This one wasn’t much of a competition. USA got up big early and never looked back, solidifying their undefeated opening round record. Down both Marcus Smart (left quad strain) and Jayson Tatum (left ankle sprain) USA was left with only 10 available bodies and unclear timetable on when either will be back.
However, that wasn’t much at issue here with the game never in doubt. Let’s get into some quick takeaway’s before we talk about USA’s next opponent.
It’s much easier to move the ball against a smaller and slower defense like Japan but it was still nice to see USA choose to still play team basketball when they could have easily taken turns playing iso and still won by over 20. Overall, the team had 25 assists which is the highest total they’ve had yet. Kemba Walker led the team in assists again with 8 of his own but Donovan Mitchell and Khris Middleton had 6 apiece as well to round out the bulk of the playmaking. The real test will be whether that same trust for the system will be there when the games get tough.
Jaylen Brown making the most of limited opportunity
With sporadic play time, Brown has mostly been a guy on the bubble of the rotation. With limited options and diminished competition he was able to make the most of his opportunity leading all scorers with 20 points and also chipping in 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and this awesome windmill:
This was a great confidence booster for Brown and one that couldn’t have come at a better time. Down two other players, USA will be relying heavily on Brown for the foreseeable future. That rings even more true with USA’s next opponent.
Kemba Walker continues to be all-around presence
During the last three games, Walker has averaged 14 points, 6.3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 23.7 minutes. The team is also outscoring opponents by 21.7 points whenever he’s on the court.
Much as been made about USA’s lack of star power, but it has become clear that Walker, the team captain, is also the teams best player.
USA’s next game will be Saturday against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece. Greece doesn’t have the type of athleticism that even teams like Turkey and Czech Republic had nor do they have the level of supporting talent. However, they do have Giannis who takes multiple players to defend and with that they’re able to create a plethora of open shots. The blueprint to slow down Giannis and junk up Greece’s offense was given to us by Brazil during their upset over Greece.
The gist of it is simple in theory:
(1) Put a player on him that has the strength, smarts, and/or athleticism that can contain him from getting free lanes to the rim.
(2) Constantly have a big body in the paint and have a help side defender cheat in a bit.
(3) Go under screens to avoid switches and clear paths to the rim.
It’s very similar to what teams try to do in the NBA, except here bigs can park in the paint and more physicality is allowed. Just based on the rest of the teams here, USA is best equipped to handle guarding Giannis. They have strong, athletic wings such as Harrison Barnes, Jaylen Brown, Khris Middleton, Donovan Mitchell, and possibly Marcus Smart. Also, they have 3 bigs that can alternate to protect the paint.
USA will also throw a fair share of zone defenses and essentially dare Greece to beat them with jump shoots. Georgis Printezis and Nick Calathes have been some of Greece’s more trusted perimeter scorers. I would point to the fact that both have been very inconsistent throughout the tournament but history suggests that USA should probably be expecting their best.
The test here for USA will be staying disciplined defensively, always getting back, and capitalizing on the offensive end with good, ball-moving offense. This could easily be a 20-point win if USA is focused or a last-minute thriller if they aren’t. We’ll see how much of these good vibes from Japan will be carried over.
- With a shortened rotation and playing against a Japanese team that was undersized and not athletic, Popovich decided to double-down on the height advantage and play Plumlee and Lopez together for stretches of the game. USA dominated the boards 58-33, which included a 20 offensive rebounds. This could also be something USA throws at Greece to maximize the rim protection they’ll have around Giannis.
- With Tatum out, Popovich turned to Joe Harris in the starting lineup who has turned a lot of heads with his all-around play. He chipped in with a modest 10 points and 5 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with Harris or makes it a matchup-dependent decision.
- After the games today, USA is now in Group K which includes: Greece, Brazil, and Czech Republic. Saturday’s game will be against Greece at 8:30am EST. Next, they’ll play Brazil on Monday at 8:30am. From there, top two teams of their groups will move on to the Quarterfinals.