The United States basketball team is without Kevin Durant and LeBron James. They are without Chris Paul and Kevin Love. Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge? They aren't there either. That's why Team USA winning the World Cup over the next three weeks and gaining an automatic bid to the 2016 Olympics isn't a sure thing. That's why Spain, Brazil, France and others feel like they have a prime opportunity to win the tournament. In fairness to Spain, with the tournament taking place in their hometown, they'd feel confident even if those guys were there.
But James Harden and Steph Curry are there. And a couple young'ns, neither of whom have reached the age of 23, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving are there. Both of them excelled today in Team USA's final tune-up exhibition against Slovenia, an easy 101-71 win in Spain.
Irving took advantage of getting the starting nod over Derrick Rose. He finished with 13 points on five shots, and was active defensively notching a block and three steals. He had an uncharacteristic turnover, but the United States still managed to outscore the Slovenians by 42 points while he was on the court. Here's what a few people on twitter thought about Irving's game:
Kyrie Irving doing mean things to Slovenia https://t.co/EqcOBP79Td— FactoryofSadness.co (@FansidedFoS) August 26, 2014
Kyrie gets the start for Team USA and continues to shine amongst stars. Best PG in the first half vs. Slovenia.— Wade Foley (@wfoleyNBA) August 26, 2014
Kyrie is a top 2 dribbler in the world.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) August 26, 2014
It was a pretty great performance. Over the last couple years we have seen Kyrie Irving's dribbling, and at times felt like he overdribbled. I've felt like it's one of the strengths of his game, and think it's valuable for him to be able to break down defenses. The problem? He hasn't trusted his teammates, so once he gets past the primary man he has counted on himself to even more. This isn't to absolve Irving; kicking it out to Alonzo Gee for an open three with the defense collapsing is the smart basketball play.
For the US team, though, Kyrie gets where he wants on the court and the team has to respect the shooting around him. If they do respect that shooting, he can get to the rim at will, and get to the line if he can't finish. He took eight free today. If they don't respect the shooting, he's made the smart basketball play. We haven't always been able to count on that.
Team USA also relies on pressure defense from Irving to help the smallish team to get out in transition and use its athleticism. I would be surprised if David Blatt doesn't try and implement some of this with Irving and Waiters this season.
The World Cup gets started on Saturday. We will see if Irving can keep ticking up as he gets valuable experience with the national team.