Friday, July 12, 2024

USA Basketball overcomes slow start: 5 takeaways, including Anthony Davis’ impact

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Nothing about the opening 10 minutes in Las Vegas on Wednesday night was positive for the United States. Perhaps that’s what makes the Americans’ 86-72 exhibition win over Canada that much more encouraging in their pursuit of a 17th gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games in Paris later this summer. 

Tipping off a five-game showcase that will next feature a matchup with Australia in Abu Dhabi on Monday at Noon ET on FS1, the United States overcame an early 11-1 deficit and a 21-14 hole after one quarter, outscoring the Canadians 27-12 in the second frame en route to what turned into a convincing victory. 

Here are five takeaways from Team USA’s 14-point win to open up play this summer: 

1. Grant Hill prioritized rebounding in building his roster. Anthony Davis answered the bell. 

Hill, the managing director of the USA Men’s National Team and former 7-time NBA All Star, made it a point to say on Wednesday night’s FS1 broadcast that the Americans’ disappointing fourth place finish at the FIBA World Cup last year — with a much less talented team, it bears noting — was an eye-opener that he needed to field a group for the Olympics that would impose their physicality. 

The 31-year-old Davis, a nine-time All Star and 2020 NBA champion, was the most impressive player in Wednesday night’s game because he was so productive on both ends of the floor. The Lakers star delivered 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and a team-high efficiency rating of 22 off the bench on a night where Joel Embiid fouled out just five minutes into the third quarter. 

The clip above shows Davis’ defensive impact, as he is immensely switchable, long and versatile, making him an invaluable weapon for Kerr to go to that we’ll discuss later in takeaways. But for Kerr and his staff, deciding on a starting five and a rotation is going to be intriguing. With no Kevin Durant in the fold due to a calf injury and Kawhi Leonard out with Celtics standout Derrick White replacing him, it will be interesting to see how things evolve over the coming weeks before the U.S. faces Serbia in its Olympics opener on July 28. But on Wednesday, it was a guy who came off the bench in Davis who looked fantastic and really imposed his will with six unanswered at one point in the third quarter.

2. Anthony Edwards backed up his words about being the No. 1 option

The 22-year-old Edwards, who blossomed on the scene last year for USA Basketball at the World Cup and proceeded to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to the franchise’s first conference-finals appearance in 20 years, backed up his words from Sunday at media availability.

“I’m still the No. 1 option,” Edwards said. “Y’all might look at it differently…they’ve got to fit in around me. That’s how I feel.”

Those are bold words on a team that features LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Durant, Jayson Tatum and more, but Edwards was the one guy on Wednesday night who consistently put pressure on the rim when he was on the attack and forced the defense into issues. Was he perfect? Far from it, with two turnovers and some careless mistakes at times. But he still led the team with 13 points on 6-of-10 from the floor and a plus/minus of +12. 

When the United States needed an answer to an abysmal first quarter in which they only managed 14 points and trailed by seven after one, Edwards powered an instant 6-0 run that prompted a Canada timeout. His highlight of the night in my book is how he moved off the ball and beat the buzzer to close the third quarter. Edwards oozes with confidence, and I believe he deserves a starting spot on this team. At the very least, he’ll be in games in closing time, which is most important.

3. Steve Kerr said it’s early, but was candid that sloppiness must get cleaned up

“We have to execute offensively better. We’ve only practiced for a few days, so we’ve got a lot to tighten up. Too many turnovers and too many disjointed possessions. We’ll get there but it’s going to take some time.”

Those were the words of United States and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on Wednesday night in his post-third-quarter interview on the broadcast. Edwards said it was this team’s goal to keep the turnovers at eight or fewer per game. The Americans were at the 8-turnover mark after only a quarter on Wednesday night. 

Look, it’s an exhibition and it’s early but ball-handling duties will be interesting because there are so many options but only one basketball. It’s on Curry, James, Edwards, Tatum, a great distributor in Tyrese Haliburton, Durant (when healthy) and company to figure out how they can limit the sloppiness. But these types of errors are exactly what this time of year is for. That being said, Embiid fouled out in 12 minutes and committed four turnovers in the exhibition opener. Will we see Kerr reward Davis in the second United States exhibition on Monday or do something differently with his starters? We shall see.

4. The United States’ defensive upside was on display

A game-changing moment summed up what ended up being an impressive defensive performance for an exhibition game by the Americans, and it came courtesy of LeBron:

The United States showed their length on the defensive end in addition to the glass, with the Americans tallying nine blocks in the win to Canada’s one, and two-time NBA champion and Celtics standout Jrue Holiday showing why he’s a 6-time All-Defensive Team honoree with his stout defense on the perimeter.

The 34-year-old Holiday spearheaded a United States effort that saw them hold the dynamic Canadian duo of Jamal Murray and MVP runner-up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a combined 5-for-18 from the floor. 

Haliburton called Holiday the best defender in the NBA during the Eastern Conference Finals and it showed again Wednesday. Hill’s above reasoning also displays why Holiday’s Boston teammate White is being added to this team, with him being named to the All-NBA Defensive Second Team in each of the last two years. But what also makes Holiday so valuable is that he had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes. He understands his role and flourishes in it.

5. The play of the night came from two legends

With the likes of 44th President Barack Obama, former USA coach and Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski, NBA greats Patrick Ewing, Jerry Colangelo, Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony sitting courtside as part of USA Basketball’s 50-year anniversary celebration, two of the best to ever step foot on the hardwood supplied this sequence that sent the Vegas crowd into a frenzy. 

Curry finding LeBron in transition was certainly a highlight, with the four-time Golden State champion posting 12 points and three assists in the win while the 20-time All-Star caught the lob and slammed it home as part of his 7-point, 5-rebound, 3-assist, 3-steal performance.

LeBron James & Steph Curry speak after United States’ win over Canada | USA Basketball Showcase

LeBron James and Steph Curry spoke on teaming up after the United States’ 86-72 win over Canada.

“We just want to win gold. Whatever that takes,” Curry said.

While there are some things to be figured out and questions to answer, it’s certainly okay to be at this stage for the United States. But for this all-time roster to be a bit shorthanded, trail 11-1 out of the gates and still look as good as they did as the game went on while not having to sweat and getting solid scoring balance, it’s a fine start on the road to gold this summer in Paris.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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