With such prolific scorers as Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Devin Booker headlining the roster, the United States men’s basketball team shouldn’t have a problem getting buckets.
But they struggled to do so in their exhibition games and preliminary loss against France, to the point of critics and fans wondering: "What’s wrong with Team USA? Why they can’t score? What should Team USA do to get back on track?"
For Durant, it was simple. Execute, and execute with precision. Go get a bucket.
“Our adjustment is to just make more shots,” Durant said before the Iran game. “We have the best talent in the world on the team. It’s a make-or-miss game that dictates a lot of what you do on the floor. Just be more efficient with making our shots and we’ll be in good shape.”
Team USA’s 120-66 rout of Iran on Tuesday night was an exercise in (and a celebration of) offensive dominance and decadence. Lillard led the way with 21 points; with all of them coming on threes. Booker added 16 points, while Jayson Tatum chipped in with 14. Zach LaVine added 13, while Durant and Khris Middleton scored 10 points each.
While this 54-point blowout was against an overwhelmed Iran team, it may serve as a catalyst as to how Team USA will operate offensively. Here are a few takeaways from the preliminary game against Iran.
Defense To Offense
Sometimes, the best way to generate easy baskets is to play smart, aggressive defense. Before the Iran game, Team USA assistant coach Lloyd Pierce alluded to this principle.
“Some of it [creating scoring opportunities] is off your defense,” Pierce said. “Can you create more turnovers that lead to easy and early baskets in transition? Teams are going to try to play us as long as they have to on the offensive end and move the ball, execute, and slow the game down. But it’s really back to us. Can we speed the game up with our pace? Can we create and force turnovers? If we are to generate more points, it will have to be that way.”
Against Iran, Team USA forced 23 turnovers for 38 fast break points, which validated Pierce’s observation.
In the first six seconds of this clip, notice the defense that Jrue Holiday is deploying here. Look at how far Holiday is forcing his man outside the paint and crowding his space. Holiday forces his man into a contested shot that misses badly. Durant snags the rebound and slings the outlet pass to Bam Adebayo for an easy jam.
At the 28-second mark, Holiday is there again with the block, and Jerami Grant pushes the ball ahead to Tatum for another easy basket in transition.
Lillard believes that the attention to detail defensively was the catalyst offensively.
“When we defend that way, we can get out in transition; get easier baskets, not playing against the set defenses often,” he said after the game. “I think we did that from the jump, and it showed in the final score.”
Ball Movement and Spacing
At times during the opener against France and in the exhibition games, Team USA struggled to find an offensive rhythm in half-court situations. Pierce attributed those half-court struggles to overthinking.
“It’s just [making] simple
plays. How do you make quick decisions? How do you make what Pop
[head coach Gregg Popovich] [calls] the term '0.5 decisions?' Pass,
shoot, or drive it. Without thinking too much. If you’re open,
shoot it,” Pierce said.
“These guys are highly efficient and high-level scorers. But if the shot is not there, make the play for somebody else.”
Again, Pierce is spot on. Sometimes simplicity is more effective than complicated schemes that tend to frustrate.
At the 16-second mark in the same clip, Durant drives along the baseline and draws three defenders to him, which provides space for Draymond Green. Green receives the ball as Durant retreats to the weak side. Lillard receives the ball from Green, only to dish it to Middleton. Then, Middleton passes to Durant for a three.
Driving and kicking generates the space needed to make half-court sets more efficient. Don’t be surprised to see more of this as Team USA continues its quest for gold.
With Booker, Middleton, and Holiday in Tokyo, Team USA now has a full roster -- and despite the lack of size, there's versatility available on offense.
Durant can play on or off ball and compensate for the lack of size if used as a 5 in some situations. Lillard can stretch defenses with his long-range shooting. Booker can operate seamlessly in pick-and-roll situations.
Each scorer has his own individual talents and attributes, but the key for this team offensively is how these players mesh their styles together. They also need to figure out when to look for their own shot and when to create for others, and to find that balance.
“We were a bit too unselfish and that bit us before but I think guys came out there and were super aggressive to look for their shot but also keep everybody involved,” Durant said after the win. “Damian came out, got it scorching for us, so we’re going to need that going forward.”