USA Basketball

Blogtable: Your level of concern for Team USA?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

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> As we head into the quarterfinals in Rio, what’s the level of concern for Team USA? And who do you see as the biggest threat to snap the USA’s gold-medal streak?

Steve Aschburner, I ultimately think Team USA’s biggest concern will be the apathy that they’ll generate by winning gold again but not dominating the way the Dream Team did in ’92 or (in people’s memories at least) other editions of this NBA star-studded national squad did. There are reasons for the closer scores, some owing to the competition, some to holes in the U.S. team. But I think there will be a healthy mixture of respect for foes and fear of failure now for Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al that will see them through. Biggest threat? It’s all relative, but give me Australia, which has some brassy NBA players in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills; some healthy disrespect for a few of their pro peers, and a pesky defensive style that might already be in the U.S. stars’ heads.

Fran Blinebury, It shocked me to read comments from Americans that essentially admitted surprise that many of the other teams are actually playing like teams, passing the ball, etc. If Team USA wants to stand around and play 1-on-1 “hero” ball, they could lose any game left to anybody. I wouldn’t have believed that before the Olympics began. I thought they had the proper mindset. But the team simply seems to have fallen back into many of the old, bad habits. Where the hell is the defense? Definitely looking more and more like time for a change. They could use a big dose of Gregg Popovich biting them in the butt right about now.

Shaun Powell, The level of concern is cool. Not warm or hot. Yes, there have been some relatively close calls and the ride a bit bumpy, but here in the money round I don’t see the US exposing much vulnerability. The biggest threat to snap Team USA’s streak is Team USA. Only a sloppy performance would leave the Americans open to being upset by an opportunistic country such as Spain.

John Schuhmann, The level of concern is high. The defense is the worst it’s been under Mike Krzyzewski and the Olympic field is stronger than ever, with all eight remaining teams having hopes for a medal. Still, Spain is once again the biggest threat to beat the U.S. After a sluggish first three games, Pau Gasol and his team have found their gear, crushing Lithuania on Saturday and beating Argentina handily on Monday. They have a tough test themselves in the quarterfinals, with a France team that beat them in Madrid two years ago. But if USA and Spain meet in the semis, it may be a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, My level of concern is significant. I hope it’s the same for the members of the team as they face a very real threat from Argentina first and foremost, and either France or Spain in the semifinal round. The U.S. is at its best when it treats every opponent like a credible threat, even the teams that we all know should not come close to touching the NBA stars. In London four years ago, that attitude was prevalent. That team attacked the opposition in a way that made clear that the U.S. would not leave the games without gold. There was always a feeling in the building that no matter how hard the other team played, they would ultimately come up short. I don’t know what it feels like inside the building this time around, but I know what it looks like from afar. And I haven’t seen that same sense of urgency in Rio.

Ian Thomsen, The defense has been alarming. The USA has allowed 92 points over the last three games (equivalent to yielding 110 points over a 48-minute NBA game). Their opponents over the final three rounds – if the US gets that far – all know how to share the ball and move without it, beginning with the clever Argentines in the quarterfinal. The most dangerous opponent will emerge in the semis: France (Tony Parker) and Spain (Pau Gasol) each has the great player capable of leading and finishing the upset. For the Americans, assuming they can’t resolve their fundamental lapses on defense, the question comes down to which one or two of them is going to own this tournament in the way that LeBron James owned it in 2012. If they’re not capable of winning with fluid teamwork, then someone (Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and/or Kyrie Irving) is going to have to take on the responsibility of carrying them.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: We’re not supposed to be concerned, right? After all, all we’ve heard is what a strong defensive team this is, and we know that the Team USA brass had their pick of dozens of players before curating this particular dozen, so why should there be any concern? Oh wait, I know why! Because this team seems awkwardly constructed. Or because their defense has never come together, and because the default offense seems to be clearing out and going one-on-one. This group is clearly talented, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. Even if they can’t get things figured out, they will probably still win gold. But to me, Team USA’s biggest threat is themselves.

USA lineup numbers and notes

HANG TIME, N.J. — The United States Men’s National Team wasn’t tested on either end of the floor in its exhibition schedule leading into the Olympics. Four of the team’s five games were against the three worst teams going to Rio: China (twice), Venezuela and Nigeria. And both Venezuela and Nigeria were missing their only players that played in the NBA last season.

