Though the headliners all withdrew from Team USA, the other performers are still making it work for the basketball team. After breaking their 78-game win streak with a 98-94 loss to Australia, Team USA finished off exhibition play Monday with a 84-68 win over Team Canada.
While it’s true that Canada doesn’t have Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins or R.J. Barrett, the blowout win restores confidence that was lost after Saturday’s loss.
The Australian National Team was a much bigger problem than Canada. Given Australia had home court advantage and boasts a roster of good NBA players such as Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes, Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova, Team USA should still be viewed as the heavy favorite.
“Some of it is expected with a new group that’s trying to learn about each other and learn a system,” Team USA coach Gregg Popovich told ESPN. “So it’s not surprising. But the Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we want to be and how you have to play in this kind of a competition.”
Mills, who plays for Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs, scored 30, while Bogut and Ingles contributed 16 and 15, respectively. Though Australia was better on Saturday, there’s no denying that Walker, Khris Middleton and Myles Turner are more talented than Mills, Ingles and Bogut.
Middleton has had a disappointing international campaign so far. He’s scored four points in 32 total minutes between the two games. As the only other reigning All-Star on the team besides Walker, the Bucks’ forward will have to figure it out as the games begin to matter.
Harrison Barnes, who obtained experience representing the US in the 2016 Olympics, scored 20 in the loss to Australia. He will be someone that wings without international experience — like Middleton, Brown and Jayson Tatum — can look to as a role model.
Though Middleton and Tatum will have to step up their games to reach their lofty expectations, Brown exceeded his role player expectations in the win over Canada.
“We have to speed up that learning curve,” Brown said to ESPN. “We have a lot of room for growth. It’s going to be good when it comes together, the sky is the limit for this group.”
After Walker, the lone All-NBA player on the team, led in the scoring column versus Australia, fellow Celtic Jaylen Brown led the way against Canada with 19 on 8-11 shooting. While Walker seems to be the unquestioned leader and centerpiece of this team, contributions all the way across the roster are going to be necessary to “reach the sky.”
Luckily, USA has the deepest team in the field by far. Though they don’t have a star as good as Serbia’s Nikola Jokic or Greece’s Giannis Antetekounmpo, starring Walker while having a player of Kyle Kuzma’s caliber at the very end of your bench is a luxury.
Assuming Team USA can get contributions from at least a few of their talented NBA players each game throughout the World Cup, I’m not worried about this group of guys coming back home without the gold.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.