The United States has for a long time dominated basketball globally, but taking a look at recent award-winners in the NBA – just look at the MVP for the last two seasons being a Greek-born freak as a prime example and some of the biggest MVP candidates this season being international – among other factors, it’s clear to see the rest of the world has caught up in a big way.
It’s gotten to the point where you have to think about changing the format of the All-Star Game to a USA vs. the Rest of the World matchup because it could be a pretty competitive affair now.
The Rest of the World roster would have issues at backcourt, especially on the bench, but their size and talent up front could even things out. Of course, for the Rest of the World to have a chance they would have to play stylistically a very un-All-Star brand of game with actual bigs dominating down low, more passing and cutting, etc.
Below, we sorted out what the rosters would look like…
Point Guard: Stephen Curry vs. Ben Simmons
Averaging 29.5 points, 6.4 assists and 4.8 three-pointers per game in 2020-21, Stephen Curry has re-established himself as the best American point guard in the world with his play this season.
Curry ranks in the Top 5 league-wide in both Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Box Plus/Minus (BPM) this year, as well as fourth in scoring.
The most freakish point guard on the planet, on the other hand, has to be Ben Simmons, born in Australia, a player with the size to play frontcourt, the athleticism and strength to be a bruising wing but with the skill level and passing ability necessary to be a top-level floor general.
No, he doesn’t shoot threes or many jump shots, period, but Simmons is an elite two-way talent and in the running to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2020-21 thanks to his impact on the less glamorous end of the floor.
Simmons is averaging 16.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.6 steals this campaign.
This matchup might be the most fascinating in that it features vastly different players manning the same positions: One, arguably the most skilled scorer at lead guard the game has ever seen and the other, lacking very much in perimeter skill but making up for it with physical attributes unlike pretty much any other point guard ever.
The advantage probably still goes to Curry and the Americans here, but Simmons’ defense would not make life easy for him or the rest of Team USA.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Luka Doncic
Even in spite of all the drama surrounding him this season, James Harden has still proven to be the best American 2-guard in the Association, averaging 25.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 11.1 assists since joining the Brooklyn Nets.
Harden’s ability to pour in buckets is nearly unparalleled in the NBA, and that’s without even mentioning his elite table-setting prowess. Harden leads the NBA in assists in 2020-21 with 10.9 per game overall, an impressive feat considering he’s an even better scorer than passer.
On the other side, we have Slovenian guard Luka Doncic, a superstar since first joining the Dallas Mavericks from Real Madrid, where he led Los Blancos to a EuroLeague championship in his age-18 season and a player with legitimate MVP potential over the coming years.
Even despite a somewhat slow start to this season, the now 22-year-old has put up 28.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per contest in 2020-21, doing a bit of everything for Dallas at an elite level.
This matchup would probably be a game of whoever has the ball on that possession is going to score or create a bucket for a teammate, because neither player specializes in defense and both are just so good at putting the ball in the hoop or setting up teammates to do so.
Both Doncic and Harden grade out extremely similarly in the catch-all advanced metrics and both are producing similar raw statistics this year, making it nearly impossible to say which team has an edge in this matchup.
This one is too close to call, so we’ll call it a push.
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
A dominant force on both ends of the floor, Kawhi Leonard is averaging 26.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game in 2020-21 while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Offensively, Leonard has developed into a master of the midrange, where he has a throwback ability to pull-up on opponents or hit fadeaways over their hard contests, and his defense on the perimeter has remained elite throughout the years.
The reigning league MVP two seasons running, Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most freakish talents basketball has ever seen, long-armed, coordinated, skilled, almost 7-feet tall and possessing otherworldly athleticism, and he wasn’t even born in the States, but in Greece to Nigerian parents.
That just goes to show the level of player that the rest of the world is beginning to develop in comparison to the USA.
Despite Leonard’s excellence, we have to give the edge here to the Rest of the World team, as Antetokounmpo is the reigning two-time MVP, making a run at the award yet again as we approach the halfway mark this season and makes an impact defensively that can’t be matched by many players, if any at all.
Power Forward: LeBron James vs. Nikola Jokic
Father Time has proven no match for LeBron James yet, as the four-time league MVP and 17-time All-Star is still averaging 25.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists in this, his age-36 season.
A strong GOAT candidate, James has put together a career that many wouldn’t even dare dream of, and he’s still continuing to dominate despite it approaching the twilight of his career. James has remained so good, in fact, that it’s perfectly conceivable he wins his fifth league MVP award this season.
The rest of the world may be catching up to the States in basketball, but they still haven’t produced a LeBron quite yet.
On the other side, there’s Nikola Jokic, who we know technically isn’t a power forward. Nevertheless, we decided to use him at this spot because the Rest of the World roster didn’t leave us with many better options at the 4 while Jokic and the player who we picked to be his frontcourt partner for this exercise were both way too good to pass up.
The Denver Nuggets may be disappointing a bit relative to expectations this season, but the Serbian center has truly performed like an MVP frontrunner, averaging 26.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game, while leading the league in PER, Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 Minutes, BPM and VORP, a truly ridiculously accomplishment this far into the season.
If the Nuggets as a whole were performing at an even slightly higher level, there’d be far less discussion about Jokic’s worthiness as an MVP candidate.
This matchup is one of the most interesting on the book, as Jokic is naturally a center while James is almost like a point guard playing power forward. Jokic outshines James to a huge extent statistically this year, but from a purely on-court standpoint, how would he slow down the four-time MVP on the perimeter?
And for that matter, what would James do against Jokic deep post-ups?
This would be an extremely back-and-forth affair, with both guys scoring on each other almost at will during the first three quarters of the game, but who do we trust more to get buckets on the other player late in a potentially very tight game? We have to go with the guy who has proven it time and time again in the playoffs.
