Since a lot of big men stayed away from Team USA this summer — Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge among them — the American squad on paper looked perimeter oriented. It was going to be about the guards in transition and raining threes on opponents.
Through three games at the World Cup, it has been the USA bigs that have stole the show.
Tuesday it was Anthony Davis — 21 points on 13 shots, plus 9 rebounds — and the energy of Kenneth Faried with 15 points and 11 rebounds that anchored an easy Team USA win over New Zealand, 98-71. Team USA shot 51.5 percent for the game to New Zealand’s 40.3 percent in a game that was never in doubt once All Blacks finished their Haka pre-game dance.
The USA is now 3-0 in pool play with a game Wednesday against the Dominican Republic and Thursday against the Ukraine. Both of those also should be comfortable wins for Team USA, which will win the group handily. After that comes the single-elimination knockout stage next week.
On Sunday a veteran Turkey squad laid out a blueprint for how to slow the game down and beat the Americans, but New Zealand just doesn’t have the players to execute that plan. They are without Steven Adams of the Thunder, the one big man who might have been able to match some of the energy and athleticism of Team USA up front. The talent gap was stark in this one and New Zealand could not control the pace (and if you’re going to beat the USA you have to slow the game down).
Faried helps spark that pace for the Americans. Back during training camp Mike Krzyzewski described Faried as an “energy specialist” but one he got thrown into the starting lineup when Durant bolted. Faried has been exactly what the team needed — there are guys on that roster who can coast for stretches (I’m looking at you, James Harden). Faried is the antidote for that — his hustle and effort infects the starting lineup. He brings defense and energy.
That energy had Team USA up early (and by 22 by the half) as they were getting points inside and Stephen Curry was hitting some shots from the outside (he had 12 points on the game, as did fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson). Harden chipped in 13. As teams have to start packing it in on the USA bigs the guards should start to get better looks — if Team USA starts to move the ball better.
Of interest was that Coach K started Derrick Rose over Kyrie Irving for the second half, letting him get some run with the main guys to see how that went. Rose wasn’t terribly impressive, going 1-of-6 shooting for just two points. After the game Krzyzewski said the plan is for Rose to play in both of the next two games.
If you want to pick apart the USA their half court offense is a bit stagnant. They run some high pick-and-roll but basically they have a lot of one-on-one play, something they can get away with against New Zealand but could be an issue if they see Lithuania in the knockout round, and certainly vs. Spain in the gold medal game. On the defensive end of the court the USA tends to look for the aggressive play and lose their guys on back-cuts in system offenses, leading to some easy buckets allowed. Better teams will exploit that.
It’s the kind of thing Krzyzewski needs to show them on film and start to get fixed. It just didn’t matter against New Zealand Tuesday (and will not the next two days of group play, either).