NEW YORK — The U.S. National Team beat a very good opponent in Chicago on Saturday. Brazil might be the best team the USA faces until the *quarterfinals or semifinals of the FIBA World Cup. And, thanks to a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter, the Americans won by 17.
* Lithuania, which would be on the USA’s side of the elimination-round bracket, is 10-0 in warmup competition. When the two teams would face each other would depend on how they finish in their pool play groups.
Anthony Davis was a beast, and the U.S. defense forced 20 turnovers and allowed just 78 points on 82 possessions. Offensively, they took advantage of those turnovers and got a lot of buckets in transition, both in the open floor and on secondary breaks.
But there was some ugliness in the U.S. offense at times, especially in the second quarter, when the Americans scored just 16 points on 22 possessions. And a lot of their issues came from an inability to generate good looks in their half-court offense.
The U.S. scored just eight points on 14 half-court possessions in that second quarter. And two of those eight came on a second-chance opportunity. For the game, if you take away second chances, the U.S. scored just 39 points on the initial play of 56 half-court possessions. And many of those came from guys breaking down their opponents in isolation situations after the offensive set came up empty.
There was very little offense generated from, well, the offense. The U.S. wasn’t exactly Spurs-esque on Saturday.
But it was their first game after just six practices. And in regard to the offense, the four practices they had in Las Vegas didn’t count for much, because, at that point, Kevin Durant was still on the team and very much the focus on that end of the floor.
The U.S. still has a ton of offensive talent, but mostly in the backcourt. Durant was coming off screens and handling the ball at the power forward position. Now, the guy who will likely play the most minutes at power forward is Kenneth Faried.
Faried’s energy and rebounding have been excellent. He and Davis complement each other well and have begun to develop some chemistry. But offensively, Faried is basically the exact opposite of Durant. And though Rudy Gay can serve as pseudo Durant at the four, he’s obviously not the same kind of offensive force. So things have to change.
“If you have Durant,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday, “you’re going to put things in for him. So, when he is not there, then those things aren’t in.”
The U.S. offense has never been all that intricate. Though there’s been continuity with the staff, every year they come together there’s been at least a handful of new players and only a few weeks to prepare for a competition that comes down to three or four 40-minute, single-elimination games.
On Saturday, the offense was simpler than ever. The USA’s half-court sets involved just two or three players and were pretty easy to sniff out. Most of it was either a high pick-and-roll, or a pin-down for one of the wings, with few secondary actions to follow.
Here, after his defender forced him to catch the ball going away from the basket, Stephen Curry faces up, with his four teammates just standing around …
We saw a lot of that on Saturday. The offense was much more about talent than teamwork. The whole was certainly not greater than the sum of the parts.
It was one game after just two non-Durant practices, of course. And the U.S. still won easily. There’s nothing wrong with scoring on the break or on second chances. You’re supposed to use your talent advantage when you have it, and making plays out of random situations is a huge part of offensive success on any level.
The U.S. has plenty of time to work things out. They have three more exhibition games, five pool play games, and an elimination game or two before they might be seriously challenged.
But the half-court offense is going to be important at some point down the line. Every U.S. opponent is going to do its best to slow the game down, pack the paint, and make the Americans execute their offense.
Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Dominican Republic (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), is another opportunity to work on just that. The Dominicans don’t have Al Horford, but they have more preparation under their belt than the Americans do. Every game is a chance to get better.
“The four practices in Vegas, it was centered around a team with Durant on it,” Krzyzewski said. “And so, since we came back, we’ve had like four practices and one game. And we played well in the game. We beat a really good team. So, this group is still evolving into a team, and that’s why these exhibition games are so important.”