We’re going with James here.
Center: Anthony Davis vs. Joel Embiid
One of the most dominant two-way forces in basketball, Anthony Davis is both an elite scorer and defender, even if he doesn’t have a Defensive Player of the Year award yet to show for it.
Davis was putting up 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per game this season before going down with a calf injury. Davis has eight All-Star appearances under his belt, as well as four 1st Team All-NBAs, showing the level he’s performed at throughout his career.
Facing him, Joel Embiid might be the frontrunner for MVP this year based on his play along with that of his Philadelphia 76ers.
The monstrous Embiid, a big man with elite size and quickness for his position to go with a uniquely high skill level for a 7-footer, is averaging 30.0 points this season, the No. 2 mark in the NBA, 11.3 rebounds (ninth in the NBA) and 3.2 assists to go with 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks.
Embiid is also shattering his previous career-best marks in efficiency, shooting 51.9 percent from the floor (his first time over 50.0 percent since reaching the NBA) and 41.5 percent from three (his previous best from there was 36.7 percent).
If we were looking at their entire careers, Davis would probably be the choice here, but based on this season alone, there’s no doubt who the better big man has been, and it has nothing to do with injuries: It’s been Embiid, so that’s who we give the edge to in this matchup.
Embiid’s much-improved shooting would drag Davis out to the perimeter, opening up lanes for his Rest of the World teammates, while his size down low would give him the advantage as far as finishing through Davis on the block.
American backcourt reserves: Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving
Rest of World backcourt reserves: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Dennis Schroeder
A good mix of veterans and players in their prime, the American backcourt reserves boast an annual borderline MVP candidate in Damian Lillard, along with bucket-getting lead guard Kyrie Irving and the best scorer in the entire NBA this season, Bradley Beal.
This is an outstanding reserve backcourt group and it’s where the Americans really separate themselves from the Rest of the World’s roster, as the latter’s depth isn’t anywhere near as star-laden as that of the USA All-Stars, and even the most stringent global basketball fan wouldn’t dare argue that.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray and Dennis Schroeder are having good campaigns respectively, with Gilgeous-Alexander being the best of the trio in 2020-21, but Murray and Schroeder wouldn’t even be in contention for actual All-Star spots this season if we weren’t using this format.
In comparison, Beal and Lillard are certain to get MVP votes if they keep up this pace (they will) and even Irving’s production and impact tops any of the international backcourt reserve foes by a massive extent.
Heck, even the American backcourt reserve options who missed the cut – guys like Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, Devin Booker and Jimmy Butler – would easily outshine the international options we have as All-Star reserves.
Zero debate here: Advantage, Americans.
American frontcourt reserves: Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Paul George, Zion Williamson
Rest of World frontcourt reserves: Rudy Gobert, Nikola Vucevic, Domantas Sabonis, Pascal Siakam
The international frontcourt group here is much stronger than its backcourt, with Rudy Gobert and Nikola Vucevic, two of the best centers in the world this season, leading the way, joined by the uber-productive Domantas Sabonis and two-way energy swingman Pascal Siakam.
The Americans, on the other hand, still boast a group that features a former league MVP in Kevin Durant, an elite up-and-comer in Jayson Tatum, a top-notch two-way wing in Paul George, and one of the most promising young wing/bigs in the world, Zion Williamson.
The Rest of the World frontcourt reserves make it more interesting than their backcourt did, but the versatility and skill level of the American group here is too much to overcome.
Sure, Siakam might be able to somewhat stymie Durant in certain possessions, but that’d leave three traditions bigs in Sabonis, Gobert and Vucevic having to guard elite wing scorers in George and Tatum, who would drag the rim-protecting group out to the perimeter, and open up the paint for a freakish finisher in Williamson.
Now, Sabonis and Vucevic would certainly get their’s scoring down low against their smaller foes, but 3s > 2s, and the outside shooting of the American group would be the game-changer here.
Final judgement: Who wins?
Although we chose the American side more frequently based on their matchups in this exercise, with Team USA having the better point guard, power forward, backcourt reserves (by a mile) and frontcourt reserves, and the Rest of the World taking the small forward and center position, with 2-guard being a push, we still think the Rest of the World would have more than enough to make this game competitive.
Their skill level and size, for starters, would help even playing the field. Just imagine the Americans, with merely one true big man on the roster in Davis, who isn’t exactly a monster rebounder, going up against a giant rotation featuring Antetokounmpo, Jokic, Embiid, Gobert, Vucevic and Sabonis; the amount of tap-out offensive rebounds the international team would get in this game would be almost too many to count.
The Rest of the World’s passing would also make things very interesting, as Jokic, Doncic, Simmons, and even Embiid and Antetokounmpo, are all excellent creators, particularly the first two, who are two of the best playmakers in the NBA right now.
As we’ve seen in actual international competition, a way to hurt Team USA is to play more like a team, with more off-ball cutting and passing to set up easy buckets, and this Rest of the World All-Star team is very much equipped to do just that.
On the other hand, when looking at their entire roster, the Americans have a serious advantage in two areas: overall shooting and athleticism. The starting lineups might be even-ish in those departments, but a rotation that has Curry, Harden, Durant, Beal, Lillard, Paul George and Tatum is outrageous when it comes to outside shooting, and if even just two or three of those guys get hot at one time, it might be enough for the Americans to take this from being a tight game at halftime to it being a 20-point lead for USA in the fourth quarter.
We give Americans the edge in this matchup, though we believe it’d be an extremely tight and entertaining game right up until the end, which goes to show just how far the game has come globally.