Team USA dropped its first game of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, falling to Lithuania 104-110 early Sunday in the Philippines.
The Americans trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half before rallying in the second, yet still coming up short.
Team USA will advance to the next round, but there are still questions about the makeup of this roster; both in skill and mental makeup.
Team USA is Young
This group of American ballplayers is very young and relatively unaccomplished in comparison to previous editions of the national team. Team USA 2023 has a combined total of just four All-Star Game appearances, three All-Defensive Team selections, no All-NBA picks, and 18 playoff berths.
Less than half of the roster has made it to postseason more than once. Anthony Edwards is the closest thing to a “franchise player” on the team and he’s barely 22 years old. He’s made a mark as a scorer during the tournament, leading Team USA with an average of 20.2 points per game so far. However, Edwards isn’t the leader of the team.
Players like Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Haliburton seem best suited for the role as the team’s point guards, but they’ve just taken the reigns of their respective franchises. Asking them to command the huddle with their peers is still a tall task.
There isn’t a depth of winning experience for many of these players on either the collegiate or professional level, outside of former Villanova teammates Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Josh Hart, so this group feels more like an elite AAU squad rather than a national team.
Team USA is Small
Walker Kessler is the only true center on the roster, and he averages 6.1 minutes per game. Lithuania in particular exposed how vulnerable Team USA is on the interior and on the backboards against bigger and stronger opponents.
Over the last two games Team USA has been outrebounded 92-58 and outscored 39-5 on second chance points. They’ve been more than doubled up on the offensive glass 41-17. Whenever Team USA has a shooting slump, they don’t have the length or strength to compete for rebounds.
The aforementioned Hart leads the Americans in the tournament on the glass with 6.2 rebounds per game, 2.0 more than the next closest (Edwards, 4.2).
BI’s Problems Fitting In
Brandon Ingram’s struggles have been well documented. He reached double figures scoring for the first time in the loss to Lithuania, finishing the game with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
For the tournament Ingram is averaging 5.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.6 turnovers per game and has been removed from the starting lineup. The style of play and the teammates around him have virtually neutralized what he does best.
Ingram isn’t the team’s primary ballhandler, and his shooting from distance has been subpar (22.2 3P%). He’s also the only member of Team USA yet to attempt a free throw. With Duke, the Los Angeles Lakers, or with the New Orleans Pelicans, Ingram was always a primary option. The adjustment to playing off the ball so much has been more difficult than either Ingram or Coach Steve Kerr could have possibly imagined.
Ingram hasn’t become the deadly spot up shooter in the mold of Carmelo Anthony as expected, and he hasn’t been particularly impactful on the boards or defensive side of the ball.
With Team USA already assured of a spot in the quarterfinals, there is still time for Ingram and his teammates to figure this out.
Whether or not Ingram becomes a scoring threat for the United States isn’t the issue. The question is whether or not he can adapt his game as he did down the stretch for the Pelicans as they clawed their way into the Play-in Tournament. Brandon Ingram needs to set the tone by being a rebounder and by attacking the basket more aggressively. He needs to be a presence on defense; as a communicator and using his 6-8 frame to provide some balance on the interior.
Brandon Ingram can become a standout for the right reasons and help lead Team USA to gold, but it won’t be as scorer. It has to be as a leader.
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