Team USA will soon embark on a big challenge to face the best every country has to offer in the upcoming 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Less than two weeks before its start in Aug. 31, the Americans have plenty of positives, but also some concerns they should first clean up before taking on group play.
With a White vs. Blue scrimmage and a recent exhibition game against European powerhouse Spain in the books, there are some conclusions about the areas of improvement that USA Basketball must address in the next few days.
As it’s customary with young teams, a case of turnover-itis plagued the Americans against Spain, as it did a week before during their scrimmage in Las Vegas. Team USA had a whopping 23 turnovers against a physical Spanish team, a sign there had not been much progress made from a week earlier when White vs. Blue teams averaged 18.5 turnovers over a 40-minute game.
Doing the simple math results in a turnover nearly every two minutes — a costly situation when playing against sure-handed teams like Serbia, France, and others who rely on their play execution.
If these games weren’t enough, this turnover problem was also visible during their infamous scrimmage against a Jeff Van Gundy-led team, comprised of G League and overseas talent, one of two games the lost last week — this one below by the score of 36-17.
This iteration of Team USA missed cutters and desperately threw the ball out of chaotic situations, resulting in plenty of loose balls and strips the G-League-comprised team was more than happy to punish them for. A large part of that relies on this unit’s lack of chemistry, something head coach Gregg Popovich and team leader Kemba Walker have worked to fix over the next few weeks.
It’s tough to build the same camaraderie that other teams have built over the course of many years, but the Americans must force this process along in order to improve their synergy and hope that it brings in results with their offensive awareness and execution.
The U.S. out-rebounded Spain 42-20 in their latest game, which was a good sign after Popovich made defensive rebounding a point of emphasis early last week, but the team still has strides to make on that end, as it was the 6-foot-1 Walker who led the way with six rebounds.
Pop is counting on guys like Myles Turner and Brook Lopez to haul in some boards, considering that Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder, decommited from the cause.
Guards are expected to pick up the slack in international play and Walker, Donovan Mitchell, and Joe Harris seem up for the challenge — but wings like Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, and Khris Middleton must be willing to chip in too.
Neither Turner nor Lopez have proved to be dominant rebounders over the course of their respective careers, so this will be a group effort — one that will need to be proven steady before facing teams that dominate the glass.
1. Defending 3-point shooters
Team USA looked particularly dominant against Spain, but the score doesn’t tell that same story. Part of why is because of how the team defended the 3-point line.
The Spanish buried 12 of their 25 3-point attempts, erasing a surreal 11-of-19 shooting night from beyond the arc by the Americans. It won’t take long until a team catches fire from distance on a night where the Americans struggle to hit, and that could make the difference between running away with a win and struggling to close out a game.
The U.S. led by as much as 18 points through the early portion of the fourth quarter against Spain, but wound up with only a nine-point win after the Spanish found shooters open to nail these looks.
Cleaning up that aspect should put Team USA in great position to contend for a gold medal, even after so many notable stars chose to pass up this opportunity.