Powered by athletic bigs, Team USA streaks past New Zealand
Team USA extended its run as the only undefeated team in its group at the FIBA World Cup with an easy 98-71 win over New Zealand. To its credit, New Zealand's national team -- which was without Thunder big man Steven Adams -- kept relatively competitive under the circumstances. Yet with its guards outmatched and its bigs at the mercy of Team USA's athleticism, New Zealand could only bear witness to its own blowout. Three thoughts from Tuesday's action:
• Team USA's bigs again commanded the spotlight. Players like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving may provide Team USA its creative center, but thus far Anthony Davis (21 points, nine rebounds) and Kenneth Faried (15 points, 11 rebounds) have given this roster its racing pulse. Davis is the single best two-way player on this star-studded team, looming on every defensive sequence and storming down the court for easy scores. Faried's effort level on the glass soars off the charts; not only is the Nuggets forward grabbing boards from out of position, but he's streaking across the court (or even doubling back) whenever the situation calls for it. Faried -- a standout athlete among standout athletes -- also regularly beats the entire opposing team down the floor for transition dunks. The energy he and Davis bring to this team is not only palpable but devastating.
Davis, too, is seeing more and more touches in the post as the situation allows. His utility may well change when Team USA matches up against opponents with stronger interior players, but for now coach Mike Krzyzewski is content to work his offense through Davis' lanky hooks in half-court situations. Between those opportunities, fast-break chances and the occasional lob, Davis totaled 13 field goal attempts -- more than any other member of Team USA. He also went to the line for 10 free throws, three more than New Zealand's roster attempted in its entirety.
• This win was solidified at the stripe. As Davis' 10 attempts would suggest, Team USA proved dominant at creating free throw opportunities in Tuesday's game. That wasn't the product of particularly favorable officiating so much as consistent energy. Pressure defense led to fast breaks which led to clean looks, many of which (particularly in the second half) were disrupted by New Zealand's desperate fouls. Some of those fouls were deliberate (as is often the case in international play) and some not. Regardless, Team USA worked the glass, pushed the pace and earned its 34 foul shots -- 27 more than an overwhelmed New Zealand team was able to create for itself.
It must be said, however, that Team USA didn't exactly make the most of its looks from the stripe. Of those 34 free throws the Americans made just 22 -- just 64.7 percent overall. That was good enough to maintain an 18-point advantage on free throws alone, though it also slightly undersold what could have easily been a 30-plus-point victory. Only one other team in the tournament has averaged as many free throws per game as the United States, yet 11 (in a field of 24) have fared better by free throw percentage. To this point that inaccuracy hasn't much mattered. There may come a point, though, when every point takes on a greater importance and those mounting misses come at a real cost.
• The offense keeps moving. Historically, Team USA's offense is at its worst when slowed to a half-court crawl and nudged toward one-on-one play. Sometimes the more talented members of Team USA are not above isolating against some lesser opponent, unaware that in doing so they've played right into the opponent's hands. Such possessions don't generally occur often enough to cause Team USA much of a problem, though, and on Tuesday the Americans were particularly committed to moving the ball where it needed to go. Credit is due to Kyrie Irving, in particular, who was dynamic off the bounce without over-dribbling.
The occasional indulgences -- say, James Harden trying to break down with an array of dribble moves only to turn the ball over in traffic -- were manageable given how consistently Team USA's guards were otherwise feeding the post, working the pick-and-roll and pushing the ball in transition. All are preferable for their brutal efficiency, which in this instance helped create open looks and clear separation from New Zealand.