What is Team USA’s ceiling at the FIBA World Cup?

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Don’t you dare sleep on “Semi-Pro” as an all-time basketball movie.

Team USA’s World Cup Quest

How good is Team USA?

Team USA went undefeated during its exhibition slate preceding the FIBA World Cup. The squad experienced plenty of drama despite lacking household names for casual basketball fans, but the roster is full of defined roles. Stars like Nikola Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t play, but Luka Dončić and plenty of other NBA talent will be there.

The NBA announced a record 55 players will be World Cup participants over the next few weeks. Should Team USA worry about its chances? What’s more likely: prevailing or repeating the 2004 Olympics? Let’s bring in Joe Vardon, who has been and will remain on the scene for Team USA’s path.

Question: What/who are the biggest challenges you’ve seen for this Team USA roster so far?

Vardon: Other than navigating traffic (the team bus was stuck upon arriving in the Philippines on Tuesday morning), this is not a great rebounding team. It has reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., but he’s a shot blocker first. Otherwise, coach Steve Kerr prefers smaller lineups, so guards being obligated to rebound can be an issue. For instance, in Sunday’s close call of a friendly against Germany, the Americans were destroyed on the glass (55-42).

Another early challenge is 3-point shooting. The FIBA ball has a different texture and grip, so players must adjust. There were some bricks-laying in the first few exhibition games. The second half against Spain is when the 3s started to fall.

Question:  If Anthony Edwards doesn’t play like “the guy” in a tight game, how does Team USA take over and win?

Vardon: The Americans would be fine on a non-Edwards night so long as another capable closer steps up. Jalen Brunson (game-high 26 points) was the leading man against Spain nearly two weeks ago.

Mikal Bridges notched the go-ahead 3 against Germany and was good late vs. Spain, too. Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves spearheaded Sunday’s 16-point comeback against the Germans before Edwards finished off the game.

So, yes, Kerr said Edwards is “the guy,” and things are trending that way, but there are several capable hands. The key is Edwards not forcing matters when he’s not playing well. Move the ball.

Question: Despite this not being the Olympics, should this be a compelling competition for casual basketball fans?

Vardon: A few compelling reasons to watch the World Cup would be to see the next generation of American NBA stars, gauging Team USA’s global standing and which buttons Kerr learns to push to maximize this roster’s potential.

This is not an A-list team, which means … the Americans can lose – maybe not early, but France, Canada, Spain and Germany each have enough NBA talent to beat Team USA.

Even for teams without elite NBA talent (you could argue Santi Aldama is Spain’s only current NBA player), their longtime chemistry in the EuroLeague can pose issues for the Americans, so it should be highly competitive basketball.

Thanks, Joe for your analysis. Team USA plays at 8:40 a.m. (ET) Saturday against New Zealand.

Kobe Gets A Statue

Lakers announce on Kobe Bryant Day

At 8:24 a.m. on Aug. 24, 2023, the Los Angeles Lakers shared a video from Vanessa Bryant — Kobe Bryant’s widow — announcing the Hall of Fame guard would have a bronze statue unveiled outside of Crypto.com Arena this upcoming season.

It will happen on Feb. 8, 2024, or 2/8/24, which ties in the numbers of the late Gianna Bryant (their daughter, No. 2 on the basketball court) and both of Kobe’s NBA numbers. It’s something everybody knew would someday happen, but this will be a spectacular celebration of his career and a great honor bestowed upon Bryant.

Until then, we can only guess how Kobe’s statue will look. Could it be one of his famous reverse dunk poses? Maybe the fist pump? What about a fadeaway jumper? How will the Lakers work in both of his numbers? We’ll find out in February

Dame Won’t Speak

No Blazers talk … at all

In a sitdown interview with Hall of Famer Marc Spears of Andscape, Damian Lillard was asked about what brought him uncertainty with the Portland Trail Blazers. Lillard kept it simple and drama-free:

“I’m not gonna speak on the Blazers. It’s a lot of love and respect, but I won’t speak on the Blazers.”

Marc then asked about Lillard’s well-documented trade request — potentially to the Miami Heat. Lillard kept it simple again:

“I can say that there was (a trade request), and I would just prefer not to speak on the Trail Blazers.”

That is a very mature, professional way of handling this. And, while we want to appreciate the way Lillard handled that and carries himself — I must say — James Harden’s way of getting traded is far more entertaining. We need more finger-pointing or a good rant.

Bounce Passes

Hall of Famer David Aldridge listed his top 10 offseasons. Did Wemby swing it?

Milwaukee must be a little worried about these Giannis comments, right?

Jimmy Butler was a ball person at the U.S. Open. It was glorious.

The First Ballot Podcast invited me on to see if Carmelo Anthony splayed out gets inducted.

The Las Vegas Aces set the WNBA record for single-season wins – title next?

Answering six lingering questions about the Knicks-Raptors lawsuit

Movie Review

Last week, we reviewed the movie “He Got Game” for our basketball movie reviews. This week, we’ve got the 2008 movie “Semi-Pro,” starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin.

Let’s dive into the movie and see if it’s worth your time:

Any real hoopers in the movie? Not really? Woody Harrelson can play, as we’ll explore in a later movie review before the season starts. All of the tertiary players look believable on the court. Will Ferrell is purposefully cartoonish. André Benjamin can’t dribble, but they make it look good enough. 5/10

How’s the story? The story is fantastic: An ABA team named the “Flint Tropics” is horribly run by player-owner Jackie Moon (Ferrell), but as the league is about to merge with the NBA, they’re attempting to earn a top-four spot to qualify for the merger. Coffee Black (Benjamin) is the Tropics star, and they acquire veteran Ed Monix (Harrelson) to help them focus on winning basketball. 10/10

How’s the basketball? Passable, but at the same time, this movie isn’t about the on-court product. It never looks completely awkward and helps move the story along with jokes and plot points. It’s more than believable enough in a comedic context. 6/10

Is the lead believable? If you’ve read Terry Pluto’s book on the ABA “Loose Balls,” then all of Moon’s personality seems very plausible — maybe not as a 6-foot-4 power forward in a professional league, but as an eccentric owner in the 70s? Absolutely.  9/10

The least believable moment: Coffee Black gets traded to the Spurs. Then, in the middle of the season finale between the Spurs and Tropics, he just switches sides back to the Tropics. 3/10

Does it have truly memorable moments? These are the two absolute best moments: the poker game scene with the “jive turkey” debate and the invention of the alley-oop after Moon is knocked out. Father Pat’s (Matt Walsh) reaction is unmatched. 10/10

Would you watch it again? I’ll watch it a few times a year. A big yes.

Final verdict: Comedies are always a tougher basketball movie to judge, but this one is damn near perfect. It’s an all-timer.


Hoops Movie Ongoing Rankings: 

6. “Crossover” (2006)

5. “Eddie” (1996)

4. “Above the Rim” (1994)

3. “Semi-Pro” (2008)

2. “He Got Game” (1998)

1. “Blue Chips” (1994)

(Top photo of Steve Kerr and Anthony Edwards: NurPhoto / Getty Images)

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