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USA opens FIBA World Cup tuneups with win over Brazil, 92-75

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In their first exhibition game, Team USA beat Brazil in Chicago behind an impressive performance by Anthony Davis. The FIBA World Cup begins in Spain in two weeks.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA beat Brazil 92-75 in Chicago tonight in their first exhibition game before the FIBA World Cup, which begins in Spain in two weeks.

Let's set the scene, for those who may not have been paying attention to Team USA. Presumably you're aware of the injury to Paul George and the last minute decision by Kevin Durant not to play. On the heels of withdrawals for injury and other concerns by the likes of Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, not to mention the pre-determined absence of most of the Olympians like LeBron James and Chris Paul, this USA Basketball roster is more "Mystery Machine" than "Dream Team." There's plenty of talent, as of course there always should be on any Team USA roster -- but far fewer mega-stars than the team has come to rely on.

There are still four cuts to be made by USAB's Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski -- the roster stands at 16 and they have to get down to a dozen. Four players got DNPs tonight. I wouldn't read too much into that, as it is pert-near impossible to work more than 12 guys into a rotation. The guys who sat certainly aren't certain of securing a spot -- but my assumption is that we will see four or five other guys sit out against the Dominican Republic in New York on Wednesday when the team plays again. There are some locks for this team of course, but the final cuts are about as big of a mystery as we've ever seen for a Team USA this late in the process.

The four DNPs tonight were bigs DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Dummond and wings Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan. In addition Kyle Korver and point guard Damon Lillard received very limited burn. It's reasonable to conclude that all six of those names are on the bubble -- but we already knew that, and it does not necessarily follow that the 10 that played bigger minutes are all in.

Cousins is a special case -- he banged his knee at practice earlier in the week and was held out for precautionary reasons.

But for all of them, what's happening here is that Coach K is looking at one group of players against Brazil and another set of players against the Dominican Republic. So while Chandler Parsons played in this game, we'll likely see Hayward on Wednesday.

Not that I would be shocked if the ten that played more tonight all made the team. If you take the guys that are NBA small forwards like Parsons and Rudy Gay and Hayward and DeRozan, you have to remember that Krzyzewski loves to play small in FIBA games -- but even he would likely be hesitant to use either Hayward or DeRozan at the four. Parsons and Gay both played mostly four in this game, and having them on the roster (and on the floor at one of the big positions) let's Coach K keep lots of NBA guards on the floor -- and that's where most of his firepower is on this roster.

Speaking of firepower, the best player on this team (and it's not particularly close from what I can tell) is Anthony Davis. Team USA is incredibly lucky that he didn't decide to skip this tournament given all the other absences -- and he may have to play 40 minutes per game. I often muse about the implications of Team USA's approach on the broader landscape of basketball, and certainly we have seen a 'smalling' of NBA rosters that corresponds with Coach K's tenure at the helm of the national team. But even if Krzyzewski tends to go even smaller the rest of big time ball, there's something you have to bear in mind -- players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant and, yes, Anthony Davis are so freakishly good and such outliers from any reasonable expectation for the intersection of size and skill, that they can play ANYWHERE and look good. Want to go small and play James at the four or the five? Fine. Want to go HUGE and play James at the one and Durant at the two? You can do that too. You can do whatever the fuck you want -- it doesn't make you a brilliant innovator and trendsetter.

Davis is another of those players. He's absurdly long -- I mean, it makes no sense how long this guy is -- and he's probably destined to be the best shot blocker in the NBA for the next decade at least. But he's got incredible skills as well, and is perfectly comfortable playing on the perimeter, shooting jump shots and handling the ball. Team USA might have a real deficit in the front court against the likes of the Gasol Brothers of Espana or the trio of true quality NBA bigs from tonight's Brasil opponent except for one thing -- Davis plus a bag of chips would be the best big tandem that will will take the court in the World Cup. He's that good. (And if he gets in foul trouble or injured, the team will be in some real jeopardy because they certainly don't have anyone close to as impactful.)

Davis was the biggest star for the team on this night -- he scored 20 points (though I saw a tweet that said it had been changed to 23 in the official box) but in addition he blocked five shots, rebounded, got deflections: he was just everywhere. Derrick Rose got lots of attention in his return to Chicago and real basketball, and he was good enough, but he wasn't necessarily a difference maker on this night. Not to diss Rose per se, but this team has lots of really great point guards, including Kyrie Irving who looked pretty good as well, and Lillard who barely played. Davis is the most irreplaceable player on the team without a doubt.

Further impressions:

The Team struggled to make three pointers through the first three quarters before finally warming up in the fourth. In fact, they were only 4-17 from deep in the game, and I believe they made three of those in the fourth (certainly there were at least two). The fact that the lead was a tenuous five points heading into the fourth but quickly ballooned to a safe 20 was a direct result, and basically sums up one simple fact for this team -- they must make threes to beat good opponents in the World Cup. That sounds like a problem, but it isn't. These guys can shoot, and I believe they'll make plenty of threes, despite their terrible night tonight.

I tend to think that James Harden is overvalued as an NBA player, and I think he'll be less valuable still in the World Cup. The simple fact is that the NBA cult of personality approach, in which marquee players get preferable treatment from referees, probably benefits Harden more than any other player in the league (the fact that last season he was near the top of the league in the improvement in True Shooting Percentage over Effective Field Goal percentage is an indicator of that). Harden is skilled at getting to the line, and he got there 11 times in this game. But FIBA refs have been known to ignore superstar status, and perhaps even to take pride in that indifference to the point of having an anti-star bias. He got whistles in Chicago tonight -- he won't necessarily get them in Spain. And how great a scorer is Harden if he's not getting to the line? He was 3-8 from the field tonight, but those trips to the line lifted him up to 18 points, second on the team. Given Coach K's tendency to just give the ball to scorers if the team doesn't get transition buckets, Harden's ability to deliver in isolation could become very important for this team moving forward. Let's just say I'm lukewarm on Harden as this team's go to scorer.

"Energy guys" Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee were among the team's most productive players tonight. They aren't the traditional Team USA types -- but effort doesn't go into a slump, and these guys will bring that effort every game. After one follow dunk, Plumlee was visibly frustrated with his teammates that they weren't pressing the subsequent inbounds play, which I took to be a breakdown in what Coach K had instructed them to do. You can certainly see why Krzyzewski loves this guy -- but it will be interesting to see how the likes of Harden and Irving and Rose like being yelled at by Mason Plumlee for defensive breakdowns.

Speaking of defensive breakdowns, if this team has to rely on Harden and Steph Curry for offense, it won't be a great thing. Neither Harden nor Curry have every been very good on the defensive end, and they weren't good against Brazil. Curry picked up four fouls in 22 minutes of reaching and grabbing -- and you only get five in FIBA play. We'll see if Tom Thibodeau can turn these guys into passable defenders, but it's a tall order.