So there’s not much to be gleaned from the data coming out of those five games. The U.S. outscored its opponents by 43.0 points per game and 53.2 points per 100 possessions. The offense scored 127.5 points per 100 possessions (15.1 more than the Golden State Warriors scored last season) and the defense allowed just 74.4 (22.2 fewer than the San Antonio Spurs allowed last season).

The U.S. outscored its opponents by at least 41 points per 100 possessions with every player on the floor.


Mixing and matching

With coach Mike Krzyzewski starting players in their NBA or home city, the U.S. used five different starting lineups in the five games, and all 12 players started at least once. In total, Krzyzewski used 83 different lineups on the exhibition tour. Only six of those lineups played in more than one game, and none played in more than two. No five-man unit got extended run together.

The USA’s three most used lineups all included Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. Still, what could be the starting lineup when pool play opens against China on Saturday — those three plus Klay Thompson and Carmelo Anthony — has only played 9:03 together so far.

The good news is that it outscored its opponents (Argentina and China), 25-5, in those nine minutes.


Small-ball for defense

If you look at the cumulative offensive statistics (pdf), Draymond Green was the United States’ worst player in the exhibitions. He shot 4-for-18 and led the team with 11 turnovers, even though only three players got fewer minutes than he did. Some of his shots and turnovers were downright ugly.

The U.S. centers, meanwhile, looked dominant against smaller frontlines. Cousins bullied opponents in the low post and DeAndre Jordan just jumped over them.

Yet, the U.S. was at its best with both Cousins and Jordan on the bench and with Green playing center. They outscored their opponents, 71-37, in just over 27 minutes with Green at the five.


Less than 28 minutes against bad teams isn’t much to go on, but the positive impact that Green made on the U.S. defense was as clear as how out of synch he was offensively. How the U.S. plays with its different centers will be something to keep an eye on going forward.

One point guard at a time

This is the first time since 2006 that the U.S. is taking only two point guards on its roster. While we’ve seen a lot of two-point-guard lineups in past years, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry played just 1:36 together in the five exhibition games.

The U.S. played more than 28 minutes with neither on the floor, using Paul George as its third point guard until he injured his calf in the third game. With both George and Lowry out against Nigeria on Monday, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan (and even Green) played the point in the 13 minutes that Lowry rested.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see many no-point-guard minutes against good teams in Rio. Irving was the MVP of the 2014 World Cup (scoring 26 points in the gold medal game) and hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history just six weeks ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been at its best defensively with Lowry on the floor.


That may be because Lowry is defending the opponents’ reserves. But it’s also fair to wonder if Lowry better complements the other likely starting perimeter players (Thompson, Durant and Anthony), who are all as flammable as Irving.

Two-man data

With Irving and Lowry getting those 96 seconds together, the only two players who didn’t share the floor in the exhibitions were Cousins and Jordan. And it’s safe to guess that Krzyzewski won’t be playing any twin-tower lineups in Rio.

Other than Irving-Lowry, the only two-man unit that had a negative plus-minus was the combination of Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who were a minus-4 in 14.5 minutes together. With Barnes looking like the team’s 12th man, that combination probably won’t see any meaningful minutes together going forward.

Among the 30 two-man combinations that played at least 30 minutes together, the U.S. was at its best offensively (143.0 points scored per 100 possessions in 52.8 minutes) with Thompson and Durant on the floor. It was at its best defensively (54.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in 46.6 minutes) with Lowry and Green on the floor together.

More blowouts coming

Again, we’re looking at small sample sizes against mostly bad teams. But that’s all you get with the Olympics. And then suddenly, you’re playing a 40-minute elimination game against other NBA talent, and you have to know what’s going to work best.

It’ll be another week before the U.S. faces any more NBA players, because it will play its first two pool-play games against China and Venezuela. The competition will get stronger each game after that, as pool play wraps up with games against Australia, Serbia and France.

USA roster taking shape

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kawhi Leonard became the latest player to withdraw his name from consideration for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team this summer. Leonard joins a long list — LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, John Wall and Russell Westbrook — of players from the team’s pool of 31 names who won’t be going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Leonard made his decision official Thursday afternoon with a statement released by the Spurs. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News reports that Gordan Hayward has also declined an invite.

Reports from the AP, ESPN and Yahoo have 10 of the USA’s 12 roster spots taken by the following players …

Point guards: Kyle Lowry (TOR)
Wings: Jimmy Butler (CHI), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), Klay Thompson (GSW)
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (NYK), Kevin Durant (OKC), Paul George (IND)
Bigs: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Draymond Green (GSW), DeAndre Jordan (LAC)

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have the other two spots if they want them. James indicated Wednesday that he’s likely to say “no,” but has yet to give a definitive answer.

