Joel Embiid Continues Streak Of Non-American-Born Hoopers Winning MVP; Is U.S. Basketball In Trouble?

Congratulations to the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, your 2023 NBA Most Valuable Player. Embiid extends the streak of non-U.S. born hoopers winning the league’s top honor to five years. Does this influx of non-U.S. talent at the top of the best hoops league in the world mean USA basketball is in trouble?

As noted NBA journalist Michael Lee points out, this is the second straight year that four of the top five MVP finishers weren’t born in the U.S.

James Harden in 2018 was the last U.S.-born player to win the MVP and in the decades prior the award has been dominated by U.S.-born players.

The Dream Team Started It All

But the dynamics of basketball have shifted. It has been 31 years since the Dream Team introduced the world to the NBA at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, and the game has taken hold across the globe. The NBA has made it a mission to teach the game and bring it to every continent, and we are seeing the fruits of that labor.

Last season one-third of the All-NBA members were foreign-born and almost a quarter of this year’s NBA All-Stars were foreign-born.

It’s possible that this year’s All-NBA first team might not feature a U.S. born player 25 or younger. Jayson Tatum has an outside shot at first team and he is exactly 25.

This is fantastic and what you should want if you’re a basketball fan. You should want the best league in the world to have the best players in the world, regardless of where they’re from. The U.S. doesn’t have the monopoly on developing top basketball talent, though it seemed that way for decades.

At some point LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant will stop playing and it will be time to usher in a new crop to lead. But who are those players?

Who Are The Best 25-And-Under U.S.-Born Hoopers?

If you’re familiar with this writer’s work you know we don’t rely on counting stats to determine value. We’ve advanced well past that point and we now know all 20+ ppg scorers are not created equal and a 25 ppg scorer is not necessarily better than a 23 ppg scorer.

Trae Young averaged 26.6 ppg this season. Nikola Jokic averaged 24.5 ppg. In no world does anyone think Young is a better hooper than Jokic.

Looking at Estimated Plus Minus (EPM), the metric that tells us per 100 possessions given who your teammates are, who the opponent is, and what your box score says, how does a team perform when a specific player is on the floor. A positive number is good. A negative number is bad.

Of the top 10 players in EPM this year, four are not U.S.-born. Jokic (1st), Embiid (2nd), Luka Doncic (6th), Giannis Antetokounmpo (8th).

The remaining six players are all American and 32 years of age and older. Damian Lillard (33), Jimmy Butler (33), Kawhi Leonard (32), Curry (35), Durant (34), Bron (38).

Tatum is the first American age 25 or younger to show up in EPM at 13th. He is followed by Tryese Haliburton (15th), Zion Williamson (16th), Jaren Jackson Jr. (20th), Darius Garland (24th), and Ja Morant (27th).

You might be asking yourself about Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell. Both 26, so not old yet. But not as young as you think.

U.S. basketball is still in excellent shape because of its depth. The best player in the league/world might not be an American year in and year out like it once was. But when it comes to international play, the U.S. will still have an advantage in terms of depth of talent.

But we’ve seen that mitigated in recent international competitions. Talent is all well and good. But teams that have an identity and a clear style of play on both ends of the floor will beat talent, especially in single elimination.

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