I’m not sure when it was, but Steve Kerr made a decision that the style he wanted Team USA to play was more important than winning gold.
With their embarrassing loss to Germany, Team USA’s second loss in the three games, there will be a lot of fans looking back and asking if it could have been avoided. The answer is yes, it could have.
Had Steve Kerr decided at some point to Walker Kessler alongside Jaren Jackson Jr., this all would have been avoided. Instead, Walker Kessler spent the entire tournament sitting on the bench watching Team USA unable to defend or rebound. Look at the top rebounder for Team USA, and look at the worst.
Team USA RPG leaders:— Caleb (@the_nba_facts_) September 8, 2023
6.0 - Hart (guard)
4.5 - Portis (10th man)
4.0 - Ant (guard)
3.7 - Paolo (bench player)
3.2 - Mikal (wing)
3.0 - Haliburton (guard)
3.0 - Ingram (bench player)
3.0 - Brunson (guard)
2.8 - JJJ (TEAM USA STARTING CENTER)
This is a problem. pic.twitter.com/F7Q4zq6pWs
Team USA’s starting center was 9th on the team in rebounds. Surely Steve Kerr knew this was an option, right? Or am I giving him too much credit? With coaches like Eric Spoelstra on the bench, surely one of them mentioned this to him! But it came down to Steve Kerr. He decided the style was more important than the result and now Team USA leaves embarrassed again on the world stage, and all of the blame should go to Kerr. Here’s why...
Walker Kessler was tailor-made for this tournament and would have been invaluable next to Jackson. Does Steve Kerr know that Jaren Jackson Jr plays most of his minutes next to a traditional big? Or did Kerr think he was that much smarter than the Grizzlies coaching staff? When you watch Jaren Jackson Jr. playing off of traditional centers, it accentuates his ability to switch and block shots, the thing that earned his DPOY. Instead of being able to roam on defense and block shots like a free safety, Steve Kerr decided that a switching defense that allowed teams to get Jackson out of the paint was the way to go and Team USA’s defense suffered mightily.
The 113 points allowed by the U.S. are its most in a FIBA World Cup game in tournament history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 8, 2023
The previous high was 110 by Lithuania on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/ouey9qgGJC
It was completely avoidable and so many people were asking why Kessler wasn’t on the floor.
Not playing Walker Kessler was a massive mistake by Team USA. Kessler is an elite rim protector and rebounder, and we saw all season in Memphis how Jaren Jackson was way better at the 4 next to Steven Adams. Things would’ve slotted better into place with this lineup.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) September 8, 2023
Not sure why Kerr has mothballed Walker Kessler from the start of this tournament, he could have helped today— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) September 8, 2023
There were multiple games before this morning that strongly suggested the need for two bigs and the adjustment was never made, despite having the personnel to adjust. We deserved this— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) September 8, 2023
The level of arrogance to force your playstyle, (a style not suited to the FIBA game), is remarkable.
Some of you might be saying, “Easy for you to say you bald, portly, couch coach!” My retort would first be, “Hey, that’s not very nice,” but I would then add “you bet it’s the right move and it would have absolutely earned gold for Team USA.”
First, consider the fact that FIBA has two rules that would have made Walker Kessler even more effective than he is in the NBA.
(If you want a cool chart on rule differences, you can go here.)
Defensive 3 seconds within a zone defense is completely legal
That means that Walker Kessler, (had Steve Kerr decided at some point to try a different defensive scheme than the one giving up the most points in FIBA history), could have stayed within a zone near the basket and wreaked havoc on every drive. Considering Kessler’s elite rim protection, this could have a game changer. That would have also allowed Kessler to be near the basket and solve the rebounding problem for Team USA.
(I have to take a moment to collect myself, I’m getting angrier as I write this.)
Players can tip the ball on the rim
Honest question, does Steve Kerr know the rule differences? Is he surprised that traditional bigs do well in FIBA? He shouldn’t be, the rules are heavily advantages to bigs near the rim. Walker Kessler could have been such a force having near the basket on both ends of the floor. Whether it was knocking the ball off the rim on defense, or putbacks on offense, Kessler could have been a force and not shot the ball in any game. Knowing this, I think it’s fair to say that Team USA probably missed out on a couple points each game by not having bigs near the basket taking advantage of these rules. Oh and how much did Team USA lose to Germany by? Two points! You think this might made a difference?!?!
All this is spilt milk at this point and there’s no point in making any changes now. The best Team USA can do is make it to the bronze game, but that’s not even for sure with Canada in the way.
What we’ve learned is that Steve Kerr better not be the one on the floor making decisions during the Olympics because it’s not going to end well. Sometimes the most obvious answer is the one in front of you. Team USA is not what it once was in the days of the Dream Team, the world has caught up. When things get tought there isn’t always a Steph Curry to bail you out when things go wrong. To finish, I’ll just leave this here.