Saturday, July 20, 2024

Team USA basketball: The biggest takeaways from the exhibition win over Canada

Ahead of its quest for a fifth straight Olympic gold medal, Team USA’s men’s basketball team began its exhibition schedule Wednesday night with an 86-72 win over Canada in Las Vegas.

On the day guard Derrick White replaced forward Kawhi Leonard on the 12-man roster, Team USA hit the court against a talented Canada team projected to medal in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Following a slow start — including missing their first six shots — the Americans clicked in the second quarter as the Canadians went cold from the field. Team USA outscored Canada 16-2 in the paint in the second and carried a 41-33 lead into half.

Despite a run from Canada out of halftime, the U.S. extended its lead throughout the end of the third quarter and the fourth. Four Americans finished in double-digit scoring, with Anthony Edwards leading the way with 13 points. Anthony Davis recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. RJ Barrett led Team Canada with 12 points.

Team USA will now turn its attention to Australia on Monday when the teams meet in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Before then, what were the biggest takeaways from the win over Canada?



Steph lobs to LeBron for a USA alley-oop

Steph Curry throws an alley-oop to LeBron James who slams it home.

1. Team USA’s performance against Canada was _____.

Tim Bontemps: Very encouraging. Team USA did not play well at all — it committed 17 turnovers and generally looked disjointed, particularly on the offensive side. And yet, Team USA cruised to a double-digit victory over one of its two biggest challengers for the gold medal next month (the other being France). On top of all that, Joel Embiid — who is still ramping back up after playing through a knee injury in the NBA playoffs — looked like he had a healthy amount of rust to knock off. This game only reinforces how clearly Team USA is favored over the rest of the field in Paris.

Bobby Marks: A good test. Nothing against Cooper Flagg and the select team, but playing in front of a sellout crowd against a Canadian team featuring Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks was a good test. Team USA did treat the game like an All-Star Sunday, but it seemed like a preview of what should be expected in France.

Dave McMenamin: A blueprint to follow for when the games matter. So long as the U.S. defends and gets out in transition, the fact that this roster had so little time to coalesce ahead of the Olympics shouldn’t matter — it held Canada to 33.7% shooting while racking up 11 steals and 9 blocked shots. By creating so many running opportunities, shot distribution wasn’t an issue — all 10 players who got in took at least four shots, and no player attempted more than 10.

Ohm Youngmisuk: Better than expected. Canada is a formidable opponent with Gilgeous-Alexander and Murray. It would have totally been expected and understandable if Team USA came out rusty after convening a few days before, but it flashed plenty of potential — offense, defense, size and versatility. We didn’t get to see an opponent test Team USA inside because of Canada’s lack of size. And it will be interesting to see how the U.S. adjusts when defenses take Stephen Curry’s outside shooting away and some of its stars fall into foul trouble (like Embiid fouling out late in the fourth quarter). But for the first outing, Team USA should be pleased.

Bontemps: Something no one with Team USA was concerned with nor took seriously. Edwards said he was happy to come off the bench during that same media session. He looked terrific Wednesday playing as part of a second unit featuring Bam Adebayo, Anthony Davis, Tyrese Haliburton and Jayson Tatum that seemed like it would be a real asset if coach Steve Kerr sticks with it. Edwards already is well known for making bombastic comments, and this was just another one. As Adebayo said Sunday, “Everyone on this team is a No. 1 option.”

Marks: Not surprising. Anytime Edwards steps on the court there is a strong belief that he is the best player. The same confidence and swagger he had in the playoff series wins over the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets was on full display in the first half. Team USA came out of the gates disorganized, and it was Edwards’ energy along with the second unit that erased an 11-1 start by Canada. Team USA has at least five No. 1 options on this roster, and whether Edwards is starting or coming off the bench, he should be considered one of them.

McMenamin: Missing context. Before Edwards made the declaration, he was asked about the role change in being the Wolves’ go-to guy and then likely coming off the bench for Team USA. His point was that just because he might have a substitute spot in the rotation, that doesn’t mean it will come with the mindset of demotion. So long as he is on the floor — no matter the teammates, opponent or location — Edwards will play with supreme confidence.

