U.S. wins with talent, not effort


Credit this victory to the Americans’ great superiority in athleticism, talent and depth. In just about every other relevant category — focus, intensity, toughness, patience — Team USA came out second best.

The most impressive skills were demonstrated by Russell Westbrook. His dazzling speed and mercurial crossovers enabled him to zip to the rim whenever he wished.

Along with the dynamic talents that Kevin Durant originally brought to the team, he continues to expand his court vision and is well on his way to becoming a complete player. Credit has to be given to Coach K and his staff for aiding in Durant’s development.

Chauncey Billups had the maturity and wisdom to be the catalyst in the team’s mid-second-quarter regrouping after Slovenia had whittled 9 points from what had been a 14-point USA lead. Always under control, Billups’ clever passwork forced his teammates to move without the ball in half-court sets more than they had being doing — the highlight being the textbook execution of a give-and-go in tandem with Durant.

Kevin Love was the only American who had a physical presence near the basket, and his 11 rebounds in limited minutes had a huge impact in keeping the game under control.

The Americans did register 27 points in fast-break and early-offense sequences with most of these resulting from steals. Indeed, the basis of USA’s defense was its aggressiveness in passing lanes. A secondary factor was its quickness to the ball whenever Slovenia’s lead-footed, slow-jumping big men tried to attack the rim. Accordingly, Slovenia had as many points generated in low-post action (3, all from the free-throw line) as it had shots blocked down there.

Early in the game, Team USA was quick and agile enough to jam up Slovenia’s high-screen offense by either switching or making quick recoveries.

For the most part, the Americans were also fast enough to pressure many of Slovenia’s perimeter shots as evidenced by three attempted treys that never touched iron or nylon.

So how could the Americans possibly be guilty of underachieving?

  • They showed an almost complete lack of coordination when trying to defend back screens. This failing led to their giving up several uncontested layups.

  • As the game progressed, their all-around screen/roll defense regressed and the Slovenians were able to take advantage of several mismatches.

  • They forced passes, ball penetrations and shots with an alarming consistency.

  • Their ball and player movement was generally unsatisfactory.

  • One especially troublesome result of this impatience was their poor performance when confronted with zone defenses. In 27 anti-zone sequences, the Americans scored only 16 points.

  • The 16 turnovers they committed were due more to their own careless, impulsive play than to the Slovenians’ barely perceptible defensive efforts. Compare this number to the 12 turnovers totaled by their passwork-challenged opponents.

  • The Americans’ own attempts to play zone defense were inadequate, yielding five points in five zone set-ups.

  • As was the case in the opening contest versus Croatia, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Love proved incapable of playing adequate on-ball defense.

  • Except in inspired spurts, Team USA played with an overall lack of intensity, concentration and poise.

This latter shortcoming was most evident when they overreacted to the refs’ admittedly erroneous calls.

Despite the lopsided final score, the Americans’ sloppiness, lack of focus as well as their all-too-frequent lapses into selfish play combine to give them little reason to celebrate.

Will they be more energized and more disciplined against the tournament’s best teams? It says here that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding ‘Yes’!

In fact, it’s highly likely that the Americans’ haphazard effort was due to their looking past Slovenia in anticipation of Monday’s confrontation with Brazil, which (although diminished by Nene’s debilitating injury) is clearly the only other high-quality squad in Group B.

Even so, Coach K has some significant strategic and motivational work to accomplish in order to prepare his young team for what will presumably be their first serious challenge of the tournament.