Paolo Banchero, the rising star from the Orlando Magic, faced a unique challenge upon arriving in Manila. With the softer and bouncier FIBA basketball in hand, Banchero aimed to familiarize himself with the unfamiliar ball, knowing that it often frustrates NBA players. Like a running back practicing to prevent fumbles, Banchero devoted extra time to develop a better feel for the rock. This dedication paid off during Team USA’s game against New Zealand, where he confidently sank his first two 3-pointers and delivered a remarkable 21-point performance off the bench. However, Banchero still grapples with his free throw shooting, as he struggled to convert 2 out of 10 attempts in warm-up games. Despite these challenges, Coach Steve Kerr has consistently shown his faith in Banchero’s abilities, granting him significant playing time as a backup center who initiates the offense on rebounds.
When joining Team USA, Brandon Ingram had envisioned playing a key role similar to that of Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant. He aimed to be a stretch 4, dominating slower defenders and serving as a scoring hub for the team. Despite his aspirations, Ingram has faced tremendous difficulties throughout his Team USA experience. In warm-up games, he averaged a mere 7.8 points while shooting an underwhelming 42%. Against New Zealand, Ingram’s performance continued to disappoint, as his timing appeared off, his passes were frequently delayed, and he failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities. Additionally, his defensive contributions remained ineffective. Ingram admitted that he has struggled to adjust to having less control of the ball compared to his role with the New Orleans Pelicans, where he was accustomed to being the focal point of the offense. Despite studying game tapes of Anthony and Durant for guidance, Ingram’s discomfort on the court is evident. Coach Kerr has responded to Ingram’s struggles by gradually reducing his minutes, a decision that seems fair given his lackluster performance thus far.
Often in team sports, certain player pairings develop extraordinary chemistry that becomes a team staple for years to come. This seems to be the case for Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves, as they have showcased outstanding cohesiveness on the court. These two players excel in ball movement, diligently contribute on defense, and demonstrate impeccable decision-making skills. Notably, Reaves boasts a remarkable plus-34 rating in the past two games, both of which Team USA won by a combined 28 points. Most of Reaves’ minutes have been alongside Haliburton, who himself has earned a plus-18 rating. Haliburton’s recent shooting performance has been impeccable, going 11-of-16 in the past three games, while also contributing 10 rebounds and six steals. Similarly, Reaves has been efficient, shooting 12-of-19 from the field, accompanied by five steals. Although Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards, Team USA’s starting guards, have performed well, it is evident that Reaves and Haliburton are earning themselves more playing time and increased shot opportunities.
Team USA’s journey in Manila has brought both triumph and tribulation for its key players. Paolo Banchero continues to adapt to the challenges of playing with a different basketball, but his dedication and Coach Kerr’s faith have propelled his performance. Brandon Ingram, on the other hand, has struggled to find his footing, faced with new responsibilities and a different role within the team. However, there is still time for Ingram to regain his rhythm and prove his worth. Meanwhile, the exceptional chemistry between Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves has showcased their potential to become an integral part of Team USA’s future success. As the tournament progresses, it will be fascinating to witness the growth and development of these key players and how their performances contribute to Team USA’s ultimate goal.