The USA Basketball squad knows what’s (or who’s) looming in front of them in the FIBA World Cup — the big, bad Spaniards who are Team USA’s most able foe. It’s smart to consider the competition when building a basketball team, as you can reasonably decipher what positions will become strengths and which will become weaknesses. With that said, the United States made their final cuts — and mistakes were made. Will the hubris make a difference?
Team USA cut Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver to trim the roster to 12 guys. Here’s what the roster looks like for August 30th and the opening game of Group C against Finland:
PG — Stephen Curry
PG — Derrick Rose
PG — Kyrie Irving
SG — James Harden
SG — DeMar DeRozan
SG — Klay Thompson
SF — Rudy Gay
PF — Anthony Davis
PF — Kenneth Faried
C — DeMarcus Cousins
C — Mason Plumlee
C — Andre Drummond
As you can see, the USA squad decided to forego another wing to bring a third center along. This is a direct result of the Spanish team, who boasts one of the best frontlines in the tournament, with Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
The problem I have with preparing for a single opponent is — what if they don’t get there? Yes, the United States are the No. 1 ranked team in the world and Spain is No. 2. The U.S. will have to get through the Dominican Republic, Finland, New Zealand, Turkey and the Ukraine, which is a relatively easy draw (only Turkey, at No. 6, is among the top-11 in FIBA World Rankings). By contrast, the Spaniards have to deal with No. 7 France, No. 9 Brazil and No. 10 Serbia in Group A.
Let’s be completely honest here — Plumlee doesn’t belong, nobody knows if Rose is going to hold up and the U.S. is depending on DeRozan and Thompson’s size in the event they need to slide them over to defend the small forward position. Worst-case scenario, Rose continues to deal with knee soreness and Plumlee is ineffective.
If that happens, the U.S. team is going to be wishing they held onto Hayward or Parsons — guys who could play two different positions and could probably slide to the power forward against the smaller teams in the tournament. But that’s the problem — the U.S. squad is so cocky that they don’t think that will be a problem whatsoever.
The first half of the exhibition game against Puerto Rico should have set off some alarms for the U.S. Puerto Rico is ranked No. 17 in the world, yet they gave the U.S. fits in the first half. If not for a terrific Thompson runner at the buzzer, we would have been looking at a paltry two-point lead at the half. The U.S. team had trouble defending the likes of J.J. Barea and Carlos Arroyo, who finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Granted, the U.S. turned it on in the second half and ran away with the game, outscoring Puerto Rico 60-39 in the second half.
What makes me most nervous is the fact that the United States are focusing on a game that’s not scheduled (vs. Spain) when they should be looking at some of the cracks in their roster that could hurt them before they even reach Spain (perimeter defense). Read this statement very slowly and tell me if it makes you comfortable with the state of the U.S. squad:
We’ll be depending on Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan to play big minutes and we’ll be expecting them to defend on the perimeter.
Scheme will certainly help to play a part in all of this — which is why guys like Davis and Faried will be so important — but the U.S. will struggle mightily with the drive-and-dish game that will certainly arise in group play. Having two bigs defend the paint will be great, but consider the fact that the guards will be out of position. If the U.S. runs into a team that gets hot from the outside, they’re going to struggle mightily. That’s where they could have used another athletic wing that will be able to get out to the corner to contest.
We’ll probably look back at this in three weeks and realize it didn’t matter (Coach K probably knows what he’s doing), but it’s this kind of hubris and the overlooking of other teams that has cost the U.S. team in the past.