Rest of world catching up to US

Patty Mills and Myles Turner compete for a loose ball during Australia's recent win over the US...
Patty Mills and Myles Turner compete for a loose ball during Australia's recent win over the US in Melbourne. Photo: Getty Images
There was a time when there was the United States and then there was everyone else.

When it put out its top line-up no-one would get close to it.

Even when it put out a bunch of mid-range NBA players it would win the majority of titles with ease.

But the world is catching up.

The gap between the US and the world's next-best basketball countries is smaller than ever.

Stars are emerging from all over the globe.

The US without its best players looks vulnerable.

It still has unrivalled depth and it will enter as the favourite when the Fiba World Cup begins tomorrow in China.

Yet it is coming off a loss to an Australian team which was also missing four of its NBA players, including All-Star Ben Simmons.

Serbia, Spain, France, Greece, Lithuania and Canada also boast very strong rosters and are in with a shot.

A quick look at the US's - and basketball's - flagship league illustrates the point.

On the opening day of the past NBA season there were 108 non-US players on rosters - 65 from Europe - representing 42 countries.

Eight teams had five or more foreign players.

It is predominantly in the generation coming through that it is most noticable.

The majority of the league's top stars under 25 are not American.

Think the likes of Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic.

Going back to 2013, only two of the No1 picks in the NBA draft have been American - Markelle Fultz and Zion Williamson.

Canada has supplied two, while others represent Australia, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

It is a byproduct of the game's popularity which has spread throughout the world - notably due to the NBA's focus on globalisation.

No longer is the US the only country which attracts top athletes to play basketball.

The athletic freaks from around the world are now interested in playing.

There are also the structures and systems in place to hone their talent - which perhaps had not been there in the past.

In Europe, professional clubs recruit them as teenagers and give them high-level development.

Elsewhere, development systems and pathways are now in place to help players into the US college system.

Other initiatives, such as the Australian NBL's increasing relationship with the NBA, give youngsters exposure to top-level basketball when they previously would not have received it.

It is a process and it looks set to continue.

The early-mid 2000s marked the first time when the US was putting out NBA player-filled rosters and began losing.

Its stars responded by making themselves available and it went on a 78-game winning streak - although that included a few close calls.

Another crossroads may have been reached.

The US still has a roster of handy NBA players.

Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell and Khris Middleton are NBA All-Stars, while a handful of others are in that next tier down.

Whether that is still enough to win a world title remains questionable.

If nothing else, it will make for a very interesting two weeks in China.

as everyone else.

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