HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — After his team’s 101-71 victory in its final exhibition on Tuesday, U.S. National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said that they were ready for the first game of World Cup pool play, but not for the medal rounds.
One thing that looks set is Krzyzewski’s starting lineup. He has said that he could alternate starts for Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose, but it’s safe to believe that the other four positions will remain constant.
Why mess with a good thing?
After its first week of training in Las Vegas, the U.S. lost Paul George and Kevin Durant, its two starting forwards. That certainly set the team back in some ways, but it’s hard to believe that a starting lineup with George and Durant could have done better than the one that played the USA’s four exhibition games.
In a little less than 38 minutes with either Irving or Rose at point guard and the other four starters — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis — on the floor, the U.S. has more than doubled up on its opponents, outscoring them 106-49.
With Irving starting, there were 16-6 and 16-3 stretches to start each half against the Dominican Republic last Wednesday. And there were 10-0 and 15-4 stretches to start the second and third quarters against Slovenia on Tuesday.
That helped Irving build a plus-103 mark — best on the team — in less than 82 minutes of playing time. Faried wasn’t far behind (plus-97) in less than 70 minutes of action. That’s equivalent to a 56-point win in a 40-minute game.
USA on-court pace and efficiency, exhibition games
Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The other side of the story is the U.S. bench. Klay Thompson, who played a lot with three or four of the starters, was a plus-45 in the four exhibition games. Andre Drummond, who played most of his minutes in last week’s blowout of the Dominican Republic, was a plus-20. But otherwise, the bench was underwhelming. In fact, in what was seemingly an easy win over Slovenia, the U.S. was outscored 63-56 when it didn’t have at least four starters on the floor.
In total, we’re just talking about four games here. With Krzyzewski mixing and matching his bench units, the reserves didn’t get nearly the same opportunity to build chemistry as the starters did. And the U.S. won its four games by an average of 29 points. So it’s way to early to condemn the bench for not playing as well as the starting unit.
But going forward, it’s something to keep an eye on. More importantly, it’s clear that the starting lineup is going to get the U.S. off to good starts, especially defensively.
Here are some other notes from the USA’s stats and lineup data through four exhibition games…
- Harden and Thompson play the same position (2/3) with this team, but were No. 1 and No. 2 in minutes played. Harden was usually the last starter left on the floor when subs started entering the game in the first and third quarters. Thompson, meanwhile, backed up both Curry and Harden, with DeMar DeRozan looking like the fourth wing in the rotation.
- Taking four centers has left the team with just six guys who can play the one, two and three positions. Over just nine games, that should be enough, and Harden’s team-leading minutes were less than 25 per game. But the roster decisions Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made mean that we’ll see some of the guards play more minutes (including garbage time in blowouts) than they would need to had they taken Kyle Korver or Damian Lillard instead of Andre Drummond or Mason Plumlee.
- Curry’s effective field goal percentage: 75.9 percent. Irving’s: 70.5 percent. That’s not bad for a starting backcourt.
- The additional bigs could allow the U.S. to play Davis at power forward, but we only saw him next to one of the other bigs in one game. At the start of the second quarter against the Dominican Republic, he was on the floor with Drummond for 5:08. We didn’t see Davis and DeMarcus Cousins on the floor together at all.
- The difference between Faried’s on-court DefRtg (70.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) and that of back-up Rudy Gay (116.0) was pretty drastic. It helped Faried that he spent a lot more time on the floor (55 minutes) with Davis than Gay did (14 minutes). But it’s hard to argue with how well Davis and Faried fit together. The U.S. outscored its opponents 169-83 in their 55 minutes on the floor together, holding the other four teams to just 83 points on 110 possessions (73 per 100).
- Irving and Rose played a little less than 14 minutes together. They were just a plus-1 in those minutes, with the U.S. scoring only 26 points on 26 offensive possessions.
- Harden got to the line more than 10 times per 40 minutes, but shot pretty poorly from the field.
- Cousins grabbed 17.9 rebounds per 40 minutes. Faried wasn’t far behind at 15.6.
- Maybe the most important number from the exhibition games: Davis committed just three fouls in over 80 minutes. He may have three back-ups, but he’s still the most important player on the roster and the U.S. will need him to stay out of foul trouble when they reach the single-elimination portion of the World Cup.