Team USA is off to a tumultuous start in their five-game exhibition series leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Head coach Gregg Popovich and company dropped their first friendly against Nigeria and followed up with another loss versus Patty Mills and the Australian Boomers.
And while these matchups don’t count towards their official international record, this was the first time the U.S. lost consecutive exhibition games since professionals began playing in 1992. To make matters worse, Team USA was 50-2 in exhibition play heading into Saturday night.
You can attribute some of their struggles to a lack of continuity within the program. Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are the only returning players from the 2016 Olympic roster. And the unfamiliarity across Team USA after a four-day training camp is glaringly apparent on the court.
From Damian Lillard to Jayson Tatum, this rendition of the Red, White, and Blue is arguably more individually talented than some of its predecessors. But their fit alongside one another is suspect, and with an excess of ball-dominant players, there are questions about filling specific needs.
That’s where Keldon Johnson comes in. The Spurs wing enjoyed a stellar sophomore season in San Antonio. His incessant motor and willingness to sacrifice his body stood out among Team USA’s loaded cast of superstars, and he had no trouble operating as their quintessential role player.
The second-year forward wasn’t perfect by any means. Johnson had a few defensive miscues, but his comfortability cutting to the basket and relocating on the perimeter without the ball in his hands presented the Americans with a unique low-usage spark off the bench.
Keldon finished the night with seven points in 13 minutes, and his impact was felt immediately from the moment he checked into the game. Though the 21-year-old wing doesn’t own an expansive scoring repertoire, he battles for every board and suffocates defensive assignments.
Will the Kentucky alum be on the United States roster when they travel to Tokyo later this month? No, though the Select Team promotee is building a case as a viable end of the rotation piece should any unforeseen injuries or withdrawals bring on the need for a last-second replacement.
Despite the somber mood of the latest Team USA press conference, head coach Gregg Popovich only had positive things to say about his versatile young combo forward.
Head coach Gregg Popovich tells me Keldon Johnson “performed well. He’s a physical kid. Played good team basketball. He moved it, took appropriate shots. I thought he was real solid.”— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) July 13, 2021
Coach Pop, Keldon Johnson, and Team USA are back in action tonight as they take on Luis Scola and the Argentinian National Team in search of the first exhibition victory of their Las Vegas warmup.