It was another easy win for the USA as they took care of Jordan with ease at the 2023 FIBA World Cup but Emmet Ryan thinks Steve Kerr missed a golden opportunity to test his emergency option
It’s not like the USA appear to need much help so far at this World Cup. Comfortable victories over New Zealand and Greece were followed by a comprehensive demolition of Jordan on Wednesday. None of this is surprising and it’s unlikely the USA will really face much of a test in their next two games. They will face Montenegro followed by Lithuania, with both containing one interesting element that Kerr should keep an eye on for later games.
In simple terms, the USA plays without a centre designed for this type of play. Jaren Jackson Jr has a lot to like about him overall as a baller but there are obvious issues in his game when it comes to guarding FIBA style bigs and that’s why Kerr needs to take a look at a far more route-one style option in Walker Kessler.
JJJ made Georgios Papagiannis look like an All-Star in the game against Greece on Monday and that’s down as much to the style of the game as anything else. Papagiannis, who was famously a bust in the NBA before recovering impressively under the tutelage of Rick Pitino at Panathinaikos, went for 17 points in that game and looked immensely comfortable throughout against Jackson.
Next up its Nikola Vucevic followed by Jonas Valanciunas. The good news for Kerr is that Vucevic will have to go to war in that game on Friday as it’s win or go home for Montenegro. It should still be a facile win for the USA but at least he’ll get the test he wants from his interior D. Valanciunas however may be on fewer minutes, it depends largely on whether or not Lithuania beat Greece. If Lithuania win that game, it makes sense for them to go easy in a game they are unlikely to win over the USA. Should Lithuania lose to Greece, and everyone in the US camp should want this, then they’ll get JV going all out up the gut against them.
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Which brings us to Walker Kessler and this rather good point that was made during the game against Jordan.
Why Walker Kessler doesnt get any minutes in a game like this ?
— Vedran Modrić (@vedranmo) August 30, 2023
Seriously, why? Kessler is the nearest thing the US has to a blunt force trauma option at the 5 and it’s really one they need to figure into their plans. The elimination games should prove an enormous step up in quality in terms of the tests the Americans will face and these sides, even Canada, are playing a more FIBA-centric approach to basketball.
That’s where a bruiser like Kessler could come in handy because he won’t just be able to match up well physically with bigs, he’s also more likely to get them into foul trouble than Jackson in this style of play. In NBA ball, of course I’m taking JJJ over Kessler, but this game is played and, most importantly, called differently. Kessler needs minutes to not just get some game reps in but also to adjust to the calls he’s going to get or not get from FIBA refs.
The USA should still win this World Cup but should and will are very different things. As I mentioned, even Canada is playing a more FIBA-centric style of basketball in this tournament. Serbia or Dominican Republic will probably be waiting for them in the quarter finals, a game where the US will be favoured but certainly a trap game given the performances of both so far, before Canada could potentially be there in the semi-finals.
That will be too late to see if Kessler is ready for this kind of a test so Kerr appears to have gone all in with JJJ. If that works, great, but there just seems to be no point in having not put Kessler up against the extremely FIBA style Ahmad Al-Dwairi (better known as Ahmet Duverioglu from his extensive time playing in Turkey) just to get those reps in.
For context, I finished this article late in the third quarter of that win over Jordan. The USA was up by 34. There was no risk at this stage. Kessler had just entered the game for the first time and scored over Al-Dwairi straight away. More of this please, Coach Kerr, more.