USA Basketball got its 2023 FIBA World Cup started with an eventual runaway victory over New Zealand, largely due to a big game by the bench unit, headlined by Paolo Banchero.
Banchero scored 21 points in the win off of the bench, helping Team USA erase an early double-digit deficit and run away to a 99-72 win. Austin Reaves (12 points) and Tyrese Haliburton (10 points) continued to provide big lifts off the bench as well, with Anthony Edwards (14 points) as the best of the starting unit. While there aren’t many real threats to the U.S. squad in the first round of group play, the starting unit is under some scrutiny as it’s not been firing on all cylinders even going back to some of the tune-up games.
Among the players struggling in the starting lineup is Brandon Ingram, who had 2 points against New Zealand and just doesn’t look comfortable playing a tertiary role alongside Edwards and Jalen Brunson, who have the ball in their hands far more often. The result is an offense that can get stagnant and doesn’t have the balance you’d like between on-ball scorers and guys more comfortable off the ball moving and knocking down spot up shots, and one has to wonder if Kerr will explore a lineup change going forward.
For Ingram’s part, he admitted it’s been “a little frustrating” early on, noting he’s just not playing a role he’s used to and is struggling to find a rhythm. The Pelicans star forward did say that he’s trying to figure out how he can be more effective and is trying not to let his frustrations individually impact a team that’s undefeated this summer, per The Athletic’s Joe Vardon.
“This is totally different than what I am used to,” Ingram told The Athletic Sunday, prior to the Americans’ practice at a Manila business district hotel. “The team is winning right now, so I can’t be selfish thinking about myself. But it’s a little frustrating right now for me, and I’m just trying to figure out ways I can be effective.”
Steve Kerr told Vardon he expects Ingram to figure it out and isn’t concerned about him, noting there’s always an adjustment to the FIBA game, but it could be that Monday’s game against Greece sees a lineup change to try and get Ingram in a more prominent role with the bench unit. Banchero would give the Americans some more size alongside Jaren Jackson Jr., and is a different kind of scoring threat from that position, capable of a more physical, downhill attack. Ingram could then be freed up a bit more on a bench unit playing opposite Edwards, as he and Haliburton would be the on-ball leaders, with floor spacers around them like Reaves and Cam Johnson.
Whether Kerr makes an early starting unit change or not, Team USA will need Ingram to find his rhythm at some point if they’re going to hit their ceiling as a team. He’s too good and plays too large a role not to be an impactful player, whether that’s as a member of the starting lineup or coming off the bench. As for his mindset, Ingram’s trying to be open-minded in a new environment, which figures to bode well for the prospects of him figuring it out sooner than later.
“I know who I am,” Ingram said. “In ways, I can get stuck and think my way is the best way. This is a learning experience. … I get to see everybody work, get to see everybody’s strengths and everybody’s weaknesses, so I can take it back to my team, be smart about it.”
Team USA plays Greece at 8:40 a.m. ET on Monday, and we’ll see if Kerr stays patient or tries to make a bigger adjustment to get the pieces all in the right place.