The US are expected to defend their FIBA Basketball World Cup title and secure another gold medal to add to their rich history on the international stage, but their dominance shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion.
Initially, it appeared the Americans would send most of their top NBA talent, save for the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul and others who chose to rest after a gruelling post-season. But then, players started dropping like flies.
Kevin Love bowed out for whatever reason pertaining to his swirling trade rumours, Blake Griffin pulled out due to a small fracture in his back and LaMarcus Aldridge withdrew after previously stating his desire to play.
Then, swingman Paul George, who was going to be a pivotal player for the squad, suffered a gruesome injury that not only ended his World Cup campaign, but the upcoming NBA season.
All those losses were unfortunate, especially George’s, but the US still had their rock, Kevin Durant. As long as the second-best player in the world was around, there was no reason to really worry. Well, perhaps it was seeing George’s career instantly derailed or some other reason, but even Durant decided to skip, citing physical and emotional reasons.
That leaves much of the burden on the broad shoulders of a 21-year-old. Anthony Davis, who’s only senior competition prior to this summer was at the 2012 Olympics, will be relied upon heavily on both ends of the floor.
Davis’ game is well-suited to international competition, where versatility and a range of skills are paramount. Against the European style of play, he’s perfect at centre with his ability to stretch out to the perimeter as both a defender and shooter. Pick-and-rolls, which countries have successfully thrown at the US in the past, shouldn’t be an issue with Davis guarding on-ball and patrolling as a help defender.
Ironically, Durant’s departure could set the stage for Davis to take his game to another level, much like Durant did himself in the 2010 World Championship.
The Oklahoma City Thunder star was always believed to be a special player, but he showed just how high his ceiling is when he led the US, without guys like James, Paul and Kobe Bryant, to gold.
Davis could very well make a similar leap in this event and there are few who doubt the New Orleans Pelicans’ cornerstone can put himself in conversation as the next best player behind James and Durant.
For the US, however, the problem isn’t with Davis. It’s with the lack of depth on the frontcourt behind him when the Americans face top competition like Lithuania and Spain. The US recognise that and deliberately cut their roster down to the 12-man unit with it in mind as players like Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee – who no one expected to make the team – were kept around.
Navigating around rotations when Davis needs a rest will be manageable, but if he gets into foul trouble or is forced to miss long stretches, the US could find themselves outclassed. No one rooting for the US wants to see Drummond, Plumlee or Kenneth Faried have to contain Spain’s Gasol brothers or Serge Ibaka with the gold medal on the line.
That problem could only be in play for a game or two towards the end of the tournament, but the US have the mindset of gold or bust. A lot rides on Davis, but every indication has been that he’s ready for the responsibility and pressure.
The NBA has already witnessed it, but now it’s now time for every other nation to “Fear The Brow”
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