Team USA is the least interesting thing about the next stage of the World Cup
Luka Doncic and Slovenia have a hellacious weekend ahead. Plus, we're getting a high-stakes Canada vs. Spain battle.
Good morning. Let’s basketball.
Team USA will resume its World Cup mission on Friday against Nikola Vucevic and Montenegro, followed by a Sunday match against Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania. The level of competition should get tougher as a tournament goes along. For the United States, the leap between the competition in the first group stage and this second group stage is enormous.
Lithuania was one of the best team performers in the first round. They won each of their three games, including their battle with Montenegro, by at least 20 points.
Beyond Valanciunas, they have a number of high-end European league players and a couple who have had brushes with the NBA. Lithuania has long been a solid program greater than the sum of its parts. They have fans who travel, and many of the players have been together most summers for most of the adult lives. Thanks to that blend of talent and depth of familiarity, it’s going to be a team that can test Team USA like no other team to date.
Team USA should still crush them. It’s Team USA. But the Americans will actually need to play well to do it.
The tune-up that isn’t a tune-up against Montenegro on Friday will allow an adjustment to higher levels of play, at least. And it will give another shot to an interesting line-up change Steve Kerr made for Team USA’s first round closer against Jordan, putting Josh Hart in the starting five over Brandon Ingram, who had been struggling to find his role next to Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards.
In 19 minutes against Jordan, Hart as a starter had 12 rebounds and two field goal attempts. Perfect. Ingram wasn’t amazing off the bench (7 points, 5 assists in 15 minutes) but the balance is better. It may be the case that Ingram just isn’t all that essential to this team, which has some individual scorers and playmakers. (The 2019 World Cup team? They definitely could have used Brandon Ingram.)
Eventually — maybe this weekend — Team USA will be tested and fit, flow and depth of talent will be important. Eventually. Still, Team USA remains one of the least interesting things about the tournament.
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