Team USA remains a favorite in the FIBA World Cup, despite losing superstar wingmen Kevin Durant and Paul George over the last week. The “heavy” part of “heavy favorite” though no longer remains. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges that team USA will face as they try to take home gold.
France has been somewhat underrated coming into the World Cup, as the press has been obsessed with a Spain vs. USA showdown. Well, France boasts a solid lot of NBA talent. Despite Tony Parker not joining his nation this World Cup, France still has his teammate and fellow NBA champion Boris Diaw on the roster. Other notable names include Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trailblazers, Nando De Colo formerly of the Raptors, Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic, Ian Mahinmi of the Indiana Pacers, and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz.
While that is not an All star cast, it still ranks as some of the most NBA talent in the competition. Batum is a great all around small forward who is a triple double machine. It is scary to think what he can do as the team’s number one option. If Durant or George were starting at small forward, Batum wouldn’t be much of a worry. But, with the uncertainty of who will play the three for USA, Batum becomes a threat. De Colo and Fournier give them some good shooting for starting guards, and Mahinmi and Gobert have great size down low. Gobert stands out because of his 7-2 height. He comes in as one of the tallest players in the tournament. That could cause USA some problems.
Overall France is not the highest level of threat, but still a sleeper team to look out for.
6. Lack of Big Men
The US team is missing some of the top big men talent in the NBA such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, and more. All that remains are star Anthony Davis, always angry DeMarcus Cousins, and young guns Andre Drummond and possibly Mason Plumlee. This can be a problem when facing the likes of Brazil and Spain, who have top quality big men.
Team USA will rely heavily on DMC and Anthony Davis to produce in the post and in the paint, as the team cannot rely solely on jumpshots the whole tourney. Davis may be able to rise as our biggest star, since he is already a near top 5 talent in the NBA, but it’s too early to turn the reigns over to him.
The final cuts will decide who will be playing in the paint, but it is my bet that we see Drummond, Davis, and Cousins representing the USA in the battle down low.
Brazil is not a great team. They are not loaded with talent, and they have no number one guy that can compete skill-wise with Team USA. What they do have is great all around big men. Nene Hilario, Tiago Splitter, and Anderson Varajao all pose huge threats to the very young big man core of Team USA that I mentioned above.
These guys have all made names for themselves in the NBA, playing against the other top talent in the world. Just look at what Tiago Splitter did vs. the Dallas Mavericks.
Anderson Varajao was a league leader in rebounds just a season ago, averaging 14.4 boards per contest. Nene hasn’t shot below 48% from the field since the 2007-2008 season. Splitter was the starting center on the last two Spurs teams, both of whom went to the Finals.
Team USA has to find a way to shut down these bigs. And that is not the only problem with Brazil.
Aside from those three big men, Brazil is bringing Leandro Barbosa back to international play. The talented veteran has a nice three point stroke and is very shifty on the drive. This Brazilian leader will need to be guarded heavily by Derrick Rose and company if Team USA wants to shut down the Brazilian attack.
4. Uncertainty at Point Guard
While Team USA is stacked with talent at point guard, the shoe in for starter, Derrick Rose, still has a big question mark beside his name. Despite being extremely impressive and being hailed by Coach K. The Hall of Fame coach said the following about the Bulls former MVP (quote from ESPN):
“I think he’s exceptional in every way. He went right at it. The first defensive exchange in the camp, he was all over the ball handler, moving his feet, attacking him. There was a buzz right away because it was basically his saying, ‘Look, I’m not just back. I’m back at a level that’s elite.'”
As you can see, Coach K has no worries on Rose and his health. Well I, along with many others, still are not sure how D-Rose can keep up with the best players on an international level in a World Cup. Rose is coming off two consecutive season where he injured his knee. Are we really ready to throw him in at starting point guard, representing the entire nation as the floor general?
What about Stephen Curry, or Damian Lillard, or even Kyrie Irving? Are those young guns ready to handle the pressure of leading the national team? They have the talent, sure, but do they have the courage?
I really hope they do.
