US men’s basketball seeking some ways to click on offense

Japan 2020

United States coach Gregg Popovich, left, and forward Kevin Durant (7) look on from the side line during their loss to France in a men’s basketball preliminary round game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Kevin Durant was the leading scorer for Brooklyn this past season. Same goes for Damian Lillard in Portland, Devin Booker in Phoenix, Jayson Tatum in Boston, Zach LaVine in Chicago and Jerami Grant in Detroit.

At home, they’re all probably the guy with the ball when games are on the line.

At the Olympics, that won’t be the case.

Having players settle into new roles is not a new issue for USA Basketball, since virtually every team the national governing body for the sport puts together — at every level — features those who are used to being the star of their respective high school, college or pro teams. But for the U.S. men’s team chosen to play at the Tokyo Olympics, finding what those roles are and how the pieces best fit is still very much a work in progress.

“Alpha, leader, I mean, that stuff changes from game to game,” said Durant, already a two-time Olympic gold medalist. “Guys get hot. Different guys may lead us in scoring. … Everybody chips in.”

Durant’s point was clear: Someone needs to lead in every game, but it doesn’t always have to be the same someone. The U.S. (0-1) plays Iran (0-1) on Wednesday in a Group A game in Saitama, favored to win the game in a landslide by FanDuel, and it could be an opportunity for both some momentum to be formed and for roles to become more clearly defined going forward.

“It is a challenge to figure out how to stay aggressive while also playing for the team,” U.S. assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said Tuesday. “A lot of these guys are used to a lot of shots, more minutes, more opportunities and now they’re playing with a great player to their right and a great player to their left.

“So, we need them to be as confident as they always are. We need them to do it as a unit, and we need them to learn they don’t have to make the same place that they make on the NBA teams — but they need to have the same mentality and mindset.”

And that wasn’t there on Sunday.

The U.S. shot just 36% in its opening loss to France, the worst percentage from any of the 12 teams in their respective first Olympic contests at Saitama.

The 76 points by the Americans was second lowest of any team (Nigeria scored only 67) — and was the second-lowest point total in any game by a U.S. men’s team in the Olympics in the last 45 years. The Americans scored 73 in a loss to Puerto Rico to open the 2004 Olympics, the most recent one in which the U.S. did not win gold.

Durant said the Americans spent much of its practice time Monday and Tuesday working on the offense.

“Looking forward to tomorrow,” he said.

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