Press Box: The lack of star power on the World Cup team is good for the NBA

Illustration by Sammy Newman

Nile McNair, Contributing Writer

As the NBA offseason winds down, the final glimpse of summer basketball before the start of the NBA’s regular season is the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China. 

This year’s World Cup team is not as star-studded as the Americans are used to; the team has only two all-stars in Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton. Walker is the only member of the team who was part of any 2019 All-NBA team. Some of the players aren’t even starters on their NBA teams. 

Compare this team to the gold-medal-winning 2016 Olympic team, which had superstar talents Paul George, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony. 

This dearth of star power is actually positive for the league. It shows the emphasis top players are putting on the upcoming season. Due to free agent movement, the NBA has parity it hasn’t seen in a while, and there is no clear favorite to win the NBA title.

All the shuffling is one of many reasons players withdrew from the team. Instead of participating in the World Cup, players wanted to use the offseason to have a chance to blend with new teammates. 

Additionally, when top level players withdrew, that put in jeopardy USA basketball’s decadelong legacy of dominance. 

“I think the other guys looked at it, like, why would I want to go to potentially be the face of what could be a losing roster?” said Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J McCollum on ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast. 

Nevertheless, other international teams catching up in talent with USA basketball is good for the NBA. The more talented players on international teams, the more of that talent will funnel into the NBA. 

For example, the reigning league MVP is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is playing for Greece in the World Cup. Or that Joel Embiid, from Cameroon, is the best center in the NBA. Having players from other countries as some of the faces of the league is something the NBA’s biggest competitor, the NFL, cannot say. 

In its second game in the World Cup against Turkey, Team USA escaped with a narrow 93-92 victory in overtime. Of course, critics have commented on how close the game was, but the players had a different take. 

“Holy hell … if that doesn’t make your heart race … I’d go to war with any of these guys any night,” center Myles Turner tweeted postgame

Close games like that one fit into the NBA’s trend of parity entering the season. A legitimate 12 of the 30 NBA teams have championship aspirations. 

NBA fans should be excited to see fewer stars on the World Cup team, avoiding possible injury in preparation for the upcoming season. Surely we know owners of these potential championship-level teams are happy their stars aren’t playing in the World Cup. 

USA’s final World Cup roster could either be the start of a trend, or just a result of what’s happening in the NBA. With the 2020 Olympics in Japan coming up next summer, expect to see the superstar NBA players return to try to win another gold medal. 

Until then, get excited to watch some competitive international basketball in which USA has an actual chance of losing, even before the finals. So as you watch the lack of star power on the floor for the USA during the World Cup, just know you will be rewarded with a great upcoming NBA season. 

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