The 2023 FIBA World Cup officially kicks off on August 25th, so until then we're all forced to scratch our collective basketball itch with the tune up games. We've seen other countries play already, Luka's had a few games under his belt, but we hadn't seen Team USA take the floor before tonight. Even if it's a fake game, the fact that this was going to be the very first international game for the entire roster certainly put some pressure on Team USA. After the report in camp that came out about how the Select Team whooped that ass, I was definitely interested to see how this group would look for the first time.
Plus we were getting Bill Rafferty in August which for my money is always the right decision. Life needs more. Bill Rafferty on the mic and not less of it, so right off the bat we were off to a great start.
So how did Team USA look? Dominant.
Well, that's maybe a little strong. Puerto Rico actually hung around for a half, mostly because Tremont Waters put the team on his back. While that may have surprised some, not me. I was ready for the Tremont Waters show
Plus, if you remember Waters from his EuroBasket showing last summer then you knew he's one of these random guys that turns into a beast whenever they play for their national team
Unfortunately, Team USA was simply too good. One of the fun parts about this upcoming FIBA run is there are a few guys on this roster who are poised to have massive regular NBA seasons. Guys who look like they're about to take a massive leap. One of those players is Jaren Jackson Jr, a guy who seems to be playing some great basketball at the moment
It was JJJ who got them started early, and my first takeaway was how much bigger he looks. Entering his age 24 season, JJJ is already coming off a career year across the board while also securing his first career DPOY.
Let's not forget that the second JJJ came back for the Grizzlies last year they basically became the best defense in the NBA. There's a world where he completely dominates this tournament given his size, speed, and inside/outside game. Sure this was just one scrimmage, but it's also the first look of a guy coming off a monster season who is poised for another leap.
Another guy you could say this is true for is Anthony Edwards. My biggest takeaway from tonight might be that this team needs to remember Anthony Edwards is on their team. For some unknown reason, nobody really passed him the ball to start the game and Team USA's offense stalled. Then they remembered they had this dude on their team and once he started shooting this game broke wide open
Make no mistake, it was The Anthony Edwards show in that 3rd quarter (11 points). He completely took over to the point where it looked like he was playing a different sport. Too strong and too quick for anything Puerto Rico had on the floor. Maybe it's me, but does Ant look faster? I think he might be faster. What I do know is that between the dunks in transition, his ability to drive hard and finish at the rim, a turnaround game, and an ability to beat you from deep off the dribble, there is no reason Anthony Edwards can't lead Team USA in scoring during this tournament. He definitely has a chance as long as they don't forget to give him the ball. If I were a Wolves fan I would be over the moon watching those clips. All signs sure do seem to point to a massive season upcoming.
Before you knew it, Team USA was up 12. Then it was 17. Once they finally broke the 20 point margin, all hell broke loose. A close game at the half was a 40+ point lead in the fourth quarter. Team USA ripped off a 39-8 run in the second half to take care of this game, and the majority of that was via Tyrese Haliburton. I'm not sold he isn't the best point guard on this team right now, even though he doesn't even start. The way he created for others seems natural for international play. He finished with 12 assists and just 1 TO with 7 points to match on 3-5 shooting, so he basically did a little bit of everything
What also stood out about this debut Team USA showing was how devastating their length might prove to be. They have the ability to throw so many of these super athletic hybrid bigs at you, it's a little overwhelming. Whether it's Brandon Ingram who might actually be trying on defense now
or Paolo Banchero that you forget is also 6'10
There are some big time matchup problems at Steve Kerr's disposal. Up and down the roster are players with elite length who are going to be able to cause pressure defensively, get into passing lanes, and most importantly will help protect the rim. Shit, we didn't even see Josh Hart tonight and he's another versatile guard. I'm interested to see how this group matches up to some better teams, but so far? So good.
I also don't think you can overlook the crazy factor Bobby Portis brings this roster. That's an edge that you know is going to get under the skin of someone at some point. We got a little preview of that tonight as well
I say use this as a weapon. It also doesn't hurt that Portis was extremely effective in his minutes, but I see all that as just a bonus. Unleash Bobby Portis as your version of mental welfare and I'm pretty sure you'll be able to cakewalk to the Finals. The second an opponent starts thinking about Portis and not executing, you win. That's the role he was born to play, and then once he's feeling good you just give him some post ups on either block. He showed us last season that's an automatic bucket.
All in all, Team USA winning by a billion is what we all should expect. That's the standard. It would have been a sneaky disaster if this team lost in their debut, and really they couldn't even just sneak by. They needed a dominant win and that's exactly what they got. Most importantly everyone stayed healthy and it's onto the next. Only a few more weeks to go until the real thing.
Seriously though, give me all the Bill Rafferty in August. He needs to be on every call the rest of the way through