Youngmisuk: Him expressing confidence in his skills. Edwards might be the most athletic player on Team USA, and he will almost certainly provide the most electric highlights of the Olympics. He will get shots up, but when games get tight and Team USA needs scoring, especially outside scoring, I still believe Curry will be Kerr’s go-to option. The U.S. will need Curry’s outside shooting in FIBA-style basketball, and Embiid’s ability to be a mismatch also could be a primary option.

3. How will Kawhi Leonard’s absence impact Team USA in Paris?

Bontemps: This is nothing against Leonard, one of the best two-way wings of his generation, but I don’t anticipate it being that big of an issue. That just speaks to the wealth of talent at coach Steve Kerr’s disposal. Team USA now doesn’t have Leonard — but it still has Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, LeBron James, Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker and Anthony Edwards to play on the wings. And it can play any of its three centers — Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo — together. Plus, Derrick White is an elite perimeter defender and an excellent off-ball offensive player. In short? This team should be just fine.

Marks: I was surprised Leonard was chosen considering the knee issues he has incurred over his career, including a season-ending right knee injury in the LA Clippers’ first-round loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Leonard is an MVP candidate when healthy, but it is hard to see what impact he would have had, especially if there were a minutes restriction in place. The positive is that Grant Hill, managing director for Team USA, quickly found a replacement.

McMenamin: As we learned through Kobe Bryant’s impact on the Redeem Team, there’s power in a superstar at that level pouring all of his effort into being a defensive stopper and that being contagious throughout the team. Leonard — one of the fiercest defenders the league has ever seen — could have filled that role for this team had he been healthy. So, yes, it’s a loss. But the choice to replace him with White was pitch perfect. White might not have the stature of a two-time Finals MVP like Leonard, but based on what we’ve seen from White in Boston, he’ll have no problem making defense his top priority.

Youngmisuk: When Leonard is healthy, he is one of the best two-way players in the world. His ability to score from the midrange over any defender, shoot the 3 and then be a lockdown defender with size would have been invaluable. The two-time NBA Finals MVP was never going to be at his peak considering the inflammation in his surgically repaired right knee. White’s defense on smaller and quick guards and ability to switch will help ease the loss of Leonard, while helping Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, Anthony Edwards and Bam Adebayo as the team’s best defenders. There are going to be games when Team USA needs someone who can stop penetration and cool down a hot opponent while also hitting 3s, though.

4. What should be the starting lineup for Team USA?

Bontemps: Four of the five spots in Wednesday’s opener should stay that way for the duration: Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, LeBron James and Joel Embiid. Curry, James and Embiid are the three locks to start; Holiday, arguably the best perimeter defender on the planet, can then guard the opposition’s top playmaker while being a fantastic connector offensively. As for the fifth spot, my guess is it’s Kevin Durant (currently hurt with a calf injury) who eventually gets the nod over Jayson Tatum (who arrived at camp late).

Marks: I am not going to overreact and say Steve Kerr should shake up the lineup just because of the slow start against Canada. I am sticking with four of Wednesday’s starting five (Holiday, Curry, James and Embiid) and replacing Devin Booker with Anthony Edwards. If Team USA does face France in the medal round, Kerr can counter Victor Wembanyama and Rudy Gobert with Embiid and Anthony Davis.

McMenamin: Start with James, Curry and Durant (once he recovers from his calf strain) for obvious reasons. They are the three best players of their generation, and this is their first — and most likely only — time teaming up together in the Olympics. Then group them with the two most versatile defenders left on the roster: Holiday in the backcourt and Davis in the frontcourt. Holiday takes the opposing player’s principle ball handler; Davis is tasked with patrolling the paint.

Youngmisuk: Holiday, Curry, Tatum, James and Embiid make a lot of sense. Holiday can take on the opposing team’s best offensive perimeter threat and help with all the little things, such as offensive rebounding, as well. Curry’s outside shooting will be crucial for Team USA’s success. Until Durant is able to come back healthy, Tatum should be the starter alongside James. And Embiid can anchor the interior with Davis splitting minutes with him at center off the bench.

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