After training camps in Las Vegas and Southern California over the past two weeks, Team USA travels to Australia to continue preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. And with roster shakeups and questions surrounding the strength of Gregg Popovich’s crew, what should we expect when tournament play tips off on Aug. 31?
Brian Windhorst and Ohm Youngmisuk discuss the biggest talking points for Team USA:
BW: I was really surprised De’Aaron Fox pulled out over the weekend. I thought he looked great in the practices and was a lock to make the team. But he didn’t play much in the games. After he played only six minutes in the exhibition against Spain, maybe he wasn’t totally sure he would make it and didn’t want to go all the way to Australia only to have to come back in a week.
OY: I’m pretty stunned. I recently wrote about how he seemed poised to not only be on the team but be a potential breakout candidate. Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker raved about Fox being the fastest player in the NBA, and Fox told me how he was picking up leadership tips from Kyle Lowry. He said that even if he didn’t make Team USA, he already has become a better player from the practices and learning from Pop. I thought he would make the team with Lowry’s thumb injury, and this would propel him into the season and possibly ignite a breakout year. He played only six minutes against Spain, but I thought it was because Pop wanted to see what Derrick White could do with this team.
BW: I don’t know, maybe that was an issue. Maybe he thought if it came down to him or White that Pop might lean toward the Spur. Trae Young left the Select Team because his eye was infected, but only after he found out White was getting promoted to the senior team ahead of him. We’ll see whether Fox addresses it later, but I doubt Pop would choose anyone except the best player for each spot.
BW: White has had a hell of a 12 months, no? He was in the G League mostly as a rookie. Then he got a chance in San Antonio when Dejounte Murray got hurt, and now here he is on the verge of making the national team.
OY: I was sitting there in the first half watching White and thinking how I’ve already witnessed some of his best and worst in just the past few months. I covered that first-round series between the Nuggets and Spurs when he absolutely dominated a couple of games and looked as if he were on the verge of stardom before the Nuggets made defensive adjustments. And then in the first half on Friday, he had a few plays where he struggled a little before making a nice assist off penetration and then a nice floater late in the game.
BW: Who has impressed you the most? Donovan Mitchell has impressed me — Jayson Tatum’s shooting, too. And Khris Middleton, after looking bad in the first week, was way better Friday night.
OY: Donovan has impressed me the most. From the first practice in Vegas to the most recent exhibition, I love the aggressiveness from him and, perhaps even more importantly, I love what I’m hearing from him every time he talks. He sounds like this is an opportunity to win gold for USA in the Olympics and not just a World Cup that many are taking for granted.
He’s treating this not only as an honor to represent his country but to really take another step forward in his progression. He’s not just starting, but I think we’re going to see him run point at times to spell Kemba and create for teammates. I also think his athleticism and scoring will make him stand out in the World Cup.
BW: The way he moves reminds me so much of Dwyane Wade. He’s got a strong lower body, so he moves side to side with such power. I know I’m not the first to say that.
OY: Mitchell sure is a bright spot, but what concerns you about this team? I wonder sometimes whether they’re going to be consistent enough shooting from the perimeter in international play. I feel like they have some streaky shooters, and as a result, Joe Harris, the only true knockdown specialist, could play a role next month in games when they might get tight and shoot poorly.
BW: If you’ve ever watched much international basketball, and maybe I’ve seen too much, so often it comes down to the 3-pointer. The Europeans were ahead of us in spreading the floor with bigs who could shoot and pass.
It’s like an NCAA tournament game. Team USA will always have a No. 1 seed and always the most talent. But if the Americans run into the wrong hot-shooting team on the wrong day, beware. That’s why Harris will make it — he’s a zone-buster. He made one shot Friday: a 3 against a zone that helped salt away the win. That’s why he’s here.
OY: You’re taking me back to some of Michigan State’s NCAA games over the years. Too many scares.
BW: Sparty seems to do quite well — I seem to remember seeing photos on your IG from the Final Four last year. The Euro game is how Pop wants to play. What’d you think of his mood this week?
OY: I was impressed with Pop’s mood this entire last week. He has been patient with media members he doesn’t know or see here around Team USA compared to during the regular season. He has fielded question after question and offered up some longer answers, some even with a little humor. I thought he’d be moodier.
BW: What about after that scrimmage when they got hammered by the Select Team this week?
OY: You could hear Smart imploring the team to play better by saying how embarrassing it was that they got beat so bad. It was 36-17 in just 10 minutes. P.J. Tucker and others thought the media was blowing it out of proportion, especially after the team had just gone through a two-hour practice. But some coaches watching in the stands were just as surprised as many of us were.
Team USA’s main roster loses 36-17 in a scrimmage against the Select Team, which is primarily made up of G League players.
BW: Well, they lost some scrimmages to the Select Team in Vegas. One was like 23-9 or something. Then they killed them in the real game. Maybe it’s all part of Pop’s plan: He probably wants the team to face some level of adversity. Maybe he even would secretly be OK if they got humbled in Australia this week. They play two games in the national rugby stadium in Melbourne in front of 50,000 people and then play the Canadians in Sydney.
OY: Oh, Windy, you missed one important development. Brook Lopez shaved his beard! I asked him why: He said it was driving him crazy and that he knows his mother will be watching him and he wanted to look more presentable. LOL!
BW: Yeah, but she lets Robin get away with that hair. Thanks for covering the team this week while I got ready to go overseas. See you in September after I’m back from the World Cup in China.