Team USA basketball: Three things we learned from the Americans' dominant start to the 2023 FIBA World Cup
May 31, 2023
Team USA made easy work of Jordan on Wednesday, winning 110-62 to complete the group stage of the 2023 FIBA World Cup with a perfect 3-0 record. As expected, the Americans were not tested in the opening three games; their 27-point win over New Zealand in the opener was the closest final margin.
Next up is the somewhat convoluted second round, in which Team USA has been put into a separate group called Group J and will play Lithuania and Montenegro. The results from the first group stage carry over, so the Americans will start atop the group and need to finish in the top two to advance to the knockout rounds.
The second-round action will start in short order, with the game against Montenegro set for Sept. 1, followed by the contest versus Lithuania on Sept. 3. Both of those games will take place in Manila, where Team USA was based for the first three games, so they will not have to travel.
Ahead of the action, here's a look at what we learned from the group stage:
On paper, Brandon Ingram should have been a perfect fit for Team USA's starting lineup as a versatile forward who could chip in with a little bit of everything. He's always been a capable scorer, and solid rebounder for his position, but has improved as a playmaker in recent seasons and shot 39% from 3-point land last season -- just shy of his career-best -- including 41.7% on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
In practice, it simply hasn't worked. Without the ball in his hands on a regular basis, Ingram has gotten lost in the shuffle and struggled to find any sort of rhythm. He averaged just 7.8 points per game in the exhibition contests, and admitted that he was having trouble adjusting to a different role.
"This is totally different than what I am used to," Ingram said. "The team is winning right now, so I can't be selfish thinking about myself. But it's a little frustrating right now for me, and I'm just trying to figure out ways I can be effective."
Nothing changed in the first two group-stage games. He had two points on 1-of-4 shooting against New Zealand and five points on 2-of-4 from the field versus Greece. Those performances prompted head coach Steve Kerr to make a change for the final group stage contest against Jordan. Ingram was benched in favor of Josh Hart, who isn't as talented but has spent his entire career as a role player and is happy to do all the dirty work on both ends of the floor.
Perhaps a move to the bench will allow Ingram to play with the ball in his hands more often, and thus have more success, but it remains to be seen. It's hard to read too much into Wednesday's win over Jordan, who were completely overmatched. We'll see how Kerr uses Ingram in the second-round game against Montenegro, who figure to be Team USA's steepest test yet.
Austin Reaves would not have been an early pick when trying to predict the Team USA roster earlier this summer. Even he admitted that he was "shocked" when he got the invitation from managing director Grant Hill. "I didn't see it coming," Reaves said. "I was confident in what I could do basketball-wise but it was something kind of caught me off-guard."
But as the past few weeks have shown, Hill and the rest of the Team USA brass knew what they were doing. Reaves helped key the Americans' 16-point second-half comeback against Germany in the final tune-up game, and his influence has been growing ever since. Despite not being a starter, he finished the group stage averaging 11.7 points, three rebounds, 4.3 assists and two steals per game. He's third on the team in scoring, first in assists and first in steals. It's clear as well from his 19.5 minutes per game that Kerr trusts him.
Reaves' versatile and physical game is an excellent fit for international basketball. He can play with or without the ball, is a threat from behind the arc and isn't afraid of contact on either end. Perhaps most importantly, he's perfectly comfortable as a role player thanks to his experience alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
If Team USA is going to win gold, Reaves is going to be a big part of the equation.
OK, so we may not have learned this during the group stage because it was pretty clear during the exhibition schedule, but the last three games confirmed that no one besides the top teams can challenge this group. This isn't the best possible squad that Team USA could put together, but it still has far too much talent for the majority of the world.
Even if Team USA gets off to a slow start, they will eventually overwhelm lesser opponents, as we saw against both New Zealand and Greece. The final margins of victory for Team USA's first three games were plus-27, plus-28 and plus-48. The will face stiffer tests in the second round against Montenegro and Lithuania but should again have too much skill and depth to be in any sort of danger.
Once the likes of Canada, Spain, Germany and Slovenia start to come into play during the knockout stages, Team USA is going to have to be at their best. But for now, it should continue to be easy sailing.