The road to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics began for USA Basketball in Las Vegas Friday night when they hosted the Argentina National Team for a friendly warm-up exhibition. As expected, things went Team USA's way in a 111-74 victory that was never really all that close.
With the road to the gold medal in basketball still going through Team USA, the guys in red, white, and blue once again have to set the standard to remind the rest of the world where your team has to get to for level of excellence on the court in order to compete for anything other than silver. Here are the takeaways and the first impressions of the 2016 roster's first action this summer.
Nobody in the world wants to rebound with DeMarcus Cousins
Marc Gasol might have been the world's only hope against DeMarcus Cousins. He's one of the few big men in the game of basketball who can stand next to Cousins and not be completely dwarfed. And Gasol is such a great defensive player that he can do his job on that end of the floor and still put a big body on Cousins to battle for the rebound. Gasol isn't a great rebounder, but he's big enough to tango with Cousins in the paint. However, Gasol isn't going to play in the Olympic games. Quite a few really talented big men will miss the games in Rio.
That is bad news for the rest of the world when Cousins is on the floor. He showed Argentina big men like Luis Scola, Marcos Delia, and Roberto Acuna just how futile it is to try to keep him off the offensive boards. Seven of Cousins' 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes came on the offensive end of the floor. He had two more offensive boards than the entire Argentina team. It helped the USA create a 26-6 advantage on second chance points.
And that's just how it's going to be for a lot of frontcourts. Cousins is going to wear them out. DeAndre Jordan is going to be easier to deal with when it comes to rebounding and he's going to wear them out too. Watching Cousins battle for offensive boards against Argentina was like watching Dwayne 'The Rock ' Johnson rearrange bags of potatoes in a walk-in pantry. He's just too big for the rest of the world.
Even without all of the overwhelming athletes, USA still forces a ton of turnovers
In the past, USA Basketball would have guys like LeBron James and Russell Westbrook out there to completely overwhelm the opposition with this alien athleticism. They don't have quite that same level of insanity when it comes to pure speed and size with the 2016 roster as they have in the past. That's not keeping this team from wreaking havoc in the passing lanes and in pressuring the ball. With "just" Paul George, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Harrison Barnes (among a few others) hawking the ball and stalking passing lanes, they were still able to force 23 turnovers in 40 minutes of action.
Those 23 turnovers were turned into 36 points -- treating a lot of defensive possessions as transition drills you'd run in practice. George had breakaway dunks. Cousins was even ripping the ball from a ball handler and starting the break. Durant was harassing initiators for Argentina's offense and making them pay for the littlest mistake or lapse in concentration.
Team USA may not win a lot of track meets like they have in the past but it doesn't mean they won't turn all of these mistakes into easy opportunities the other way. Forcing a 17-23 assist-to-turnover ration is pretty good.
Kevin Durant is still unguardable
Oh by the way, Kevin Durant is still someone the rest of the world struggles to defend. Almost everybody in the NBA struggles to defend the guy with the third highest scoring average in NBA history, so it makes sense that wings for Argentina or any country wouldn't know what to do against him. Durant went 7-of-12 from the field and 4-of-9 from the shorter 3-point line. But he didn't let that extra foot or so of space behind the 3-point line be a factor for him. It seemed like he kept shooting it from deeper and deeper every time.
He hooked up with Draymond Green on several buckets to finish with 23 points overall. He also had four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks all in just under 21 minutes. A big stretch of his scoring came in the second half after Argentina had cut the lead a bit to possibly wake Team USA up. It awoke the Slim Reaper and he made sure to put everybody to bed well before the final buzzer.
Let's be fair: This Argentina team is still very good
Even though they got smacked around by USA Basketball, we got several reminders that this Argentina National Team is still very good. Are they good enough to upset the U.S. in the Olympics? Probably not. However, they still have Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Facundo Campazzo, and Carlos Delfino. That's enough firepower to make any other country in the world pretty nervous against them.
Manu even has a completely new look on the floor with the shaved head.
What are the odds Tim Duncan told Manu he'd avoid retirement for one more year if Ginobili shaved his head? And then after getting confirmation that Manu was bald, Timmy announced his retirement? That seems like the type of fun Duncan would have with his friend.
To start the second half, Argentina used their talent and experience to go on a little run. They even cut the deficit to 18 points at one time in the third quarter before the U.S. pushed it back over 30. Ginobili finished with 11 points in 14 minutes. Scola had 10 points and while he didn't shoot well (3-of-10), he was 2-of-5 from that shorter international 3-point line. Nocioni led his team in points (15) and rebounds (7).
It's great to see Paul George back out there for USA Basketball
Two years ago in Las Vegas, Paul George broke his leg in a gruesome incident against the basketball stanchion in a squad scrimmage for fans. He missed all but a handful of games in the 2014-15 season before returning to his All-Star form in the 2015-16 season. Even shortly after breaking his leg, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski committed to having George on the roster in the future if he was willing to get back out there.
Friday night was his first action for Team USA since the injury. He told the broadcast after the game that it was "eerie" to go back onto the Vegas court (even though it was a different arena), but he was happy to have the second chance and the commitment from Team USA.
"I was a little eerie stepping onto this Vegas floor," George told Jared Greenberg after the game. "But God bless, he gave me a second chance."
It didn't take long for him to get back into the rhythm of playing great basketball. In 16 minutes, he scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting -- including a lot of buckets in transition as Argentina couldn't keep up with him. The support of the guys in the USA locker room helped him get focused for the game and to go out and get the win.
"Once I put that jersey back on, the nervousness went away," George said. "It was a lot of emotions. Not going to lie. The guys in the locker room did a great job of making sure I was good before we came out on this floor."
It's great to have him back out there dominating for his country.
USA Basketball's next exhibition game will be Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chinese National Team.