college basketball broadcaster and reporter
Seven-time NBA all-star Grant Hill, the new CEO of USA Basketball, was pretty articulate when asked on the halftime FS1 broadcast what he thought of his fledgling FIBA World Cup team in the second half of the show’s opener expected in Las Vegas.
“We have to be tough defensively,” said the two-time national champion at Duke. “We need to block multiple actions and stick to the plays at that end of the field. That’s what I want to see.”
The Americans answered the bell and turned a 50-43 lead into a 23-point lead at halftime, defeating Puerto Rico and surpassing them 34-18 in the third frame en route to a 117-74 win Monday night in the T-Mobile Arena.
The competition was the first of five exhibition games for the United States in preparation for the 2023 FIBA World Championship, which begins August 26. Next, the Americans travel to Spain on Saturday where they face off against Luka Doncic and Slovenia (3:30pm ET on FS1) before taking on Spain on Sunday (3:30pm ET, FOX).
Here are five takeaways from the US victory.
Austin Reaves Delivers sparks and messages Lebron James
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer LeBron James has shown over the past year how much he loves playing with Lakers teammate Austin Reaves.
For a US team that looked strong early on, Reaves came off the bench to spark a spark with nine first-half points and four assists. For a team that has shot just 6 of 27 from 3-point range – an area to watch in the coming weeks leading up to the Worlds – Reaves’ presence is important because he brings along Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards and Jalen Brunson, a ground spacer who can reliably parry outside shots.
How will Steve Kerr deal with critical ball handling situations?
That’s an intriguing question for this US team that they’ll have plenty of time to solve. But what makes it interesting is that both Brunson and Edwards have such unique skills.
Brunson had the go-ahead, going for a 21-plus in 22 minutes Monday night, tallying 11 points and having the highest team stats along with 12 rebounds and three assists. After scoring just two points in the first 20 minutes, he found his game in the second verse.
Even after a slow start, Edwards proved the driving force behind USA’s run in the third quarter. The No. 1 overall winner of 2020 showed highlights in the third quarter, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the game in that 10-minute period. He also added four assists and four steals that night.
It will be interesting to see how Kerr – who is serving as head coach for the first time in a major event with USA Basketball – handles the dynamic between Brunson and Edwards. They can certainly co-exist, but both are strong at maintaining possession and it will be something to watch as the team prepares for the World Cup.
The US priority of size was put on full display
With this particular team of up-and-coming talent, a priority for Hill and his evaluation team was to gain size to take on top contenders France, Spain and Serbia.
Winning reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. was a big help. The standout Grizzlies set the tone for USA, scoring six of the team’s first eight points and finishing the game with 12, seven rebounds and two blocks.
An interesting side of the game: Paolo Banchero played some center for the Americans in the second half. While he only picked up seven points as a substitute, he showed his length and versatility, including one of the highlights of the game with a vicious block.
Playing Banchero at the 5 could allow the US to create more space on the floor and force the big ones to come out and protect him as well.
dollar vet Bobby Portis gives Americans some personality
The 28-year-old standout for the Bucks, the oldest player on the roster, helped the United States develop a better defensive performance in the second half, making his main plays and scoring 11 points that night. With this young side his personality is a positive trait for this group and he can give USA the edge they need against older sides they will see when things heat up at the World Cup in August.
Portis also had the facial reaction of the evening.
Mikal Bridges is a dynamic weapon for the US
The belief the Nets had in Bridges and his increased confidence in a new role and environment carried through to Las Vegas on Monday. In short, Bridges is a six-foot-tall glue-man and then some, with an incredible level of athleticism. He makes it easy for him to play the game. In the United States’ opening game, he scored 14 points on 6 of 9 from the floor with three steals and a +/- 30.
Bridges is invaluable for this team as he’s so fickle on defense and able to swing over the edge, not to mention the fact that he’s back with Villanova teammates Josh Hart, who was sidelined on Monday, and Brunson can meet.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers esports in a variety of capacities from covering matches on FS1 to serving as the main presenter on the BIG EAST Digital Network to commentating on the Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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