Thoughts on Stanford’s exhibition against Team USA

With the conclusion of USA Basketball’s four-game fall exhibition tour, let’s empty the notebook on their 95-80 win over Stanford. 

Kiana Williams (17 points, 6-17 FG, 5-12 3PT) making shots off the dribble takes Stanford’s offense to its highest level. 

You already have to worry about their cutting, screening and movement as they cycle through options out of their Princeton offense. 

Williams exploding to the rim or rejecting a screen with a lightning-quick crossover and step back to drill a deep 3-pointer only twists the knife. What else are you supposed to do? 

She can get a shot off with or without a ball screen. Some of her pull-up 3-pointers in transition are better suited for a 30-foot arc than the actual one. 

The tremendous guard play Team USA faced in this tour alone presented them with a formidable challenge. Their aging stars on the perimeter will start to look a little creaky against quick, dynamic, scoring guards. Should a player deeper in USAB’s player pool more in a 3-and-D mold make the roster for Tokyo, they may have players like Williams, Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter and Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu to thank for highlighting that specific need. 

Team USA coach Cheryl Reeve mentioned Stanford’s movement and style of play making for a worthy challenge. Two cuts by Alyssa Jerome were perfect examples.

 

Jerome isn’t one of the Cardinal’s leading scorers. She’s a willing 3-point shooter but far from prolific. Simply knowing where to be and how to read the defense led to two easy buckets.

Stanford often plays with both blocks empty. You might see four players spaced out and a fifth near an elbow, meaning helpers would have to cover more ground than normal to challenge some of those backdoor cuts. 

Having the option to trust a big to play and make decisions out on the perimeter puts an extra strain on the opposing bigs. One of them needs to track those actions, thus spending less time in the paint where that length can bother and prevent shots around the rim. 

Another fun action you’ll see from Stanford: A pass and immediate reversal with the big looking to set a quick screen to free the guard up near the top of the key. 

DiJonai Carrington makes for an interesting comparison with fellow Pac-12 senior Mikayla Pivec through more of a draft lens. They’re similar in size and are shining examples of doing what their team has needed from them to win games. 

We’ve seen both piece together big scoring performances. But even when they aren’t going for 20-plus points, you’ll never watch a full game and feel like they were invisible. They’re solid passers, rebound well for their position and can put their head down to earn trips to the foul line. 

Carrington’s performances in 24 minutes was no exception. All of those traits were on display as she poured in 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds and four assists. 

Meanwhile, Stanford’s four freshmen have rightfully generated a great deal of excitement both for the 2019-20 season and beyond. Fran Belibi’s growth throughout the season making decisions from the elbows will be fun to track. She found Haley Jones for an open 3-pointer in the third quarter.

Jones returned the favor moments later.

Stanford can roll out some really long, fast, versatile lineups with Jones and Belibi as the two nominal bigs. Note that Team USA switched both of those 4/5 pick and rolls. 

Jones working to a spot in the lane to draw a second defender could eventually become a tremendous asset for the Cardinal. 

Some stray thoughts on Team USA:

  • Know what was exciting to see in these games? Multiple clean swishes by Diana Taurasi! The W’s all-time leading scorer never got on track in the 2019 season after undergoing back surgery. She shot just 4-of-39 from the field in six games. No one should be ready for it to be over for DT, especially after that magical All-WNBA season in 2018 culminating with one of the series of the decade between Seattle and Phoenix. One can hope these exhibitions serve as building blocks to get her closer to that 2018 level for both the Mercury and Team USA in 2020. 
  • This was a very fun way for Team USA to start the game—a simple inverted pick and roll between Nneka Ogwumike and Sue Bird that could be replicated just as easily with Elena Delle Donne or Breanna Stewart in Ogwumike’s place or Taurasi popping for an open 3-pointer instead of Bird.  

  • Perhaps under-shadowed, or at least knowingly pushed to the side, after Oregon’s big exhibition win was the simple fact that the two best players in the world (Delle Donne and Stewart) and Brittney Griner, who happens to be the closest thing to Kryptonite for their biggest challenger in Tokyo, weren’t a part of this tour. Even factoring in age, injuries and a Maya Moore-sized question mark, Team USA will be just fine. 

In case you missed it: Thoughts on Oregon’s win over the U.S. National Team

Graphic by Akshay Ram

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