USA Basketball's baby-faced roster needed a confidence-building win in the opener of the FIBA World Championships. It got it, pounding Croatia 106-78 in Istanbul, Turkey (RECAP).
Kevin Durant leads the way. Since the USA roster was announced -- a roster missing marquee names likeLeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard -- the expectation has been that Durant, the NBA's reigning scoring champion, would have to shoulder a heavy load. Against Croatia, Durant dazzled the crowd with a mix of hard drives and feathery step back jump shots, finishing with a team-high 14 points (on 5-for-11 shooting). Durant sparked the U.S.'s game-clinching 22-6 second-quarter run with five points in the first two minutes of the period and his aggressiveness throughout the game was a good sign for the U.S. moving forward.
Glad they kept Gordon.Eric Gordon seemed like an unlikely candidate to win a spot on the USA roster, but the Clippers guard looked quite comfortable in his World Championships debut. Gordon scored 13 points and connected on three of his five attempts from beyond the three-point line. When the U.S. gets into transition, Gordon figures to get numerous opportunities for spot up three's. He showed in the opener he can cash in.
Balanced effort. Of the five U.S. players in double figures, three (Gordon, Russell Westbrook and Rudy Gay) were reserves with a fourth reserve (Danny Granger) had nine points. Kevin Love (10 rebounds off the bench) helped Team USA eke out a 38-37 rebounding edge while only Gay and Stephen Curryshot less than 50 percent from the floor. As a team, the U.S. knocked down 40 percent of their three's (12-30) while holding Croatia to 36.4 percent (8-22) from beyond the arc.
Sharp in transition. A more prolific transition game was considered the biggest advantage this U.S. team had over its predecessors and against Croatia, they didn't disappoint. Team USA's blinding speed overwhelmed the lumbering Croatian guards, forcing them to reach in often to foul just to stop a potential fast break. If the U.S. continues to defend -- a tougher task against better shooting teams -- they will be extremely difficult to defend in transition, where they are big, fast and unselfish (20 assists on 41 field goals).
Ante Tomic is an interesting prospect. Tomic, who is property of the Utah Jazz, is big (7-foot-2) and skilled, with excellent footwork and a diverse back to the basket game. He's a little too lean (220 pounds) for the NBA right now, but he had his way against an undersized U.S. team, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds. If the 23-year-old Tomic can bulk up, he could be a nice prospect for Utah in the coming years.