Team USA enters the World Cup with a wealth of belief despite limited experience.

Despite their limited experience, Team USA enters the World Cup with unwavering belief in their abilities.

MANILA, Philippines — The Mall of Asia, a sprawling hub of commerce in a nation passionate about basketball, is a haven for basketball enthusiasts as Team USA gears up to commence their FIBA World Cup journey against New Zealand this Saturday.

Prominent displays showcase the signature footwear of Jayson Tatum, LeBron James, and Ja Morant. Despite his withdrawal due to a knee injury, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Team Greece jersey is available for purchase. Within the expansive NBA Store, the jersey of Jordan Clarkson, representing Gilas Pilipinas, the national team, occupies a prominent display case. For those willing to spend, a replica of Michael Jordan’s iconic No. 9 jersey from the legendary 1992 Dream Team can be acquired.

As for the current incarnation of the U.S. team? Official uniforms, to be donned by talents like Anthony Edwards, Brandon Ingram, and Austin Reaves in their quest for the world championship over the upcoming three weeks, can be purchased. However, these uniforms remain unadorned by numbers or names, epitomizing a sense of universality.

Steve Kerr has expressed his repeated delight in coaching this particular rendition of Team USA. Players themselves are vocal about the joy they’re experiencing on this extensive global voyage, which has taken them through Las Vegas, Spain, and Abu Dhabi before reaching Manila. Their warm-up games were an impressive clean sweep of victories, marking the first time this has occurred since before the 2016 Olympics.

However, there’s a thread of vulnerability attributed to the team’s lack of global superstar presence. A formidable Team Canada is brimming with talent, and France has outmatched the U.S. in the last two major international tournaments. Luka Doncic, arguably the biggest star of the event, proudly represents Slovenia. Spain, the reigning champion, has secured two of the last four World Cups. While the sportsbooks have cast the Americans as favorites, their last World Cup victory dates back to 2014.

Steve Kerr mentioned, “Last time through this tournament, we finished seventh, we lost [two] games. We recognize how hard this is. These are not the days of 1992… We may be one of the favorites, but I don’t think anybody’s clear-cut. I think there’s a lot of teams that have a shot at this thing.”

In truth, Team USA holds a strong position. Unlike other contenders such as Canada, Australia, or France, they won’t be burdened by travel during the event. The departure of Antetokounmpo has diminished the strength of their group. Their upcoming opponents for the week, New Zealand and Jordan, lack current NBA players. Greece, whom the U.S. bested in a recent exhibition in the United Arab Emirates, has just one NBA representative: Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

However, this Team USA lineup doesn’t feature any members from the 2021 Olympic gold-winning team in Tokyo. No one on the roster has prior experience with the senior national team. Among them, only three players—Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyrese Haliburton, and Anthony Edwards—garnered NBA All-Star status last season. Additionally, the U.S. isn’t even the top-ranked team globally as per FIBA’s ranking system, trailing behind Spain at No. 1.

Jaren Jackson Jr., the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, explained, “There’s a lot of great players in the United States, so it’s tough to say who’s who and who isn’t a superstar. They kind of change that definition of what it means to be that every year… So however we figure out a way to win games, you got to stop it.”

The team’s design, under the direction of Steve Kerr and USA Basketball executive director Grant Hill, revolves around agility, adaptability, and speed. They’ve crafted a lineup emphasizing length, resilience, and ball movement. Kerr is committed to employing lineups that prioritize speed over bulk—Jackson is the primary center, even though he typically plays power forward with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Kerr’s strategy revolves around fluid ball movement and player motion. When the U.S. faced a 16-point deficit against Germany last weekend, Kerr opted for bench players like Haliburton and Reaves due to their defensive prowess and ball movement. Players like Mikal Bridges and Anthony Edwards might not possess significant girth, but their wingspans are remarkable, earning them more playing time in Kerr’s approach.

While the upcoming Olympics in Paris might witness superstar names like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and potentially LeBron James in an Olympic farewell, it doesn’t undermine the potency of this version.

Mikal Bridges summed it up, stating, “We feel like we’re the best team. Every team probably feels like they can beat anyone, and they can think that all they want.”

The prevalence of upsets in FIBA play has a rich historical backdrop. Notably, the game is eight minutes shorter than its NBA counterpart, and officiating can occasionally become erratic. Distinct ball characteristics and bounciness also contribute to the distinctive FIBA context. Playing for one’s country often brings out an elevated performance level in players who might not otherwise be recognized as stars.

Team USA finds itself navigating a narrower margin for error, a reality that isn’t the preferred scenario. One key factor is the absence of established superstars to serve as carrying forces. Reflecting on the recent Tokyo outing, it’s evident that the gold medal might not have returned if Kevin Durant hadn’t displayed his brilliance worthy of an imminent Hall of Fame induction.

Nevertheless, Steve Kerr remains optimistic about the team’s prospects and has a genuine affection for his squad.

He expressed, “I’m captivated by the way these individuals are harmonizing on the court, the fluid ball movement, and the vibrant energy they exude. These players possess a genuine hunger, consistently demonstrating their commitment in practice with unwavering intensity. From a coaching perspective, it’s evident that this is an exceptional team to lead, and I’m consistently amazed by their daily progress.”

Why are upsets common in FIBA play?

Upsets are common in FIBA play due to factors like shorter game duration, unique ball characteristics, varying officiating, and the motivational boost of playing for one’s country.

How does the length of a FIBA game differ from the NBA?

A FIBA game is eight minutes shorter than an NBA game.

What can impact the officiating in FIBA games?

Officiating in FIBA games can sometimes become shaky due to differing interpretations of rules and regulations.

Why does the ball feel different in FIBA play?

The ball in FIBA play has different characteristics and bounces differently, which can affect player performance.

How does playing for one’s country affect player performance in FIBA tournaments?

Representing their country tends to uplift players, motivating them to perform at higher levels even if they aren’t seen as stars.

Why does Team USA have a thinner margin for error in FIBA play?

Team USA lacks established megastars who could typically carry the team, making their margin for error slimmer.

Who played a pivotal role in Team USA’s gold medal win in the Tokyo Olympics?

Kevin Durant’s exceptional performance was crucial for Team USA’s gold medal victory in Tokyo.

What does Steve Kerr think of his coaching experience with Team USA?

Steve Kerr is impressed by how well his team is playing together, the energy they bring, and their commitment to practices.

Why does Steve Kerr believe Team USA has a chance despite lacking megastars?

Steve Kerr is optimistic about Team USA’s prospects due to their cohesive play, strong teamwork, and commitment.

What factors contribute to Team USA’s success in FIBA play according to Steve Kerr?

Team USA’s success in FIBA play is attributed to their harmonious on-court performance, dynamic ball movement, and the dedication they show during practice.

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