It must be the shoes. Donovan Mitchell led all Team USA players in scoring with 13 points on 5 of 10 shooting with 4 rebounds in a 90-81 win over Spain. Ricky Rubio—while sporting some D.O.N. Issue #1’s—morphed into a scorer himself with 16 on 4 of 13 shooting. The game wasn’t always pretty as evidenced by Team USA’s 17 turnovers, but the game result was never in doubt as Team USA led comfortably for most of the game.
For Spain, Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol led the attack. Gasol had 19 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, and 2 blocks. He looked very comfortable from beyond the arc shooting 3 of 4. Gasol didn’t even have to change centers around in the third quarter to the end of the game as Spain played zone and caused Team USA to struggle.
Khris Middleton got the game going right for Team USA as he had six quick points on two threes to start the game. Middleton and Joe Harris had complained earlier in the process with Team USA that the FIBA ball was awkward to get used to. They struggled in practices from beyond the arc as they adjusted to the new ball. Tonight it looked like they finally got accustomed to it. Middleton was 2 of 4 from three while Joe Harris hit his only three point attempt of the game.
I must admit it is jarring to see Donovan Mitchell out on a court without Rudy Gobert. When I see an opposing guard driving the lane, I am startled to not see them enter the paint eagle eyed looking for the Stifle Tower. Mason Plumlee started the game and I must admit I was not impressed. It felt like he was out of position a lot. One possession that sticks in my mind is him not protecting the paint on an inbounds play while Marc Gasol just camped in the paint unguarded. Spain easily got the inbounds pass into Gasol who was then fouled by Donovan Mitchell trying to save the play.
Turnovers were a problem for Team USA. This could be a huge issue if Spain was more dialed in offensively. Four players for Team USA had three turnovers or more—Myles Turner, Derrick White, Jayson Tatum, and Khris Middleton. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, they all played less than 20 minutes except Tatum who played 21 minutes. In actual NBA game terms, they were averaging ~5.4 turnovers PER36. White who only played 7 minutes was averaging 15.4 turnovers PER36. That’s a problem, a big problem.
Another issue was the zone defense that Spain threw at Team USA. It seemed like Team USA didn’t quite know how to attack that defense. While Team USA correctly would go to the paint to collapse the defense, they were turning the ball over on the first kick out. Practice for the next few days is probably going to consist of a lot of zone defense. You better believe France would love to play a zone with Rudy Gobert minimizing space in the paint. Greece would love to hide Giannis on the weakside in a zone. Gotta take away that tool in the opponent’s toolbox quickly.
One of the big stories of the night should be Jaylen Brown off the bench in the third quarter. When Team USA looked to be getting tired, bored, or maybe just disinterested, Brown entered the game with energy. He finished the game with 9 points and 4 rebounds while shooting 4 of 5 from the field. Team USA is needing some help off that bench and Jaylen Brown supplied it.
While it may look like Jayson Tatum helped Team USA more—he scored 11 points on 3 of 9 shooting with 5 rebounds and 4 assists—it felt like Tatum did more harm than good with overhandling the ball. He made possessions harder for himself and seemed to be playing out of the offense. Any time he had the ball, he saw an opportunity to go one on one even if that opportunity wasn’t there. He’s incredibly talented, but it feels like he lacked the awareness tonight as to when to pick his spots. His aggressive tendencies with the ball caused three turnovers. He’s got to allow the offense to come to him, especially because he’s such a lethal catch and shoot player.
The other Celtic Kemba Walker was amazing. Kemba finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, and only 2 turnovers. You can tell Kemba and Donovan have a real chemistry on the court. For all the talk of the young Celtics getting a groove playing with each other before the regular season begins, it feels like the real chemistry is between a Celtic and a Jazzman. When Walker is on the court, Team USA plays under control.
The other big story of the night is Donovan Mitchell. While Donovan Mitchell provided his patented scoring ability and athleticism—he had a beautiful on brand dunk from the baseline—Mitchell’s defense shined. He is so much stronger than he was last season. He is able to navigate or push through screens so much easier than last season. His on ball defense is a sight to behold. I know ex-Dunker Andy Bailey hates the word two way player, but Donovan Mitchell looks like an elite two way player. His defense—the main thing he was drafted into the league for—seemed to lag behind his offensive ability, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue moving forward. While Donovan didn’t have any assists in this game—mainly because Popovich had him in the scorer’s role as he was testing out his backup point guard situation with De’Aaron Fox and Derrick White—he was making the right pass. It felt like Mitchell had quite a few hockey assists as he was reading the defense well.
Donovan Mitchell was brilliant. There cannot be enough said about him. He looks like he belongs. It’s easy to see Mitchell playing much more minutes once the games start to matter. All in all, this was a good win for an exhibition game. Both teams seemed to be holding their punches and using it for film. I don’t expect Spain to be this easy again. If Team USA faces Spain for a championship game, it could be a real challenge.
Team USA’s next game is next Thursday, August 23rd. This time it will take place in Australia. Be advised, you may have to set your alarm clock for this game as it will be at 3:30AM. Hope you saved your sick days because you’re going to have a “cold” next Friday.