Last Word On Basketball

USA Men’s Basketball Drops 2 Exhibition Games: Panic Time?

Kevin Durant of USA Men's Basketball

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21: Kevin Durant of the United States celebrates his gold medal after the final match of the Men's basketball between Serbia and United States on day 16 at Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on August 21, 2016. (Photo by Salih Zeki Fazlolu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony is just around the corner. As usual, the United States are massive favorites to win both the men’s and women’s gold medals. Before any exhibition games were played, the men were -2000 favorites, meaning you would need to bet $2,000 to win $100. However, the men’s USA basketball team is now 1-2 in exhibition games.

USA Basketball 1-2 in Exhibition Games

USA Men’s Basketball Roster

The US basketball team roster is absolutely loaded. Of course, it is led by Kevin Durant who is a two-time gold medalist. Joining Durant with Olympic experience is Draymond Green and Kevin Love. Beyond those three, there are nine newcomers to the Team USA roster. Three of those newcomers are locked in an NBA Finals battle and won’t be joining the squad until Tokyo.

Even though they have a lot of inexperience, the talent is astronomical. Of the newbies, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, and Zach Lavine bring pristine bucket-getting abilities. Cautiously, there are probably seven guys that can drop 50 on any given night. No one will ever complain about that, but there are some issues.

USA vs. Nigeria

As mentioned, Team USA is 1-2 in exhibition games. They dropped their first game against Nigeria 90-87 and it did not feel that close. Before we dive into what happened with Team USA, let’s give Nigeria their flowers. They were better all night long. They have NBA talent all over the roster and made life miserable for the stars and stripes. However, USA basketball cannot lose to Nigeria.

Most notably, the USA gave up 20 threes to Nigeria, most of which were wide open. They also allowed Nigeria to pull down 14 offensive rebounds and dominate the glass. Nigeria wanted to win significantly more than the US. They guarded full court most of the game and made Team USA earn everything they got. Nigeria also knocked down big shot after big shot coming home to secure the win.

This world-beating USA roster only shot 41 percent from the field and scored 87 points. That can’t happen. They lacked a true playmaker and had to rely on Green and Durant to set up the offense. But, it was just game one together and although we all expect them to win, it is excusable.

USA vs. Australia

In game two, USA basketball took on Australia who also has NBA talent like Joe Ingles and knows how to win international games. The Aussies beat team USA 91-83 and pulled away late in a back and forth affair.

Team USA shot a bit better at 46 percent but they still only scored 83 points. This was the second game in a row Durant struggled to be efficient. As the leader of this team, it is clear when Durant struggles, the USA struggles.

Australia is very experienced and this was expected to be a tough game. However, after losing a game to Nigeria mostly because of a lack of energy, to lose again with a worse effort is inexcusable. Australia had moments where they looked like they were playing against themselves. They got whatever they wanted and played like the better team.

Team USA has a lot of good individual defenders. Between Jerami Grant, Bam Adebayo, Durant, Tatum, and Green they can stop anyone. Add to that a huge commitment by Beal and Lavine to be lockdown defenders on this roster and there are no excuses. The issue is with team defense. The rotations were terrible, the eye discipline could not have been worse, and the performance suffered. Luckily, they have Jrue Holiday coming soon which will elevate them to the next level.

USA vs. Argentina

The third exhibition game was last night against Argentina. Technically, Argentina is the best team that Team USA has played, but it is a much better matchup. There is far less NBA talent on the roster and they are not comparable in terms of athleticism. USA basketball won 108-80 in dominating fashion. The defense was fantastic because of the effort. The offense was more efficient and the ball moved a ton. This was the performance everyone wanted to see from the beginning.

USA Men’s Basketball Must Improve

The biggest offensive problem is a true playmaker. In the first two losses, USA basketball only averaged 19.5 assists. They passed that number halfway through the third quarter in their win. Green is the best playmaker on this team and Adebayo might be second best. It isn’t easy when your two best playmakers are your centers, but it’s doable. Most of the scoring guards on the roster have always played with the ball in their hands.

Undoubtedly, Team USA wants to play through Durant on the mid-post or at the top of the key. In that situation, they need some cutters and some movement instead of isolation. Durant is a good enough playmaker to find open guys.

Again, it has only been three games, and getting comfortable with teammates and building chemistry will fix most of these issues.

If USA basketball is going to win the gold medal, the defense has to improve. It’s all about effort. They have to want to guard and help and make plays. We all know that if you get NBA athletes in transition it is game over. Team USA has a group of the most athletic humans on the planet. If they can get stops, they will score almost every time.

As I said, the defense will improve with the addition of Holiday. However, the rotations need to be cleaner and that comes with reps. I am going to put the defensive onus on Green. He is as knowledgeable as any player in the game and a great defender. He has to get these guys together and use his voice. The nice thing for Team USA is they can switch one through five at all times, giving them a big advantage if they get the rotations under wraps.

Stop Panicking

No way. Yes, USA basketball lost two exhibition games which is more games than they have lost in the last decade-plus with the Olympic team. However, it is nine new guys who are adjusting to the very different officiating in FIBA.

Are people cutting in line to bet Team USA at -2000 now? No. But, they are still heavy favorites to win it all and now they know the effort level required to win the gold. The panic meter has barely flinched. Team USA takes on Australia again on Friday. Let’s reevaluate the team then.

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