The U.S. men’s national team hasn’t always been the most dominant club over the years at what used to be known as the FIBA World Championships. Other teams like Russia, Spain, Yugoslavia and, most recently, Turkey, have often been legitimate threats to winning the tournament.
Thus, Team USA often gets a good run by at least a couple squads throughout their journey to reach for gold. Besides giving a jolt to Americans sitting in their living rooms drinking beer and screaming profanities at the non-NBA referees, these close calls usually do good things for the players on Team USA.As tradition would have it, the FIBA team for America has become a slew of young, second-grade NBA talent. The best players in the NBA often decide not to participate, choosing rather to only play in the Olympics or simply not at all for various reasons.
Typically, there are at least a few players who stand out for team USA during this tourney, really coming out of their shell in international play and showing to the world what they’ve got. Displaying their skills on a team full of other strong talent and actually standing out at such a young age usually means the start of a stellar NBA career.
Here are a few examples of players whose careers ended up being Hall of Fame worthy or are going to be:
1994 Breakout Player: Shaquille O’Neal (22 years old)
- Shaq FIBA World Championships (9 games): 18.0ppg, 8.5rpg, 1.0spg, 15.2 minutes per game
2006 Breakout Player: Carmelo Anthony (22 years old)
- ‘Melo FIBA World Championships (9 games): 19.9ppg, 3.6rpg, 1.5apg, 1.8spg, 24.0 minutes per game
2010 Breakout Player: Kevin Durant (21 years old)
- KD FIBA World Championships (9 games): 22.7ppg, 6.1rpg, 1.7apg, 1.4spg, 28.2 minutes per game
On the current USA club, it has been Anthony Davis so far who has looked like a man among boys and will follow in the footsteps of these stars and also have a Hall of Fame worthy career. At the moment, he’s averaging 19.0 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks while playing 20.7 minutes a game.
And while all the attention always goes to those studs like Davis who are putting up big numbers, there are certain players flying under the radar who also end up having a strong, though much less heralded, tournament.
For this year’s Team USA, it looks like one of those players is none other than Kyrie Irving, who has played pretty good ball so far in the FIBA World Cup. He’s proven himself to be a better starting option than the rusty Derrick Rose at this point, and despite the criticism he’s received by many due to being picked over the likes of John Wall and Damian Lillard, he’s been solid as the floor general; leading the team to an undefeated 4-0 record.
Irving has even been active on the defensive end, a place where he’s not known as a great performer. In fact, his entire stat line is fairly impressive at 10.7 points per game, 3.7 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals over 22.3 minutes a game. He’s also shooting 52.0 percent from the floor, 57.1 percent from downtown and has been a plus-19 over the three game stretch.
These sort of performances are exactly what a young guy (Irving is 22) like the Cleveland Cavaliers guard needs. He hasn’t been used to having a lot of talent around him the past couple seasons, nor has he been used to winning. This FIBA tourney will help prepare him for the season to come, in which he suddenly will have much more talent surrounding him and will win (and will be expected to win) a lot more games.
Plus, it’s great for Cavaliers fans to get to see Irving’s offseason work right before their very eyes before the new season begins. They can rest assured knowing that he’s working hard, and although not with LeBron and Kevin Love, with guys like Davis, Rose, Stephen Curry, Kenneth Faried and James Harden.
Without any sort of All-Star pressure on him in this tourney, Kyrie can confidently and quietly go about doing his thing without getting picked apart for it like he does so often on the Cavaliers. Though he may not be The Guy on this squad, he can still produce and hopefully quickly adjust to playing winning basketball while having a bit of fun.
Thankfully for Irving, he doesn’t have to have an overt breakout tournament by any means to showcase what Cleveland will get from him next season and in the future. Instead, a much less obvious, but not at all unimpressive performance will work just fine and ultimately prove to be one of the best things for Irving’s basketball career.