Rose struggles, Davis shines in Team USA's exhibition victory over Slovenia
Team USA rolled past Slovenia 101-71 on Tuesday in the Canary Islands in its final exhibition game before the FIBA World Cup. The Americans -- who started Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis -- pulled away with a 35-19 third quarter against a Slovenian team led by Suns guard Goran Dragic and his brother, Zoran. Six U.S. players scored in double figures, led by 18 points from Davis and 14 from Faried.
Here are three thoughts on the victory for Team USA, which opens World Cup play against Finland on Saturday in Spain:
• Derrick Rose was an inconsistent background player. To some fans, the FIBA World Cup and its preparatory exhibitions are a vehicle for Rose, the long-absent star point guard preparing to come back from nearly two full seasons of inactivity because of knee injuries. Rose's every move and word are parsed for what they might mean to the Bulls and the NBA, while perhaps not enough attention is paid to what his play and presence mean for Team USA.
On Tuesday, both meant little. Rose (three points, 0-of-3 from the field, three turnovers) looked explosive in his first stint off the bench but was either vacant or rusty for most of the rest of his 21 minutes. He'd blow the occasional layup, kill his dribble a few beats too early or stay firmly planted on defense as an opponent passed him. Reconciling those miscues with Rose's more characteristic bursts is among the greater challenges of the tournament, both for fans and Team USA's coaches alike. What can really be expected of a player who waxes and wanes so dramatically? Or, perhaps more worrisome: How much can the Americans depend on a version of Rose that so naturally drifts out of focus?
• Anthony Davis was, without question, the best player. The Yanks' roster construction puts a lot of pressure on Davis, the big man who best fits USA Basketball's stylistic standards on both ends of the floor and serves as the most prominent line of defense on many possessions. The Pelicans' forward-center excelled in all capacities against Slovenia, making the most of his 19 minutes to finish with 18 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, four blocks and zero fouls or turnovers.
If not for Davis' all-around impact, Team USA's stagnation could have become a problem. The roster features bigger names and flashier creators than Davis, but it's telling that he found his way to the forefront of more possessions than any of his teammates. On offense, Davis' rolls to the rim breathed life into a team that sputtered in its ball movement. Defensively, Davis often rebuffed several distinct actions even before stepping in to swat an opponent's shot or deflect a pass. His presence was constant and unmistakable, which bodes well for a U.S. team light on reliable bigs for international play.
• Team USA has yet to hit its stride. One reason Davis stood front and center defensively: There were enough mistakes on the perimeter that he came into play more often than is preferable. One can't expect too much on D from a guard core of Irving, Curry, Harden and Rose, a group that allowed far too many open three-point looks to Slovenia's guards. Still, one would hope for a better, more coordinated effort, even if it means little in the game's final balance. That this opponent -- a potential U.S. foe in the knockout round -- failed to capitalize (Slovenia was 9-of-26 from long range) is likely par for the course in what looks to be a fairly easy path to the FIBA World Cup final. Few teams have the talent to challenge Team USA, and those that do would still need a hot-shooting outing to keep pace.
The guards, however, have to do better in keeping with their marks and scrambling to contest open shots, areas in which Curry (who fouled out in just 14 minutes) in particular struggled on Tuesday. The communication was great in certain spots, yet there were frequent breakdowns in defending the pick-and-roll that stemmed from the two defenders involved failing to work in tandem.
Similar issues of coordination arose on the offensive end, where shot creators got past an initial defender but rarely gave up a decent scoring opportunity to manufacture a better one. For a team this talented to register just 12 assists on 33 field goals is odd. Execution on both ends will smooth out over time, but such hiccups in performance are noticeable all the same.