LAS VEGAS — The core of the Argentinian team have played together since they were young teens. Same with the Spanish side. And Lithuania. And Croatia.
“A lot of other teams, other countries, have been playing together since however long,” Team USA’s likely starting point guard Kyrie Irving said. “For us, we all have our regular season games, then of course the playoffs, and after that we go straight into (Team USA camp). So we have to come together a lot quicker than other teams.”
While USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski have put in a culture and a structure — eight of the 12 Team USA members played on the USA Select team that grooms potential future Team USA members — developing chemistry is still the challenge of the Las Vegas camp and ensuing tour and practices in the run-up to the Rio Olympics tip-off Aug. 6.
“I’m not sure it’s a challenge, it’s an opportunity,” Krzyzewski said, using some classic coach-speak. “Bringing in a lot of guys that want to do well and play for their country, to find a chemistry. Today was a really good day for us. We got a lot done today, the guys love one another, they are very unselfish, we got a lot done today.”
The players are a little more realistic.
“We’ve got to make adjustments, we’re all playing different styles of basketball right now…” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s going to take a little work to get some chemistry down, you’re not going to get the full chemistry down (of an 82 game NBA season). You’re just not going to get it. But we’ll get enough to be one team. We got some guys who can play; who can get up and down and make plays.”
That’s where Krzyzewski’s system works — the USA can just overwhelm every other country’s team with depth of athleticism. Coach K puts that to use: A high pressure, aggressive defense designed to force turnovers and rushed shots, which become transition opportunities for those USA athletes going the other way.
It’s worked to the tune of a 75-1 record for Krzyzewski as the USA coach, and that includes a couple of gold medals.
“Basketball is fun when you’re getting stops,” Irving said. “You’re getting out, just playing a free motion basketball. For me, I love it, because I know I’m out pressuring the ball and I know I’ve got Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins — I have all these guys behind me on defense. That’s just an exciting game to watch and play.”
Two guys who have looked good through the first days of camp — and could have monster games in the Olympics, is the big men Cousins and DeAndre Jordan. No other country in the world has athletic seven footers like that (France is probably closest with Rudy Gobert in the paint).
“DeAndre is incredibly unique,” Krzyzewski said. “One, he’s a great teammate. Second, he’s seven feet tall, keeps balls alive on the offensive end, he’s a willing screener, everybody loves playing with him. And he’s a heck of an athlete, not just going up and down, he’s a heck of an athlete going sideways, and so his defense of the ball screen is incredibly important. He reminds me a little bit of how Chris Bosh defended the ball screen in Beijing, where he really comes out and he’s so athletic and moves his feet well.”
Those bigs make everyone else’s jobs easier.
“(Cousins and Jordan) can move,” Lowry said. “It’s going to help us a lot that they can get up and down, move, pace their game and we can throw the ball into them. It’s always a challenge when you got DJ runnin’ the floor like he do, it’s a problem (for opponents).”
The entire USA team is a problem for opponents with their talent and athleticism. As long as they can all get on the same page.