Remaining players in the pool: Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love. Lowry was not in the pool of players released in January, but was needed with so many point guards unavailable.

The full roster is expected to be announced next week and training camp will open on July 18 in Las Vegas. The U.S. will play five exhibition games at various locations before traveling to Rio for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 6.

If James officially declines, Anthony would be the only player going for his third Olympic gold medal (and fourth Olympic medal overall). Of the 10 names on the list so far, Anthony (2004, 2008, 2012) and Durant (2012) are the only ones with Olympic experience. Cousins, DeRozan and Thompson won gold at the 2014 World Cup in Spain (with Irving), while Butler, George, Green, Jordan and Lowry will be making their debuts for the Senior National Team in international competition.

USA Basketball announces 30 finalists for 2016 Olympic team

VIDEO: Jerry Colangelo talks about USA Basketball’s preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The group of 30 players vying for one of the 12 spots on the U.S. Men’s Senior National team that will compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio is filled with plenty of familiar faces.

From program stalwarts LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis — all multiple-time gold medal winners in either the Olympics of FIBA World Cup competition — and a legion of other NBA All-Stars, they will all be in the mix for one of those roster spots.

In fact, the real news is not the players who will compete for spot on the roster for Rio, but the players who will not be involved in the process.

Retiring Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant announced over the weekend that he would not pursue a spot on the team. Earlier this season he said he would keep open the possibility of finishing his playing career in the Olympics, a move USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo endorsed.

Bryant won gold alongside James, Anthony, Durant and Davis at the Olympics in London in 2012.

Derrick Rose and Mason Plumlee, two members of the team that won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, are not on the 30-player list, which was announced by USA Basketball this morning.

“It seems like I say this each time we have to narrow down a roster, but I am struck by the remarkable commitment the players in the USA Basketball National Team program continue to display and the enthusiasm they have for representing their country,” Colangelo said in a statement.

“The depth of talent that exists in the national team program is extraordinary. Repeating as gold medalists at the 2016 Olympics will not be easy, but we feel confident that we have 30 finalists who offer amazing basketball abilities and special versatility. We’re also fortunate that the roster is comprised of so many veterans of international basketball. In addition to 18 players who have won Olympic and/or World Cup gold medals, there are 16 finalists who have played between 20 and 72 games for USA Basketball. That experience is extremely valuable and something we’ve not always had available to draw upon.

“Obviously selecting the official roster of 12 players for the Olympics in 2016 will be a very, very difficult process. As has been the case with past USA Basketball teams, the goal once again is to select the very best team possible to represent the United States.”

The entire list of 30 players (and their NBA teams):

LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs); Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks); Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors); Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards); Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls); Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies); DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings); Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors); Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans); DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors); Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons); Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder); Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets); Rudy Gay (Sacramento Kings); Paul George (Indiana Pacers); Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors); Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers); James Harden (Houston Rockets); Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz); Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets); Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors); Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers); DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers); Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs); Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers); Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers); Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors); John Wall (Washington Wizards); and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder).


International scene in transition

VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID — Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA. (more…)

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

MVP Irving takes Serbia to school, USA to World Cup gold

VIDEO: USA takes gold with rout of Serbia

MADRID — Maybe it’s LeBron James that will have to adjust more to playing off the ball this season, because Kyrie Irving is going to need it quite a bit.

Irving arrived at USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas on July 28, looking sharper than any of the other 30 guys in the gym. While other guards may have offered the roster better passing or two-way play, Irving’s one-on-one skills were impossible to ignore.

“Coach called me about three times [before camp] and kept asking me if I was in shape,” Irving said. “So there was a little bit of pressure there. But coming in, being ready and throwing myself in there, whatever happens happens and living with the results.”

The results speak for themselves. Seven weeks later, Irving was dropping 26 points on Serbia in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal game on Sunday and earning tournament MVP honors.

After Serbia built an early lead and Anthony Davis was sent to the bench with two fouls in the first four minutes, Irving went to work, scoring 15 points as the U.S. turned an eight-point deficit into a 14-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

Especially against slower defenders, Irving can always slice and dice his way to the rim. And he did that a couple of times in that first-quarter run.

But Irving is also a dangerous shooter off the dribble. When his jumper is falling, he’s basically impossible to guard. And it was falling, and falling, and falling on Sunday. Irving shot 6-for-6 from 3-point range, including 3-for-3 in that first quarter.

