Balanced scoring helped Team USA pull away from the Czech Republic in today’s FIBA World Cup opener, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum combined for 20 points in the first half to help the Americans build a lead. Donovan Mitchell and Harrison Barnes took over in the second half of the 88-67 victory.
Coach Gregg Popovich is emphasizing defensive energy from his team, which is seeking a third straight World Cup title. He plans to rotate players to keep them fresh, as 10 saw playing time in the first quarter today. Team USA gets a tougher test on Tuesday, facing a Turkish team with NBA players Cedi Osman, Ersan Ilyasova and Furkan Korkmaz.
There’s more World Cup news this morning:
- Popovich has chosen Mitchell, one of his youngest players at age 22, to be among the team leaders, Windhorst relays in a separate story. The World Cup experience could be a huge step for Mitchell, who has already gotten noticed for his leadership abilities with the Jazz. “He has a propensity for leadership and that’s how I spent my time with him,” Popovich said. “I’m not going to teach him how to shoot better or jump better or dribble better. But he has the intelligence and the willingness to become a leader and I think that’d be great. Not just for our team but for his team.”
- Kevin Pelton of ESPN examines the talent on Team USA and projects 56.4 wins if it were an actual NBA team. That number, which would be the best in the league for the upcoming season, includes projections of 3.2 points per 100 possessions better than the league average on offense and 3.1 points per 100 possessions better on defense. He adds that even though the team may not be as strong as previous American squads, it still contains plenty of talent.
- Australia’s victory over the U.S. in an exhibition game last week reflects the progress that the Boomers have made and the way they look at the American team, Andrew Bogut tells Marc Stein of The New York Times. “That mind-set has changed,” Bogut said. “When I first joined the national team, we never really had that true belief of beating the U.S.A. Whereas now we genuinely think, if we play it the right way, we have a chance to beat them.”
- New Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard is in China to cheer on Rui Hachimura, according to Matt Weyrich of NBC Sports Washington. Washington selected Hachimura, who plays for Japan, with the ninth pick in this year’s draft.