The Team USA effect is no joke. Since NBA players were welcomed onto the international stage, those individuals have undoubtedly benefited from playing high level competition, rather than just playing unorganised pick-up against other bored players from the league all summer.
After being anointed the greatest players on the planet at the Barcelona Olympics, Michael Jordan had one of his greatest seasons and the Chicago Bulls completed their first three-peat. Charles Barkley also stood out from the pack in Spain and became the league MVP the following year.
Soon after the FIBA World Cup in 1994, Reggie Miller earned his first All-Star selection and Shaquille O’Neal took his Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals. In 1996, formidable one-two punch John Stockton and Karl Malone experienced their second go-around with Team USA and led the Utah Jazz to two consecutive Finals appearances.
In the 2000 Olympics, the likes of Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett used their experience to take the next step in their respective careers.
When the wheels began to fall off for Team USA, players from Argentina and Spain started to make a name for themselves, were drafted into the NBA and started winning championships. It was no longer just a Team USA effect. NBA teams were also feeling the benefit of their international talent playing throughout the offseason.
So, after this summer’s FIBA World Cup, which teams will be impacted by the increased talent returning from China?
With three players competing in the FIBA World Cup, all on different teams, each Utah Jazz man excelled for their respective country. Donovan Mitchell was arguably the best player for Team USA, scoring 29 points in the first three quarters of the quarterfinal loss before the team went to Kemba Walker in the final frame and ended up losing their chance at a medal.
Two-time NBA Defensive Player Of The Year Rudy Gobert stepped up his play even further in the tournament, and proved his use on offense. Gobert is not hugely skilled in the post, so he will never be a feature player, but without another big clogging up the lane for France, he has shown a great offensive rebounding ability, which has helped him score 11.3 points per game. Now that the Jazz have cleared Derrick Favors out of the way, Gobert should be able to roam the paint at will, blocking anyone that enters and scoring on anyone he wants with new ball handlers tossing up lobs.
For Australia, Joe Ingles was a key component to them challenging for a top spot on the podium. He is only averaging 9 points per game in China, but Ingles averaged 6 rebounds and 6 assists on a team that doesn’t need to rely on him for scoring big with Patty Mills showing a superstar ability. He is the perfect glue guy for Utah, and can make the team into a championship contender this season.
In truth, the Boston Celtics are going to be fine this season. When Jayson Tatum was healthy, the USA played well, and he turned up in the clutch when they were under pressure from Turkey, but got injured during on a fast break while dishing it off to make a winning play. The injury shouldn’t cause major concern for the team as he messaged Celtics head coach Brad Stevens almost immediately saying it wasn’t bad.
While you might read differently elsewhere, Kemba Walker played well at the FIBA World Cup. Leading the team in points, assists and efficiency through seven games is not easy, but the real struggle came when the roster offered a lack of skilled bigs in multiple spots on the floor. Limited size meant screens weren’t as effective and options were limited, and while that was ultimately the downfall of Team USA, it might also cause issues in Boston. The best line-up available for the Celtics will likely be Walker, Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart (who all played in China) and Gordon Hayward – none of them over 6’7. Enes Kanter is likely the greatest talent above that height, so it will be up to Stevens to make the shorter units work because Gregg Popovich couldn’t for the national team.
There are are dozens of other team, like the Denver Nuggets that will benefit from an in-shape Nikola Jokić or the Orlando Magic that have an improved leader in Evan Fournier returning. It’s not just a case of the Team USA guys bringing back chemistry and learnings from a different coach, the rest of the word got game as well.
Featured photo –Getty Images / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington