CHICAGO – Usually, there are very few “Wow” moments in exhibitions, be they NBA games or FIBA games. This one bucked that trend.
Anthony Davis diving into the stands, knocking over two of the hottest female fans in the building? Yeah, that was a “Wow” moment. Davis finishing a couple of fast breaks with rim-rattling slams while running at full speed? Yeah, that too brought out the ‘W’ word.
There were enough “Wow” moments from that young man to leave you saying “Damn” about this version of Team USA, which came out looking awesome and finished looking even more awesome in a 95-78 victory Saturday night against Brazil in which the Americans very much looked like the favorite to win the World Cup, which they are.
Going into this game, you didn’t quite know what you were going to get, especially after the losses of Kevin Durant and Paul George. Coming out of it, we now know what we are going to get: A whole lot of Anthony Davis, whose youthful athleticism was infectious to the entire American team in their first game of the 2014 summer.
“We hope it will be like what happened with some of the guys on the 2010 team, and that this launches what should be a storied career for him,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Davis was the star of the night, scoring a team-high 20 points, including eight in the fourth quarter when Team USA broke open a tight game. He also had eight rebounds and five blocks.
Krzyzewski also singled out Klay Thompson, Mason Plumlee, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose for praise, which means those fellas can rest assured that they will be heading to Spain as rotation players.
In fact, Krzyzewski pretty much showed his hand in this game by using nine players who should make up the team’s core, along with DeMarcus Cousins, who did not play after banging his knee at practice two days earlier.
So the Team USA top 10 looks like this: Starters Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Davis, along with Irving as the sixth man, Plumlee as the first big off the bench unless Cousins can supplant him, Rudy Gay as an emergency big and Thompson as the top shooter coming off the bench.
There are still 16 players on the roster, and no cuts will be made until after the team plays exhibitions in New York next week against Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Against Brazil, Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver saw minimal playing time and did not score, and Gordon Hayward, Andre Drummond and DeMar DeRozan were DNP-CDs.
But they are a story for another day.
Today, we talk about Davis.
The New Orleans Pelicans center was a member of the 2012 Olympic team but was a cheerleader at the end of the bench brought along to see firsthand what he would be a bigger part of going forward.
“I learned a lot, what the system is about. It’s all a process. I wasn’t complaining because I wasn’t playing or anything like that. I was 19 years old and I was still learning,” Davis said. “We had the best players on the planet on that time, and I knew coming in that I wasn’t going to play, but I’m happy I’m getting my chance now.”
The No. 1 thing he learned?
“Everyone wants to beat USA.”
That remains the case, but this was probably the closest thing to a close game that we will see until the semifinals of the World Cup. The Americans have those two upcoming exhibitions in New York, then one last friendly against Slovenia before they begin pool play against the five other teams in their group – Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine.
Assuming the Americans run the table, they will move into the knockout round against the fourth-place team from Group D, which consists of Angola, Australia, Lithuania, Mexico, Slovenia and South Korea. Their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents will come from the 11 teams listed above, only two of which – Lithuania and Turkey – can even remotely be considered a threat.
So, yes, chances are they skate into the gold medal game. They will never even get a whiff of a majority of the better teams in the tournament, as Brazil, Serbia, France, Spain, Argentina, Greece and Croatia are all on the other side of the bracket.
The only thing that can defeat them is injuries, fatigue and boredom, and from listening to Coach K over the past few days, that is not going to be an issue. Krzyzewski said the camp in Las Vegas was the best he had ever had in his nine years of coaching the national team, and that is saying something when you look at the caliber of players he has coached during his tenure.
Against Brazil, when the energy level was in overdrive, they made things look easy.
You can try to pick apart this team for weaknesses, but those arguments begin to fall flat.
Not enough bigs? C’mon.
Davis, Plumlee, Cousins and Faried should be more than enough against every single opponent except Spain, which the Americans cannot see unless the host team makes it all the way to the gold medal game.
No featured scorer? That appeared to be what troubled this team in the second and third quarters against Brazil when it appeared they needed one guy to take over. But as they grow accustomed to playing with one another, this team will evolve into a group that can get what it needs from a different guy every night. Irving showed be can play alongside Rose and be a game-changer with his speed and defense. Harden showed he can get to the line, just like he always does in the NBA.
Not enough veterans?
Puh-leeze. Harden and Davis were Olympians in London. Rose was a starter for the World Championship team in 2010, and Curry and Gay were key rotation guys four years ago.
So with all that praise dished out, I would be remiss if I did not include a few words of caution: As we saw with Paul George, things can change in an instant. And if there is one player who is irreplaceable, it is Davis. Plumlee and Cousins could spell him, but neither of those guys brings the crazy athleticism and inside-outside game that Davis possesses.
Davis was the key to the game Saturday night, and he will be the key to winning the gold medal when September 14 rolls around. A couple of quick whistles could put him on the bench early in the gold medal game, and that could change everything.
So don’t go and anoint these guys gold medalists just yet. Strange things happen in international basketball, and this long road has just begun. In four weeks, we’ll have a winner. Until then, all we have is a favorite.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every U.S. national team since the 1996 Olympics. Follow him on Twitter.