Australia brings some great talent to the World Cup this year, despite losing Patty Mills to injury and Andrew Bogut not playing for his home nation. Still, representing the team is NBA talent like Aron Baynes, Matthew Delladova, and Bulls rookie Cameron Bairstow, sure to cause some trouble to Team USA’s gold title hopes. The headliner talent on this team though is Utah Jazz rookie Dante Exum, one of the most talented combo guards in the international game.
Exum will look to prove himself even further to the basketball world before he even steps onto an NBA court. That will definitely be a problem for team USA, as the only guard on our team athletic enough to guard him is Derrick Rose who, as mentioned before, may not be a sure thing for the tourney. Exum can take over games from the combo guard position
Another factor in Australia’s team that could be troublesome for the red white and blue are two guys by the names of David Andersen and Joe Ingles. Andersen, a 3 time Euroleague and Italian cup champion, is a force down low. The former NBA talent has played for clubs like CSKA Moscow, Barcelona, and Fenerbahçe. Joe Ingles, another former Barcelona player, now plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the top international clubs. Ingles is coming off a great 2012 Olympics, of which he averaged 15 points and 5 rebounds a game. These two will make life even tougher for Team USA.
2. Lack of Go-To Scorer
LeBron James. Russell Westbrook. Chris Paul. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Durant. Kevin Love. Deron Williams. Carmelo Anthony.
Those are just 8 of the players that made up the 2012 olympic roster. All of those are franchise players in the NBA and absolute go to scorers. Guys that can take over games. Guys you can rely on.
Now, are we expected to rely on James Harden and Anthony Davis as our leaders?
Well, yes. Those are the guys we have and who we will stick with. The loss of Kevin Durant and Paul George hurt us deeply as a team, and leave us scattered. We have no clear cut number one option.
Team USA now begins to take shape of many other international teams, who do not have clear cut number ones but they have lots of talent. Spain, Brazil, and Australia all have lots of talent, but nobody that they can turn with no hesitation in the final moments. Team USA will just have to accept that fact and adapt to play like it. It won’t be easy, but changing to all out team basketball may be a beautiful thing with Derrick Rose and James Harden at the helm.
The ultimate showdown. Spain vs. USA. The two top ranked international teams in the world, according to FIBA’s world cup rankings.
Spain brings out a scary lineup, with great scoring bigs, shooters, and crafty passer point guards. Their projected starting lineup vs the USA is likely the following:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Jose Calderon
SF: Serge Ibaka
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Marc Gasol
That lineup is scary. More than scary, it is a favorite over the likes of Team USA. Sure, individually our players may be better, but Spain has found a way to beat us before, and they could easily do it again.
With great bench players like Sergio Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez, Victor Claver, Alex Abrines, and Sergio Llull from clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, and the Portland Trailblazers, even Spain’s bench is worrisome.
With Rubio and Calderon running a two point guard set and the Gasol brothers anchoring down the paint, defense will be key here. Stopping the pick and roll will be crucial to holding off the Spanish attack.
One X factor that Coach K and company will have to account for is Serge Ibaka at small forward. Out of his natural position, it is hard to predict how he will play in this new environment. The team may use him as a corner three shooter, a skill he has perfected over the last few seasons in Oklahoma City. His defense will still be a problem, especially without Kevin Durant playing the small forward position. Ibaka could shut down whoever we throw in at SF, since he is a top defensive presence in the NBA already. This will no doubt be a problem.
Team USA guards match up well, as both Rose and Harden are superior than Rubio and Calderon. But, neither Harden nor Rose are quick to pass up a shot, something both the Spanish guards excel at. If we cannot be patient with our defense, the Spaniards will burn us for it.
No matter who we play at the 4 and 5, the Gasol brothers have us outsized. Plain and simple. Both Gasols can bully our big men down low. But USA is much more athletic than them. Whether it be Kenneth Faried, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, or DeMarcus Cousins, USA can outrun and out hustle the Spanish bigs.
All in all, Team USA has a lot to watch out for against Spain, but I don’t think there is anyone out there who would not want to see these two teams go at it in the championship game.
Team USA has a lot of obstacles if they really want to take home the gold, as you can see. But, just because of all the obstacles, that doesn’t mean Team USA can’t pull through. When has a little trouble ever gotten in the way of a US victory?
Is this article missing a challenge? Can the USA take home gold? Let your voice be heard in the comments section and I will get back to you with a response.