MANILA, Philippines – Team USA found itself in some tough situations FIBA World Championship 2023but that’s not one of them.
This is an ode to an old one Lebron James quote, and it is an appropriate one. It’s easy to react sharply when the Americans, always favored, lose in international play. And they fucking lost Lithuania on Sunday, 110-104.
However, it should be clear that this is not a crisis or an unexpected challenge. Americans are coping with a glaring weakness that has always been a glaring weakness.
The US is small and boy, did Lithuania take advantage of that. Americans have been short on these events for years. They could remain small in the coming years, which will be discussed shortly.
They combat the height disadvantage with various means and are generally effective. And they could be quite effective again.
Coach Steve Kerr decided – not this week or this month, but when he assembled the team with USA Basketball leadership – that they would embrace this problem rather than fight it. Instead of trying to find big players to compete, they will rely on the great American guards and wings who have the speed and ability to guard bigger players.
Therefore there is only one true center— Walker Kesslerand he plays the least – and a number of strikers who play in the middle, for example Jaren Jackson Jr., Bobby Portis And Paolo Banchero. And there are players like Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves, Cam Johnson And Josh Hart which are long and can defend different positions.
It’s no coincidence or bad luck that the US is so small.
“That’s always the equation. As a coach, you have to take all of those things into account when deciding what plan to play,” Kerr said last week. “Some things you live with, you go into every game and find out what you’re willing to live with versus non-negotiable things.”
Kerr’s non-negotiables, both with Team USA and with the Golden State Warriors, are well established. His trophy case tells the story of how it all worked out.
Lithuania is the biggest and strongest team in the tournament and is in the midst of a magical series of 3-point shots. His performance in Sunday’s game was one of the best in World Cup history.
The team made its first nine 3-point shots. Nine! And it got a total of 14 out of 25 points. Lithuania entered the game with a 44% shooting rate on three-pointers, leading all teams. And then it got better. Nine different players scored at least a 3. Nine!
Late in the fourth quarter, Eimantas Bendzius hit a crucial three-pointer from the corner at the shot clock buzzer after the USA played great defense for 23.5 seconds. Anthony Edwards knocked the ball out of his hands with two seconds on the shot clock and Bendzius said a prayer.
“Shout to #22, man,” Edwards said.
As a matter of fact. It was reminiscent of the game the USA lost to Greece in the 2006 World Cup. Yes, this was a flawed and unprepared American team. Yes, the Greeks were great for much of the evening and deserved the win. And yes, Greece threw some absolutely wild shots, including at least one three-pointer that bounced off the screen and had no business being in the game.
It would be wise for Team USA to cheer for any team that plays Lithuania until the end. The Americans couldn’t play against Lithuania again until the World Cup final, although the USA still has a lot of work to do before then.
Lithuania is a terrible game for this team; It has the size and depth to temper what Americans do best. It was known that it was a serious test before the game and that proved to be the case.
If these teams played each other five times, the Lithuanians would probably win the rebound battle all five times. It might not be close. But the U.S. won the second half Sunday by 11 points, and did so with some adversity.
If Lithuania continues to shoot three-pointers like this – now it’s almost 47% – they will win the World Cup. If Team USA continues to get a rebound from Jackson every two games, as was the case this weekend, it likely won’t win a medal.
The Americans have a lot ahead of them. Including Edwards, who scored 35 points on Sunday.
“We’re lucky that the loss doesn’t hurt us in terms of our goal of winning the gold medal,” Kerr said. “But it’s a great game for us.”
What led to Team USA’s loss to Lithuania?
Brian Windhorst recaps Team USA’s 110-104 loss to Lithuania.
Other takeaways from Team USA’s loss to Lithuania:
• So why is there no size on the US roster? Let’s use our knowledge of NBA rosters and think about the available American centers. There are many European names that appear at the beginning. Some, such as Lithuania Jonas Valanciunasare in Manila and playing against them.
In Tokyo, Team USA brought two smaller, faster and defensively versatile centers: Bam Adebayo And Draymond Green. It won gold. Ja Vale McGee was in the squad but didn’t play much. Kevin Durant played more in the back line of defense.
Kessler was selected because he is the tallest and strongest defender among America’s young big men. Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers Evan Mobley, a potential defensive star, would have been an option. But he doesn’t have the bulk of Kessler or Banchero, which Kerr appears to have preferred.
Anthony Davis is an option and a great one. He has won gold medals. He would absolutely help. He has signed a contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers and won’t have to worry about free agency next summer when the Olympics are on the schedule. He would go well with what Kerr wants to do.
Davis is open to the idea of returning to the national team next year, sources said, but it’s far too early to know.
That brings us to this Joel Embid. He has been an American citizen since last summer. He could play for the United States in Paris next year if he is healthy enough and wants to turn down the chance to play for France, where he also has citizenship.
Grant Hill, USA Basketball’s CEO, and Sean Ford, the general manager, know that, of course. Of course there was also recruitment. Embiid would make a big difference.
But you can’t count on him. He doesn’t fit the way Kerr wants to play. And he’s not in the Philippines.
Assistant coach Erik Spoelstra has a saying borrowed from Hall of Famer Pat Riley: “You have to take an active role in saving yourself.”
Here’s another from Spo: “We’ve had enough.”
Both apply in this case.
• What’s next? Italy in the quarterfinals. It might seem like a pause that the US was pulling in the Italians and not the traditional power Serbia, which they would have been playing against if they had beaten Lithuania.
Maybe not. Italy is a stronger rebound team than Serbia, which is not the case Nikola Jokić. If Jokic played in this event – whoa, he might have a chance at the double gold summer that Marc Gasol did with the 2019 Toronto Raptors and Spain.
Right now, rebounding strength is most important when looking at Team USA’s opponent. The Italians can also shoot three-pointers much better than the Serbs, even significantly better.
Nothing can be taken for granted at this point.