Team USA won Group E of the 2019 FIBA World Cup and is now headed to the second round of group play (along with the Czech Republic) to take on Greece and Brazil. The top two teams from this new group will advance to the knockout rounds. Results from the initial group round carry over, so that gives the undefeated Americans and Brazilians an automatic upper hand. First up is Greece.
U.S.A. vs. Greece
September 7 | 7:30 AM CT | Shenzhen
Injuries: Jayson Tatum (ankle — out), Marcus Smart (quad — day-to-day)
Finding a leader
Team USA is a group of very solid NBA players and obviously has the most NBA talent at the World Cup, but it’s a ragtag group that hasn’t spent as much time together as several of the other international teams and lacks one big element: a go-to scorer to rely on when things get tight — a team MVP, if you will.
This was evident in their extremely close call against Turkey. Players like Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell tried to take over in spurts, but it ultimately took a series of errors by the Turks (a foul on the game-winning three-point attempt at the end of regulation and four straight missed free throws at the end of OT) for the Americans to skate by.
Harrison Barnes is the team’s spiritual leader as the player with the most international experience, but he’s not quite the type of player to take on the role of go-to guy when games are on the line. Players like Mitchell and Khris Middleton have what it takes to take over games in spurts, but it’s a lot to ask from two players who have never been the guy on their respective NBA teams. Walker is the the most talented player on the squad and is used to serving this role at the club level, making him the most likely candidate. We’ll see what happens when/if the need arises again.
The NBA MVP awaits
Speaking of which, the Greeks may be relatively short on NBA talent, featuring only two of the Antetokounmpo brothers, but one of them just so happens to be the reigning league MVP. Giannis Antetokounmpo — a.k.a. the Greek Freak — is exactly the type of player Team USA is missing. Greece may be at an overall talent disadvantage against the Americans, but Gregg Popovich’s squad lacks the type of player who can hold him in check (if there is such a thing) should he decide to go off.
If he does take over, will Walker or someone else be ready to counter him? A good way avoid having to answer that question is for the US to come out and assert their dominance early with a full team effort. In fact, from here on out, that will need to be their game plan each and every time as the competition stiffens and teams with bigger stars come up.