Before the game, there may have been questions about how well Irving could defend Serbia’s star point guard, Milos Teodosic. That didn’t really matter, because by the end of that first quarter, it was clear that Teodosic had no chance in trying to defend Irving.

“He made so many plays and kept the pressure on their guards to defend him,” Stephen Curry said of Irving. “He gave us what we needed, him and James [Harden] in the first half, to open up the game.”

When the U.S. is hitting its 3s, their opponent’s main defensive strategy basically goes out the window. That was the scenario in the gold medal game as, led by Irving, the Americans shot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half.

“That made the difference,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “I don’t think anything worked, what we planned.”

The U.S. didn’t stop at the break, scoring 38 points on 19 possessions in the third quarter, rolling to a 129-92 victory and an average margin of victory of 33 points in its nine World Cup games.

“They really kicked our butt tonight,” Djordjevic said.

The U.S. didn’t have Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Russell Westbrook at point guard. And Derrick Rose was shaking off the rust of not having played since November and Damian Lillard was left at home so the team could carry an extra big man.

None of that mattered, because Irving held it down at the one. When Rose took a few days off after the first exhibition game in mid-August, Irving took over the starting point guard spot and never gave USA coach Mike Krzyzewski a reason to go back to his original lineup.

“Playing with this team,” Irving said, “you have so many pieces to go to. It’s easy for me to take a back seat when Stephen Curry’s hot or James Harden is hot or AD is in the post and he’s killing another big man. It’s easy for me to do that.”

Irving may never be a true, makes-his-teammates-much-better point guard. But good luck staying in front of him. And good luck trying to defend him at all when his jumper is falling. Uncle Drew will be taking you to school today, kids.

“I’m doing whatever’s needed to win, playing with the best in the world,” Irving said. “I feel like that’s where I want to be and where I should be. Going back to Cleveland, I’m just going to have the same mind set, just being myself, working extremely hard every single day, and maintaining my confidence that has made me who I am and who I want to become.”

The Cavaliers have Kevin Love. They have the best player in the world. And now they have best player at the World Cup, who is only 22 years old.

USA-Serbia gold medal live blog

VIDEO: GameTime: FIBA Finals Predictions

MADRID — After 16 days and 75 games, it’s time to bring the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup to a close with the gold medal game between the United States and Serbia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 2).

The U.S. has suffocating defense and a 44-game winning streak on the line. Serbia has a potent offense and a three-game streak of pulling off upsets to go from 2-3 in group play to earning at least a silver medal.

The winner not only gets the gold, but also an automatic berth into the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Read’s preview here.



End of first quarter: USA 35, Serbia 21

Halftime: USA 67, Serbia 41

End of third quarter: USA 105, Serbia 67

Final: USA 129, Serbia 92

Plenty to watch at World Cup

VIDEO: Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis talk about the upcoming FIBA World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN — The FIBA Basketball World Cup is the best hoops you can get outside of the NBA season. Yes, it’s better than the Olympics.

There are twice as many teams, allowing for more depth from Europe and the Americas. And there’s an extra round of single-elimination, tournament play, giving us 15 win-or-go-home games once pool play is completed.

No, the NBA’s top two players aren’t here. But there are 46 guys currently on NBA rosters, a high for any international tournament. And because Kevin Durant and LeBron James aren’t representing the United States, and because there is so much depth among the second tier of teams, the competition for medals will be captivating.

Along with the U.S., Spain is the co-favorite. As the hosts they will enjoy a home-court advantage, which helped propel Turkey to the final game four years ago. But they also have a ton of talent and experience, both in the NBA and in making the U.S. sweat for a gold medal. The reason U.S. has four centers on its roster is because Spain has Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Beyond the top two, the competition to reach the semifinals could be wide open. Pool play will help sort things out somewhat, but as many as 10 other teams could have dreams of making the semifinals and playing for a medal.

Most of those teams will be on Spain’s half of the 16-team bracket after pool play is completed. In Group A play in Granada, the hosts will face Brazil, with its three NBA big men and terrific point guard, France, the 2013 European champion with five NBA players on is roster, and Serbia, who knocked out Spain in the quarterfinals of this tournament four years ago.

When pool play is completed, the top four teams from Group A (Granada) will match up with the top four from Group B (Sevilla) on the Madrid side of the bracket. Group B features Argentina, Croatia, Greece and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. has an easier path to the final. In Group C pool play in Bilbao, its toughest opponent will likely be Turkey, which has fallen hard since the 2010 World Cup, or the Dominican Republic, which the Americans blew out in New York last week.

