After intended frontcourt stalwarts Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and LaMarcus Aldridge opted against playing for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, the Americans’ biggest strength became its litany of super-talented guards. Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, and James Harden are all franchise cornerstones when healthy, capable of directing and creating offense like only a select few players in the world.
So if the United States was to win gold at basketball’s inaugural World Cup, prevailing notions were that it would be on the back of its perimeter superstars. With only one round of play left standing between Team USA and the gold medal game, though, that’s hardly been the case.
Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis have been Team USA’s best players in Spain, running, jumping, powering, and finessing their way to consideration for the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. And instead of Rose playing the role of super-sub, DeMarcus Cousins – once in doubt of making the team at all, many believed – has been Mike Krzyzewski’s top performer off the bench (with apologies to Klay Thompson).
The interior triumvirate of Faried, Davis, and Cousins has propelled Team USA to utter dominance in the paint. The Americans lead the World Cup in rebounds per game by 3.7, and have grabbed an astounding 39.8 percent of their own misses. Faried and Cousins are two of three FIBA regulars that are shooting at least 71 percent from the field, while Davis is the only player in the World Cup to average at least 13 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks an outing.
USA Basketball’s ‘B’ or even ‘C’ frontcourt has performed just as good or even better than any positional group in the entire tournament, leading the Americans to the semifinals and blowing away individual expectations throughout the process. Still, that fact hasn’t stopped many from doubting whether or not Faried, Davis, and Cousins can maintain their level of play against NBA-caliber size. With Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania waiting in the semifinals tomorrow and Spain’s three-headed paint monster looming in an epic championship match, we’ll likely find out soon enough.
Faried, though, seems to already know the answer. When questioned about his team’s viability when faced with a larger, better opponent, FIBA’s breakout star was offended.
Faried has a point.
Only Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka can go toe-to-toe with Team USA’s interior talent. Lithuania has Valanciunas and the Houston Rockets’ Donatas Motiejunas, but no league-level depth behind them – it wouldn’t shock if that duo posed some problems for Faried and company down low, but odds are certainly on the side of the Americans.
And even against Spain’s unique combination of size, athleticism, and international experience, it’s remiss to assume Team USA would struggle. Faried, Davis, and Cousins are foundational NBA players for a reason, and have made strides this summer that suggest they’ll be even better for the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings come the 2014-2015 season.
Is that to say they’ll enjoy such incredible efficiency and general paint supremacy against the Spanish? Hardly. Spain is huge and skilled, and has a comfort level playing together the Americans don’t come close to matching.
But like the Brothers Gasol and Ibaka will be a different animal for Team USA, Faried, Davis, and Cousins will for Spain. It’s highly likely that the video game-esque numbers of both frontcourts come back to earth in the seemingly imminent title match-up – each group has only one peer in the entire tournament, after all.
Faried should be confident, and he and his teammates likely back up his boasts tomorrow with a win against Lithuania. Versus Spain, though, it will truly be anyone’s game, and whichever interior trio proves better that day will likely decide the World Cup champion.
What do you think?
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