Team USA is beatable. That much is now clear after its scare against Turkey on Sunday's second game of the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Or is it? The near doomsday scenario for the United States consisted of playing even with Turkey for three quarters before pulling away for a 21-point victory.
A zone defense stymied the Americans, who went just 8-of-22 from three-point range. After dazzling during the team's debut against Finland, Derrick Rose looked like a player coming off his second major surgery, scoring two points (both foul shots) in 17 minutes.
The U.S. won, but it wasn't as pretty as usual. Looking ahead at the upcoming Group C schedule, is it time to lower our expectations for what's actually a B-model of the Dream Team?
|Sept. 2||New Zealand||11:30 a.m.||ESPN2|
|Sept. 3||Dominican Republic||3:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Sept. 4||Ukraine||11:30 a.m.||ESPN2|
As Grantland's Jason Concepcion explained, there are two types of wins brandished by U.S. basketball. There's the undeniable blowout, such as Saturday's 59-point massacre over Finland, or the learning experience victory.
Team USA either must be smiting ruination upon the world’s basketball pretenders, or it must be learning important object lessons about respecting one’s opponents so as to better dominate them in the future. This is how we, as a nation, process Team USA’s games. The U.S. gave us a taste of both settings as group play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup (“The World Cup With Hands!”) got under way this weekend.
The lessons Team USA learned against Turkey? Continue to push the tempo as quickly as possible to properly utilize its speed advantage. And when the shots don't go in, keep shooting. The Splash Brothers never stay cold for long.
Missed shots are one thing. Stephen Curry is an unstoppable shooting machine here to score baskets and chew bubble gum, and he doesn't care much for bubble gum. The U.S. won't have to endure many more 3-of-11 days from him.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski also gave his best "I learned something today" speech to ESPN's Marc Stein, addressing the game's pace and the peril of complacency:
The tempo of the game the entire first half was dictated by Turkey. We never really attacked the way we were able to [against Finland] and the way we did in the second half. I think sometimes when you have a game like we did the night before, where you’re just scoring at will, you can take it for granted. The big lesson for our team is you can’t take things for granted, especially when you’re playing teams the caliber of Turkey.
While Sunday's only-21-point win sounded off the warning bells, it shouldn't induce hysteria. It is, however, important to remember that this isn't Team USA's top product, as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook and Paul George are all not in Spain.
Meanwhile, as CBS' Seth Davis bluntly explained, the other teams are operating at full strength, which works to even the playing field.
If the best players in the NBA aren't on the roster then Team USA is vulnerable against the top international teams. Plain and simple.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) August 31, 2014
The biggest positive from Sunday's win: Kenneth Faried, who led the team with 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Team USA's greatest strength lies in any given player possessing the ability to lead the way on any particular day.
A legitimate concern, however, lies in Rose's health. After playing well against Finland, he looked sluggish playing a second straight day. Going forward, his minutes might have to be monitored more closely, especially when undergoing back-to-back games.
Then again, everyone other than USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo could have foreseen Rose's conditioning as an issue. Damian Lillard's blazing speed and scoring acumen would have made him a welcome reserve, but instead Coach K will have to ease Rose back to full strength.
Yet Colangelo is not backing away from his choice.
"I think basically we're waiting for Derrick to have kind of a bust-out game," he told Stein. "And if that were to happen, I think he'd take off from that point."
The weekend slate shouldn't drastically change the outlook of this team. It's still the favorite to win the gold. Spain, also undefeated, still presents the biggest challenge.
Team USA should be encouraged with its big-man production. Alongside Faried's strong effort, Anthony Davis leads the team with 18.0 points per game, and they're both tied for the team lead in efficiency rating.
If those two excel down low, they're built better than in previous years to combat Spain during a potential gold-medal bout. The guards won't stay quiet forever, so expect the U.S. to be just fine going on its path to another championship.