Why rebounding is a huge problem for Team USA basketball as they face the FIBA World Cup’s knockout stages.

NBA NEWS

Team USA’s Sunday loss to Lithuania left them smashed against the glass.

From Team USA’s two 2023 FIBA World Cup games in the second round, one significant figure stands out: One. In the win over Montenegro and loss to Lithuania combined, starting centre Jaren Jackson Jr., the current NBA Defensive Player of the Year, grabbed that many rebounds. One.

The Americans had no trouble getting through the group stage, winning with an average margin of 36.3 points, but now they are having some difficulty. Despite falling down by as many as 21 points in the first half against Lithuania, they managed to win against Montenegro. The Americans were consistently harassed on the glass in both games, especially when they were on defence. Jackson is not solely to blame for that, but his ineffectiveness as the team’s starting five-man sticks out.

Here are some statistics:

Vs. Montenegro

Teams Off. Rebounds Rebounds Second-chance points
USA 8 31 8
Montenegro 23 49 22

Vs. Lithuania

Teams Off. Rebounds Rebounds Second-chance points
USA 9 27 2
Lithuania 18 43 17

Head coach Steve Kerr stated on Friday that “the concern is turnovers and rebounds.” “I feel terrific about our chances against anyone if we maintain an even score in the possession game. Teams can defeat us if they gain an advantage in possessions and cause plenty of mistakes while we are unfocused and not boxing out. That’s what I’ve informed our team members, so it’s not really a secret.

While continually being smashed against the glass was not on purpose, it was partially a byproduct of Team USA’s roster construction. Jackson is most effective as a power forward, and the only other real bigs on the club are Walker Kessler, the second-youngest player on the team, and Bobby Portis, another power forward. Jackson is the only player in the starting lineup who is taller than 6-foot-6. As a result, they frequently have a significant size disadvantage, especially when playing against some of the European teams that have frontcourts that are more conventional.

Consider the following action from the game against Montenegro’s opening minutes: Nikola Vucevic grabbed two offensive rebounds. Jackson has been dragged away from the rim on both occasions, leaving players like Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards to try to deal with Vucevic underneath the rim. The outcome is predictable.

However, there have also been times when the Americans were just outworked, as in the third-quarter play against Lithuania. All five of the Americans were in the paint, but Mindaugas Kuzminskas recovered the errant pass after many tips and made a critical basket at the buzzer to seal the victory.

Team USA’s small-ball strategy gives them a big advantage in many areas, but they will need to bounce back to win this event. Jackson is where it all begins. Even though he isn’t well renowned for his rebounding, the starting centre must assist set the bar in that area. The rest of the team must step up when he is not at the rim, either because he is guarding a player on the perimeter or because he has challenged a shot. Plays like the Kuzminskas play are impossible.

It’s also reasonable to ponder if it’s time to lengthen Portis’ or Kessler’s time on the pitch. They are statistically the team’s greatest rebounders according to the 2022–23 NBA season, however in terms of minutes played, they are ranked 10th and 12th on the squad, respectively. That makes sense given the style of play Steve Kerr prefers, but if Team USA continues to struggle with ball rebounding, a personnel change might be required. In particular, Portis has participated in numerous important games, is able to spread the floor, and consistently gives it his all.

When the Americans play Italy in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, they will have their first opportunity to improve their rebounding. The Italians have occasionally barely gotten by in this tournament, but they arrive as the second-best rebounding team still standing with 11.4 offensive rebounds per game on average.

squad USA will have a talent advantage over every other squad, but as we’ve repeatedly discovered throughout the years in international competitions, that only goes so far. You have to do the little things to prevail in shorter games on smaller courts, against more seasoned and combat-tested opponents. Perhaps the biggest tiny thing is recovering.