Group D (Gran Canaria) features two tougher teams – Australia and Lithuania – which the U.S. will likely face on the Barcelona side of the bracket.

The USA’s history in this event (formerly called the World Championship) is not great. Prior to 2010, it had only won 1954, 1986 and 1994. Yugoslavia, which continued to exist as a basketball team after it dissolved as a nation, won five World Championships.

But Mike Krzyzewski has compiled a 43-1 record and a 36-game winning streak in his nine-year tenure as the USA head coach. He won this tournament four years ago with a roster of 12 guys who had never played a senior-level international game. And the world has yet to experience the defensive of new assistant Tom Thibodeau first hand.

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.

Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.

There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

Krzyzewski keeps teaching, learning

VIDEO: Mike Krzyzewski shares his view on Team USA as FIBA play nears

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Mike Krzyzewski came back for more.

After originally deciding to end his tenure as the U.S. National Team’s coach, Krzyzewski changed his mind last spring and signed on for another four years. Now, he’s putting a 43-1 record and a 36-game winning streak on the line at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

There’s no arguing with Krzyzewski’s success, either on the college or international level. With four national championships at Duke, two Olympic gold medals and a World Championship gold medal, his legacy is set. He certainly didn’t need to coach this team again.

The goal, of course, is two more golds.

“Obviously, the best moment is when there are 45 seconds to go and you know you can’t get beat,” Krzyzewski told last week. “Those are the defining moments.”

But coaching the National Team is a whole lot more than that for Krzyzewski. And it’s the journey, as much as the destination, that brought him back for three more years.

No easy task ahead

The 2014 World Cup is likely to be Krzyzewski’s biggest test with USA Basketball. The U.S. doesn’t have LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant. The two stars Krzyzewski had at the starting forward positions for the first week of training camp – Kevin Durant and Paul George – aren’t with the team anymore.

There are five players on this year’s roster with Senior National Team experience, but four of them had limited roles on the teams they played on in 2010 or 2012. And the fifth is Derrick Rose, who’s working his way back after playing just 10 games over the last two NBA seasons. There also aren’t as many natural ball-sharers on this roster than there have been in years past.

The host of the World Cup – Spain – is the team that came close to knocking the U.S. off in the gold medal games of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, when Krzyzewski did have James, Anthony, Paul and Bryant on the roster. The Spanish team also has more NBA experience (total regular season and playoff games) than the U.S. team does.

Yes, the U.S. always has a talent advantage. No coach in the world feels sorry for Krzyzewski, who seemingly just has to steer the ship in the right direction.

But the talent advantage and the margin for error are reduced in a 40-minute game and in a single-elimination format. And when everyone expects you to win (and most of the arena wants you to lose), the pressure can be overwhelming in the closing moments of a tight game.

So, with just 21 days to prepare for the World Cup, Krzyzewski has to use every opportunity to make the most of his roster. As the U.S. has learned in years past, talent alone doesn’t win these games. There will be moments in the next 18 days when the USA’s talent will need to be supplemented by both chemistry and effort. And there’s nobody better than Krzyzewski to build that chemistry and elicit that effort.

Building relationships

VIDEO: Coach K talks with players during the team’s training camp in Las Vegas

Krzyzewski has never been and never will be an NBA coach. But he certainly knows how to connect with NBA players.

“That’s what he does best,” USA assistant Jim Boeheim said. “He’s a tremendous communicator.”

Krzyzewski knows that communication takes effort. He doesn’t view this as just a summer job. He makes sure to build a bond with his players throughout the year.

“During the NBA season,” Krzyzewski said, “you try to text them a few times or give them a call if you knew there was a special event or something really good happened or something not so good happened, and continue having a relationship. So when you do get together in the summer, it’s not ‘Oh, I remember when we went to summer camp together last year.’ It’s ‘Oh, we touched each other a few times’ to maintain a relationship.”

When he does get his players in the gym, Krzyzewski doesn’t just focus on basketball.

“I try to touch a few guys each day,” he said. “Not these big individual talks, but just goof around with them and just try to get to know them.”

At Duke, Krzyzewski has four months to get to know what makes each guy on his team tick. With the National Team, he has five weeks. But he uses the relationships he has with guys who have played for him to build ones with the new guys. He may be 40 years older than his players, but all those years have helped him develop the requisite leadership skills for this job.

“He just knows subtle ways to talk to you,” Stephen Curry said, “whether it’s cracking jokes or getting on you if he needs to, but not in a disrespectful way at all.” (more…)