The USA won against Montenegro but the problems in this roster and the style of play they have opted to play with were all too evident as the tiny nation gave them one hell of a game in Manila
No efficiency from deep, no impact in the paint, and, quite simply, no half-court offence. The USA may respect their opponents but, against Montenegro, it was clear they have not respected the challenge before them.
The warning signs have been there for all to see. The USA have leaned heavily, far too heavily, on talent and transition play alone. In FIBA basketball, that simply isn’t enough. On Friday they faced an opponent that is light years removed from them in terms of talent and playing resources yet they were made to look ordinary. That simply won’t do if they plan on actually winning this tournament.
Consider the sheer difference between the USA and Montenegro on paper. The USA is the home of basketball and has a population of 300 million. It is, by far and away, the most successful nation in the history of the sport and has the richest league loaded with talent at its disposal.
Montenegro has a population of just over 600,000. It has never made it past the last 16 in EuroBasket, ever, and is playing in only its second World Cup. That it has managed to produce two NBA calibre centres (Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Pekovic) in its history is a miracle, as the country with a population less than that of every US state except Wyoming shouldn’t be a concern for the USA.
Yet here they were hanging with the Americans, leading at half-time, and probably regretting that they hadn’t taken more advantage of the opportunities presented to them on the inside. Jaren Jackson Jr was obviously a question mark coming into this and Walker Kessler’s lack of serious play up to know was obvious on the floor.
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The Americans won because of course they did. The USA should beat a team with a population 0.2 per cent of its population. That this was an effective elimination game for Montenegro really shouldn’t have mattered to the USA. They should be treating every game as a way to adjust their play to the style needed to not just win but dominate.
There are much tougher challenges ahead in this competition and those sides are not only playing the ball needed to win here but they come with far more talent than anyone the USA has faced so fare in this competition.
This isn’t the best possible roster for the US, not even close, but that shouldn’t matter. In terms of talent, the 10th best roster available to the USA should be beating Montenegro handily. The reason this second best one struggled was in not realising that hard work isn’t enough. The effort has to be smart, focused, and dedicated to addressing the challenge in front of them.