Bigs shouldering load for Team USA early on in 2014 FIBA World Cup

Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins and New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis get up shots at Team USA training camp in Las Vegas. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

When USA Basketball tipped off their preparation for this year’s World Cup, the talk of training camp in Las Vegas focused on the guards. With stars like Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose in the mix, it’s no surprise that many assumed Team USA’s biggest strength coming into the tournament would be the play of their backcourt.

However with three games under their belts, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the Americans have relied heavily on the talent of their interior players. In their wins in Spain so far, their bigs have shined in a major way not many pundits would have expected.

Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis have been the engine and fuel for Team USA’s 3-0 record, both leading the Americans in scoring.  Davis is averaging roughly 19 points per 21 minutes while Faried is posting 14 points per 22 minutes a game. DeMarcus Cousins has also been efficient as part of Team USA’s three-big rotation. The Sacramento Kings starting center is averaging eight points and five rebounds per 13.3 minutes a contest off the Americans’ bench.

The play of Faried, Davis and Cousins has carried Team USA while they work out their kinks on the perimeter. For a team that features marksmen like Curry and Klay Thompson, the Americans are shooting just 35.1 percent from 3-point distance. That ranks them 13th behind teams like the Philippines (7th) and Mexico (4th) in the tournament so far.

“As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters,” Houston Rockets guard James Harden told reporters in Bilbao following USA’s win over New Zealand yesterday. “You don’t really care who’s scoring the basketball. We’ve got 12 guys that score the basketball at any given moment.”

Ironically, Faried and Davis are both players who don’t need the basketball in their hands to thrive on the court. The Denver Nuggets forward has carved out a niche for himself as Team USA’s energy guy. He’s crashed the glass and created scoring opportunities for himself through his hustle, something he’s become known for in the Mile-High City.

“He plays hard every second he’s out there,” Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski said to media in Spain. “I think these guys would tell you they love playing with him. He doesn’t need the ball much; he gets the ball for people.  Overall from the start of training camp, he’s been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us.”

Meanwhile, Davis typically makes his impact felt as a rim protector. The New Orleans Pelicans big man has been Team USA’s anchor on defense, but that’s also led to additional scoring chances thanks to his ability to run the floor.

“Anthony is one of the best players in the world,” Krzyzewski said of Davis. “We saw that developing in the (2012) Olympics, and I think him being around all those great players helped him.”

It probably won’t be long before Team USA’s guards iron out their wrinkles on offense. But until then, the bigs will continue to play a major role in USA Basketball’s performance in Spain.

“I think basically guys are figuring it out,” Faried said to reporters. “Guys know who is going to do what night in and night out, what can you get from certain guys. Guys have come to expect that from people and if you don’t bring it, basically we are going to jump in to you and tell you that you’re not doing your job.”

Quotes from USA Basketball were used to write this story.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.