Team USA played its first scrimmage leading up to the FIBA World Cup against Brazil in Chicago, earning the victory, 95-78. Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis, two hometown heroes, shined in the first team activity since the gruesome Paul George injury and the exit of Kevin Durant. Brazil kept the score close until the end of the third quarter, when Team USA began to pull away.
Fans in Chicago got to witness the return of Derrick Rose after nine months of him being sidelined from a torn meniscus. They would have preferred that he donned a Bulls jersey, but they will settle for him representing the United States. Anthony Davis, a fellow Chicago native, joined him in his hometown return and they delighted the crowd with some highlight-reel plays. Davis was arguably the best player on the floor, pouring in 20 points and four blocks and making countless hustle plays, sometimes flying into the stands for a loose ball.
Brazil was able to keep it close with Team USA until late in the third quarter when Anthony Davis really turned his game up a notch. His play helped the team pull away, as “USA” chants rose from the crowd. James Harden also added 18 points and was perhaps America’s primary ball handler and playmaker in a well-rounded effort. The starting lineup consisted of Rose, Steph Curry, Harden, Kenneth Faried and Davis, earning the bulk of playing time along with Klay Thompson. Kyrie Irving and Mason Plumlee saw the floor, but the starters earned most of the minutes.
The United States will definitely be the most talented roster in the upcoming scrimmages and the eventual FIBA World Cup, as no other roster will consist of 12 NBA players. The problem for the young squad will be team chemistry in relation to the other national teams. Teams like Brazil, Spain, and Lithuania have been playing with roughly the same team for many years, allowing the players to develop an innate chemistry with each other. In basketball, talent usually wins out, but it cannot be relied upon completely when the other competing teams will not be lacking talent by any means.
Coach Krzyzewski will have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks, as he needs to get his roster down to 12 players. As of now, it looks as if Davis, Harden, Rose, Curry and Irving are locks to make the roster. Getting no minutes in the win against Brazil is not a good sign for DeMar Derozan, Gordon Hayward, and Andre Drummond, but it does not necessarily mean they are not in the running to make the final 12. DeMarcus Cousins missed the game due to injury, which is bad timing for him, but does not eliminate him from the final 12. Faried, Thompson, Rudy Gay and Plumlee all got minutes in this game, but the scrimmages leading up to the World Cup are more about finding cohesive lineups than distributing minutes evenly. Damian Lillard, Kyle Korver, and Chandler Parsons make up the rest of the squad and earned very limited minutes against Brazil, so they still have work to do to impress the coaches enough to make the roster traveling to Spain.
Beating Brazil 95-78 in their first scrimmage leading up to the FIBA World Cup is a great start for Team USA, but there definitely needs to be improvement. Roster decisions still need to be made and chemistry still needs to be built amongst those who will get the most playing time. Even with the injury to Paul George and the exit of Kevin Durant, this team will still be the favorites to repeat as champions in the competition that begins August 30 in Spain.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius