The Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell and the rest of the USA men’s senior national team struggled in scrimmages against G-Leaguers and fringe NBA players.
As the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball draws near, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell is making a name for himself as a cornerstone piece for the squad that will compete in China.
For Mitchell and the Jazzland masses that are his cheering section, that’s awesome news. However, as a unit, Team USA clearly has some major kinks to work out if they plan on capturing a gold medal.
After having some competitive scrimmages — and even dropping some games — to a select team populated by up-and-coming NBA guys like Jaren Jackson, Jr., Marvin Bagley III and John Collins during the opening week of training camp in Las Vegas, the senior national team has a new set of sparring partners for the SoCal leg of camp; a squad composed largely of G-Leaguers, fringe NBA players and overseas players.
Given the change, you’d think that the national team would assert their dominance against a substantially lower level of competition.
They didn’t. Quite to the contrary, Team USA dropped two scrimmages to this new select team on Wednesday and wrapped the session by getting run off the floor by them in a 36-17 beatdown.
Now, before panic sets in, I have to toss in a few factoids: several of the players on the team that beat the senior squad actually played for coach Jeff Van Gundy during qualification and helped America lock in its World Cup spot.
In other words, there was a level of familiarity there among teammates and coaches in a system that they have already executed on an international stage. Meanwhile, the national team is trying to do everything on the fly; almost everyone is playing with new teammates for the first time and trying to learn new schemes along the way.
Throw in the practice setting and the pride factor involved with developmental players and journeymen testing their mettle against NBA stars and you have multiple elements ripe for this kind of crazy upset.
Nevertheless, the idea that guys like Yante Maten, Chasson Randle and Chinanu Onuaku are getting the better of Mitchell, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and the rest of Team USA doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Regardless, the real test will be on Friday when Team USA hosts Spain at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Sure, it’s an exhibition bout, but Spain is the No. 2-ranked team worldwide, and is led by the likes Marc Gasol, former Jazzman Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and the Hernangomez brothers.
At the least, I’d reserve judgment on this iteration of USA Basketball until then.