. Each member of the starting five coming from a different country shows how necessary this series is. Come on FIBA! Make this happen!
1.) Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat (Slovenia)
With a relative lack of quality wings available, Dragic could play an important role running the point off the bench and allowing Simmons to play the 3 or 4 if necessary. He’d be outmatched by whatever uber-athletic point guard Team USA would throw against him, but he’s capable of catching fire every few games.
2.) Ricky Rubio, PG, Utah Jazz (Spain)
His defense against the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall would be critical, and his shooting has come around enough that he wouldn’t be an offensive liability off-ball. If James Harden starts to cook Jamal Murray and score at will, he could be bumped up to create a more defensive minded starting lineup.
3.) Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (Canada)
What can I say? This team needs wings. We know he’d be able hold his own athletically, and with so many other stars on the team he might shy away from overshooting like he does with the Wolves. We haven’t really seen it yet but the ability to be a plus defender is there…I hope.
4.) Dario Saric, PF, Philadelphia 76ers (Croatia)
Finally some shooting! This team is severely low on perimeter gunners, so bringing in a floor spacing big off the bench would be a breath of fresh air. If the starting lineup as presently constructed is too much of a clogged toilet, Saric could be thrown in to make a Greek Freak and the Sixers squad.
10) Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets (Serbia)
The second unit should revolve around the Joker. He’s one of my favourite players to watch, and his passing and scoring ability could pick apart an overconfident Team USA defense. His defense is…well…not, so you’d have to try to hide him on Draymond Green and hope for the best.
11) Kristaps Porzingis, C, New York Knicks (Latvia)
In case you couldn’t tell, this team has big men galore. If this were an exercise in ranking the top twelve international players, there’d be like five centers on the list. The Zinger makes the squad for rim protection and the spacing he can provide for Jokic to operate down low. If he’s healthy and feeling it, he can be a dominant go-to guy.
12) Luka Doncic, SG, Dallas Mavericks (Slovenia)
He’s a just in case guy. And by in case I mean literally in a glass case at the end of the bench that says Break in Case of Emergency on it. If things are going poorly, you tap Luka on the shoulder and see what happens. Maybe he’s the prodigious basketball savant some people say he is. Maybe his passing and creativity can flip the series. Maybe he really is the Slovenian Larry Bird.
Or maybe -- definitely -- this team doesn’t have much of a chance, do they? Here’s hoping for southern secession.