Brian WindhorstSenior writer for ESPN5 minutes to read
MANILA, Philippines — Basketball gear is everywhere at the Mall of Asia, a giant commercial space in a ball-obsessed nation right next to where Team USA opens the FIBA World Cup on Saturday against New Zealand.
There are great deals on shoes Jason Tatum, LeBron James and Ja Morant. The Greek team’s Yannis Antetokounmpo shirt is up for sale, despite having to withdraw due to a knee injury. In the spacious NBA Store, in the display cabinet is Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson’s jersey for Gilas Pilipinas, the national team title. If you have a few thousand disposable pesos, you can get yourself a replica Michael Jordan No. 9 jersey from the 1992 Dream Team.
As for the current version of the US national team? Well, you can buy the uniforms that the likes of Anthony Edwards, Brandon Ingram and Austin Reeves will wear as they battle for the world title over the next three weeks. But there is no number or name. General down the line.
Steve Kerr has said over and over how much he enjoys coaching this version of Team USA. Players describe how much fun they were having on what became a trip around the world that included weeks in Las Vegas, Spain and Abu Dhabi before arriving in Manila. They were unbeaten in friendlies, 5-0, the first time this had happened since before the 2016 Olympics.
However, the lack of star power on a global scale has some believing Team USA is weak. Team Canada is loaded. France has beaten the United States in the past two major international tournaments. The biggest star of the event, Luka Doncic, plays for Slovenia. Spain, the defending champions, have won twice in the past four World Cups.
Sports newspapers have named the Americans as the favorites, but they haven’t won a World Cup since 2014.
“The last time during this tournament we finished seventh and lost two games,” Kerr said. “We know how difficult it is. This is not the days of 1992…. We might be one of the favourites, but I don’t think anyone is clear. I think there are a lot of teams that have a chance to win.” this thing.”
The truth is, Team USA is in excellent shape. And unlike other major contenders such as Canada, Australia and France, the United States will not have to travel during the event. Once Antetokounmpo withdrew, her group became much weaker. New Zealand and Jordan, the two teams that will play next week, do not have current NBA players on their rosters. Greece, which the United States addressed last week at an exhibition in the United Arab Emirates, has one: Thanasis Antitokounmpo.
But Team USA does not have any members of the 2021 team that won gold at the Tokyo Olympics. No one has played in the senior national team before. Only three – Jarren Jackson Jr., Tyrese Halliburton and Edwards – were NBA stars last season. The United States isn’t even the highest-ranked team in the world according to the FIBA ranking system, sitting just behind No. 1 Spain.
“There are so many great players in the United States, so it’s hard to say who is a star and who isn’t. They change this definition of what it means to be one every year,” said Jackson, the reigning NBA champion. Defensive Player of the Year. “So whatever we figure out is a way to win matches, you have to stop it.”
The way Kerr and USA Basketball CEO Grant Hill designed the team is to play with agility, flexibility and speed. Kerr and Hill assembled a team that prioritized height, toughness and moving the ball. Kerr has stuck to playing lightweight formations – Jackson is the only center he plays regularly, and even he’s out of position because he’s a power forward with the Memphis Grizzlies – but he’s heavy on pace.
Kerr wants the ball and objects to move. And when the United States trailed Germany by 16 points in the second half last weekend, Kerr benched Halliburton and Reeves because they weren’t just defending, they were moving the ball as well. Michal Bridges and Edwards are not very wide wingers, but their wings are large and Kerr plays them most of the minutes because of that.
Next year at the Olympics in Paris, assuming the United States scores one of the two available berths for the Americas’ World Cup qualifying teams, you might see some star names like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and maybe even James at the Olympics. Swan song. But that doesn’t mean that this version has no teeth.
“We feel like we are the best team,” Bridges said. “Maybe every team feels they can beat any team, and they can think whatever they want.”
There is a long history of upsets in FIBA play. The game is eight minutes shorter than an NBA game. Steering can get shaky at times. The ball looks different and bounces differently. Playing for the country tends to level up players who are not seen as stars.
Team USA’s margin of error is less than would be preferred, in part because there are no big stars capable of carrying them. Last time in Tokyo, the gold might not have come home had Durant not been shining on the first ballot into the Hall of Fame.
But Kerr still loves his chances and loves his team.
“I love the way these guys play together, the way the ball moves, the energy,” Kerr said. “These guys are hungry. They are committed to every training. They give their best. So I know that from a coaching point of view. This is a great team to coach and I really like what I see every day”. day.”