[ad_1]

Seven-time NBA All Star Grant Hill, the new managing director of USA Basketball, was pretty clear when asked on the FS1 broadcast at halftime what he was looking for from his young FIBA World Cup team in the second half of the squad’s showcase exhibition opener in Las Vegas. 

“We’ve got to clamp down defensively,” the two-time national champion at Duke said. “We’ve got to defend multiple actions and stay with plays on that end of the floor. That’s what I want to see.” 

The Americans answered the bell, turning a 50-43 halftime lead into a 23-point advantage, shutting down Puerto Rico and outscoring them 34-18 in the third frame en route to a 117-74 victory on Monday night at T-Mobile Arena. 

The contest marked the first of five exhibition games for the United States that serve as tune-ups for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which starts on August 26. The Americans will next head to Spain for a matchup with Luka Doncic and Slovenia on Saturday (3:30 ET, FS1), before taking on Spain on Sunday (3:30 ET, FOX). 

Here are five takeaways from the USA victory. 

Austin Reaves delivers spark, and message to LeBron James 

NBA all-time leading scorer LeBron James has shown in the last year just how much he loves playing with Lakers teammate Austin Reaves. 

For a United States team that looked tight early on, Reaves came off the bench and delivered a spark with nine points in the first half, adding four assists as well. For a team that shot just 6-for-27 from 3-point range — an area to watch for this team as it goes through the coming weeks ahead of the World Cup — Reaves’ presence is important because he gives Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards and Jalen Brunson a floor-spacer that can reliably knock down perimeter shots. 

How will Steve Kerr handle critical ball-handling situations?

That’s an intriguing question with this United States team, one that it has plenty of time to figure out. But what makes it interesting is that Brunson and Edwards both offer such unique skill sets. 

Brunson got the start and was plus-21 in 22 minutes on Monday night, scoring 11 points to go along with a team-high 12 rebounds and three assists. After scoring just two points in the opening 20 minutes, he found his game in the second stanza. 

After a slow start as well, Edwards really served as an igniting force behind the United States’ third quarter run. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick showed flashes of brilliance in the third quarter, delivering 12 of his 15 points in the game in that 10-minute period. He also added four assists and four steals on the night.

How Kerr — who is in the head coach seat in a major event with USA Basketball for the first time — manages the dynamic between Brunson and Edwards will be interesting. They can certainly coexist, but both are strong at leading a possession, and it will be something to watch as the team’s build up to the World Cup occurs. 

USA’s priority on size was on full display

With this particular team of rising talent, it was a priority for Hill and his evaluation team to get size to combat top contenders France, Spain and Serbia. 

Reeling in reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. was a huge help. The Grizzlies standout set the tone for the United States, scoring six of the team’s first eight points and finishing with 12, seven rebounds and two blocks. 

An interesting layer to the game: Paolo Banchero played some center for the Americans in the second half. He only finished with seven points off the bench, but he showcased his length and versatility, including one of the game’s highlights with a vicious block.

Playing Banchero at the 5 could allow for the U.S. to space the floor more and force bigs to come out and guard him as well. 

Bucks vet Bobby Portis gives Americans some personality

The 28-year-old Bucks standout, the oldest player on the roster, helped spark the United States into a better defensive effort in the second half, making his staple hustle plays and scoring 11 points on the night. With this young team, his personality is a positive quality for this group, and he can add an edge to the U.S. that it needs against older teams that they’ll see when things heat up at the World Cup in August. 

Portis also had the facial reaction of the night.

Mikal Bridges is dynamic weapon for USA

The belief that the Nets had in Bridges, and his increased confidence in a new role and setting, carried right into Las Vegas on Monday. Simply put, Bridges is a 6-foot-6 glue guy and so, so much more, with a terrific level of athleticism. He makes the game come easy to him. In the United States’ opener, he delivered 14 points on 6-of-9 from the floor with three steals and a +/- of 30. 

Bridges serves in an invaluable role for this team because he is so switchable defensively and can rise above the rim, not to mention the fact that he gets to reunite with Villanova teammates Josh Hart, who was out Monday resting, and Brunson. 

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.


Get more from National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *