Doncic's statement was further proven by the 2021 USA Men's Basketball team, who competed in the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Before they nabbed the gold medal in the men's tournament, the team struggled to adjust to the FIBA rules at the start, particularly with the officiating. Unlike in the NBA, there's more leeway for physical contact in international basketball.
Damian Lillard will tell you firsthand.
Lillard, who played substantial guard minutes for Team USA, even went on the record to say that Doncic was right — it's easier to score in the NBA because referees frequently blow their whistle when they see the thinnest contact between players. The Portland Trail Blazers guard also reiterated that there are specific rules that make the game easier for them in the States.
"Best scorers in the NBA score from three and get fouled, in FIBA not as many foul calls, more physical. Also, no defensive 3 seconds, so the paint is more crowded, and refs don't blow the whistle; it's hard. There are so many things that allow scoring to be easier in the NBA," Lillard said in his press conference before USA's gold medal game against France.
If you've watched both the NBA and international tournaments like FIBA, it's not hard to observe the apparent disparities in how referees approach the game. For one, there's a reason why so many players (like James Harden) depend on foul calls when it comes to scoring in the NBA — they know they have the advantage of the whistle because it's blown right away when they create contact.
NBA vs. FIBA
Aside from the referees, what sets international basketball apart from the NBA are rules such as what you can do on the rim, timeouts, the physical dimensions of the court (the court is slightly smaller in FIBA), and the time allotted per quarter.
So, it makes sense why Lillard and co. had to adjust and find their groove at the start of the Olympics' exhibition games last year. Scoring was indeed more challenging for them, but in the end, USA's collective talent is still far superior compared to the world's.
Whether international players will catch up or not remains the biggest question mark for them in the next few years.