Part one: Takeaways from USA v. Australia

After a shaky start that saw the Americans clinging to a one point lead at halftime, Team USA was able to put together a dominating second half to beat Australia 102-86 in a packed Marvels Stadium. 

The game was a mixed bag of emotions and takeaways are in the eye of the beholder. One could look at tonight and worry about USA’s shot selection, weak side defense, and question whether this team is just a Serbia or Greece away from being dethroned. The results can also be seen as a positive. USA faced real adversity and they responded by delivering a knockout blow and then stepping on the chest of any Australia comeback attempts. Based on the youth and overall lack of experience for this team I lean towards the latter. Here are some of the highlights from tonight. 

Kemba Walker was cooking! 

After a slow first half, Walker found his groove in the third and became the staple of USA’s half court offense. With his combination of quickness and handle he’s one of the only members on the team that can consistently breakdown and collapse a defense.

The three-pointer wasn’t his friend today (2-7) but he feasted within the arc going 7-15 on those looks. It’s starting to become clear that Walker and Mitchell are the focal points of the team and their performances on a night-to-night basis will coincide with how well the team performs.

Shot selection woes

Of the 85 shots the U.S. took, 55 of them were within the arc and a lot of those were the long two’s teams try to stray away from. FIBA is a little tougher to attain ideal shot selection because there’s no 3-second violations in the paint allowing teams to park their bigs, drop excessively, and basically allow teams to walk into 15ft’ers. USA fell into that trap a lot into the first half and it lead to the inability to generate efficiently in the half court. One little tweak that USA could make is extending out their drag screen action and either force bigs to come up way further than they want to which leads to higher chance at paint attempts or risk conceding open three’s.

This play is the perfect embodiment:

This was Australia’s dilemma:

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 10.28.19 AM

Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 10.29.14 AM

There’s nothing Australia can do about that.

Myles Turner and Kyle Kuzma 

Turner and Kuzma had some really great shotmaking days. Kuzma went 4-5 from three and looked confident as Catch and Shoot guy across the three-point line. Turner, showcased a beautiful touch on his was to 15 points, and a game-leading 14 rebounds with a +26. Turner is one of those players that is extremely capable of taking and making open mid-range shots and it’s primarily what they allow him to do in Indiana. However, it was hard to watch how nice of touch he has and question why there isn’t more of an emphasis to stretch it out a couple steps to three-point range. As a guy who’s not going to be the focal point of the teams offense here or in Indiana, the boost he could have on his scoring total from simply switching from long-two’s to three-pointers would be significant even if he hits less of them.

Jayson Tatum as an all-around player

Nationally, the perception of Tatum has always revolved around his scoring ability with many misconstruing his value as nothing beyond his ability to score in an isolation setting. In reality, Tatum is an all-around player who though idolizes Kobe, models his game around Paul George. He’s committed on the defensive end, added strength gave him ability to be a body on the boards, and now he’s showing off another one of his unheralded skills: playmaking. Tatum lead the team in assists tonight with 4 dimes to go along with 11 points and 3 board. He seems to be buying into the process of being a creator for others rather than only himself. Pop has allowed him to create a lot out of the PnR and Tatum has shown an intuitive ability to find shooters or cutters whenever he feels an extra defender collapsing on him. With a team that’s lacking a true lead playmaker, they’ll need to find playmaking from different positions and Tatum seems to be taking on the challenge.

Watch here how he initially sees Kuzma, but then forces the defense to commit to him before passing it:

This is the type of decision-making that should make Celtics fans very happy.

Who’s the odd man out? 

In terms of minutes, Smart (Inactive), White (2:30),  Lopez (6:11), and Plumlee (9:39) were the only guys who played under 10 minutes. After the game against Spain it appeared that maybe one of the wings would go and that the team may be leaning on keeping the extra size as insurance. However,  Pop at one point had both Kuzma and Jaylen Brown on the court as the frontcourt which spoke volumes about the teams preference to utilize their versatility over size. With that information, I think the decision will come down to either Plumlee or Lopez with the caveat being Smart needing to actually get into a game and show he’s healthy enough to contribute.

Derrick White is also an option, he doesn’t seem to be apart of the rotation, he’s in a role with a lot of depth, and he doesn’t shoot or distribute at a high enough level to warrant PT on the guys ahead of him. However, if 12th man is going to be an insurance policy guy it’s likely that the team will value versatility over size.

Basically, I have no idea.

Miscellaneous Junk

  • Jaylen Brown got the nod as a starter today and lead all small-ball bigs in minutes. This was the most comfortable he looked in all the games. He really held his own on the block against 6’11 Jock Landale and probably had the best defensive game amongst his fellow small-ball bigs. His weak side help and ability to move feet on the perimeter continue to be his calling card to staying on the court.
  • It doesn’t necessarily show up on the box score but Joe Harris is a much better all-around player than many gave him credit for. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and relishes the ability to drive downhill where he’s shown the propensity to distribute or create for himself. He’s in a complimentary role now so he isn’t given as much touches as he probably deserves but I’d argue that overall he has had a better showing than all-star Khris Middleton.
  • Team USA cut down their turnovers from 23 to 13 but their team assists also dropped from 24 to 18. A big part of this was Australia’s on-ball pressure, which is some of the best in the tournament, and the combination of that plus score-first guards led to guys like Walker looking for his own rather than getting everyone else involved. I don’t necessarily see the drop as a sign of selfishness but this is an area a guy like Marcus Smart may be able to help as the only true distributor from the guard spot.
  • In the last two games USA has shot 48.9% from three on 24.5 attempts. The team is slowly putting away the notion that they lack shooting.
  • Full game Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw1wVCsxFnk

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