Raja Bell blames the Team USA offensive struggles on – the ball?

Raja Bell blames the Team USA offensive struggles on – the ball?

Team USA struggled in the exhibition games en route to the Tokyo Olympics. They lost to Nigeria and Australia, which was unimaginable in the past. Since 1992, Team USA lost twice in practice games before this year’s losses, but still, they were only exhibition games, right? However, the first game of Team USA in the Olympics against France also ended in a shocking defeat. Now, people are beginning to see cracks in the USA’s once-formidable armor. What could be the reason for the struggles?

Chemistry issues?

NBA players who have never played together found themselves representing their country. But as Barkley explained, it has always been this way and it should not be a problem given how past lineups performed in the exhibition and actual games. Team USA believes it can still compete and dominate even if the roster is haphazardly completed days before the tournament. As proof that other countries are catching up to the USA, Australia sits on top of the power rankings in the men’s basketball category of the Olympics. Spain sits at the number two spot while Kevin Durant and company are at no.3. 

When the USA needed scoring down the stretch against France, KD, Lillard, and LaVine all had their chance but to no avail. The team was still finding its identity and leader on the floor. These players are all stars on their teams; suddenly finding themselves in a reduced role in the USA could present some challenges they must find a solution soon. But is it chemistry issues or other things? As far as former NBA player Raja Bell is concerned, the culprit for the USA’s early struggles is the FIBA ball.

Do players shoot better using Molten or Spalding ball? 

For Bell, a 12-year NBA veteran, changing the ball significantly impacts a players’ shot. Here’s how Bell explained hating the FIBA ball.

“It’s lighter, feels smaller, different texture. I mean, when the art of shooting is based on muscle memory, and you change all the factors except the rim size and height, it’s going to be difficult.”

Raja Bell, CBS

The Molten ball used in FIBA competitions and the Spalding ball used in the NBA are the same size. However, they have different textures: the white part on the Molen ball has a different texture and grip. Let’s take a player on Team USA and see what the numbers say. Not counting the Tokyo Olympics, Kevin Durant played 25 games for Team USA in three tournaments (’10 World Cup, ’12 and ’16 Olympics). Here are his stats.

Kevin Durant, 2010NBAFIBA World Cup Turkey
Source: Basketball-Reference.com
Kevin Durant, 2012NBA London Olympics
Source: Basketball-Reference.com.
Kevin Durant, 2016NBA Rio Olympics
Source: Basketball-Reference.com.

As we can see, the only noticeable difference is a significant improvement in 3PT% in international games. I guess being closer to the basket makes a difference. Team USA can’t use the different ball as a significant element in their shooting problems in Tokyo. You may say certain different rules and different refereeing standards are impacting the game. But given the fact it mostly boils down to NBA stars whining to the refs while normal basketball contact isn’t called a foul, I wouldn’t use that one either.