25 August, 2023
10 September
10 Anthony Edwards (USA)
to read

Strength in numbers: How playing for the National Team makes players better

VILNIUS (Lithuania) - Luis Scola always stressed something that helped explain his devotion to Argentina's national team.

By playing for Argentina every summer, Scola said he remained fit and worked on his game, which meant he was ready to hit the ground running once the club season started up again.

Many others have sharpened their skills in national team basketball. Lauri Markkanen, after playing for Finland at FIBA EuroBasket 2022, took his game to new heights for Utah.

Lauri Markkanen with Finland at the last World Cup

What the stars have been saying for years now, science seems to back it up.

New research at Klaipeda University in Lithuania has added weight to the argument that players have better seasons after competing with their national teams.

The study was researched as the final thesis of undergraduate Alper Can Konak and done with a scientific supervisor, Lithuania Basketball Federation Secretary General Mindaugas Balciunas.

The focus was on the players of the top eight teams at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, and how they performed with their clubs this season compared to the 2022-23 campaign. In the NBA, for example, that meant a total of 29 players off the rosters of Germany, Serbia, Canada, USA, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Italy. Each key statistics for all the players of these eight teams were looked at closely.

Anthony Edwards vs Shai Alexander-Gilgeous

The conclusion?

"It is fair to state that competing in the Basketball World Cup helped players to improve all their type of shooting percentages, which supports  the evolving trends of modern basketball, assist skills, court vision, and decision-making processes regardless of the level of club competition they normally play and a reduction in personal fouls that shows players are acting smarter with the experience they gain," wrote the author of this research.

For example, one observation of those 29 players is that in 2023-24, there were increases in three-pointers made, three-point shots attempted, assists, made free-throws and attempted free-throws attempted.

This season, players and coaches have talked about the positive impact of playing at the World Cup.

Most recently, Anthony Edwards of Minnesota and Tyrese Haliburton of Indiana spoke candidly about representing the USA.

"I think playing in the USA (team), the World Cup this summer," Edwards said.

"I think that changed my perspective about everything, being able to play with your team, playing within the game and not just try to play isolation ball all day, playing within a system. And Finchy (Minnesota coach Chris Finch) does a great job of making sure I stay within the system."

Edwards, who teamed up with other World Cup stars, Karl-Anthony Towns (Dominican Republic), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Canada) and Rudy Gobert (France), made it all the way to the Western Conference Semi-Finals this season after upsetting defending champions Denver.

Rudy Gobert was one of the 5 players from the Wolves to participate at the World Cup

All four players had terrific seasons, including Gobert, who was named Defensive Player of the Year for the fourth time.

The World Cup fueled Haliburton's hunger to become a better player and to become a winner. Playing for the USA and all that demands that went with it let him know that he needed to be better.

"Been frustrating the last couple of years," Haliburton said, "but I think that USA stuff kind of really opened my eyes. I can't continue to do this in my life."

Haliburton responded by leading the Indiana Pacers to the NBA's Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. His teammate last summer, Jalen Brunson, also had the best season of his career carrying the Knicks deep in the NBA playoffs averaging 32.4 points and 7.5 assists in 13 postseason games.

Shai Gilgeous Alexander of Oklahoma City dazzled this season after leading Canada to third place at the World Cup.

Before the NBA season was even underway, Thunder GM Sam Presti predicted big things for Alexander.

"I think playing in those (World Cup) games is huge," Presti said. "And he's going to come back a better player."

Alexander was so good that he was, along with Slovenia's Luka Doncic of Dallas, a finalist for the NBA's MVP Award won by Nikola Jokic. The Denver center played for Serbia at FIBA EuroBasket 2022 and then captured the NBA title. Jokic was the MVP of the NBA Finals that year.

"Is it harder?" he said, when asked about international basketball.

"Yes, because I think you really need to have quick thinking. In the NBA, if you go by the guy, you can see the help is coming. In Europe, help is always there. So, you need to think and play ahead."

FIBA EuroBasket 2022 also profoundly impacted Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece, who was voted to the All-Star Five.

This summer. This team. This jersey. This flag. Made me fall in love with basketball again..." he wrote on Instagram.

The impact of EuroBasket 2022 on Markkanen was big time, too. Representing Finland is always a worthwhile exercise.

"It's the opportunity you get to hoop and there's really no restrictions," Markkanen said of playing for his national team. "I'm bringing the ball up, handling pick and roll, trying to facilitate for other guys and stuff like that." It affected the thinking of Utah coach Will Hardy, too, showing him the versatility of Markkanen with the Jazz having just picked him up in a trade with Cleveland.

"He showed a comfort level with the ball and I hadn't really seen that with him in the places he had been..." Hardy said.

"When you watched him play for Finland, it was 'Get the rebound and just go,' we took that, carried it into our whole team. We have a lot of guys with license to push the ball. So watching him this summer definitely helped us shape a lot of our thoughts."

So keep an eye on the players performing well this summer at FIBA Events with their National Teams. They should comeback stronger next season with their clubs.