Australia ended a 78-game winning streak for the USA Basketball men's senior team in the lead-up to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup that starts Saturday in China.
The hosts won 98-94 in front of 52,079 fans in Melbourne. After all the high-profile departures for the U.S. prior to and during its minicamp, the result feels like it could be a sign of things to come.
Australia was without Ben Simmons and Dante Exum. Patty Mills went off for 30 points. Joe Ingles had 15 points and seven assists. Andrew Bogut had 16 points, nine rebounds and four dimes.
Those are three NBA-level players, but tougher tests in the field include Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Rudy Gobert (France).
The Americans will have to be much better to win this tournament, as coach Gregg Popovich explained, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic:
"The loss means that we need to play better. It's a measure of who you are. Nobody wins forever. This is a group of guys who's worked very hard to get to know each other and get to know a system. And whatever comes, we can handle. Our job is to try to get better every day.
"We looked discombobulated at times, made some poor decisions. Some of it is expected with a new group that's trying to learn about each other and learn a system. So, it's not surprising, but the Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we have to be and how we have to play in this kind of competition.
"So we'll get used to that and hopefully learn."
The USA may not have the best individual player in some of its upcoming games, but this should still be the deepest team in the competition. All 12 members of the roster are at least NBA rotation players. A few are stars (or near-stars). A few more have the potential to be.
On the eve of the tournament, we'll break down the entire group, using 2018-19 real plus-minus (RPM) and box plus/minus (BPM) as well as 2019-20 wins above replacement (WAR) projections from FiveThirtyEight.
But think of those numbers as guideposts, rather than some sort of nonmalleable criteria. All three are derived from playing in the NBA. The international game is different.
Fewer timeouts, a shorter three-point line and loads of zone defense can lead to a more free-flowing style than some NBA players are used to. In the loss to Australia, the U.S. had half as many assists (11) as its opponents (22). Ingles and Bogut combined for 11 just between themselves.
In addition to the numbers already cited, the potential to fit into the international game will be factored into these rankings as well.
But before we get to the roster, let's see when the team will be in action and where you can watch.
How to Watch
The Americans are in Group E with the Czech Republic, Japan and Turkey. The schedule for their opening games can be found on the team's website.
Following the first round of group play, the top two teams from each of the eight four-team groups advance to a second round of group play.
According to the tournament's website, the results of the three games from the first round carry over to the second Round. Every team plays against the two teams in their group that they did not face in the first round for a total of 16 games (two games per team, four games per group).
The top two teams from each second-round group (eight in total) advance to traditional bracket play.
September 1: USA vs. Czech Republic, 8:30 a.m. ET (ESPN+)
September 3: USA vs. Turkey, 8:30 a.m. ET (ESPN+)
September 5: USA vs. Japan, 8:30 a.m. ET (ESPN+)
12. Mason Plumlee
2018-19 RPM: 1.06
2018-19 BPM: 3.8
2019-20 Projected WAR: 1.7
Mason Plumlee's game should actually translate fairly well to international play. His passing ability is good for a free-flowing game. And the USA could use his physicality against bigs like Jokic or Marc Gasol.
His placement here has more to do with the other two centers on the roster.
Plumlee is the best passer of the bench (4.7 assists per 75 possessions over the last three seasons), but the outside shooting of Myles Turner and Brook Lopez could be even more important with the shorter three-point line in play.
11. Derrick White
2018-19 RPM: 1.98
2018-19 BPM: 0.9
2019-20 Projected WAR: 3.7
San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White has two years of experience with Popovich, but he still figures to be behind starters Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell in the rotation.
If he can prove to be a more consistent shooter than Marcus Smart from the outside, he may leapfrog the reserve. If you're just looking at the defensive end, those are the top two guards.
Against teams with strong guard play, like the Australians with Mills, they'll be more important.
10. Harrison Barnes
2018-19 RPM: -0.21
2018-19 BPM: -2.3
2019-20 Projected WAR: 0.3
The numbers don't love Harrison Barnes. In fact, if these rankings were based on nothing but them, Barnes would be No. 12.
But the construct of this team suggests he'll be almost exclusively a 4. That's good for him. And despite the loss, Barnes showed against Australia what could make him valuable at the World Cup.
Barnes went 3-of-5 from three on the way to 20 points. And spacing from the frontcourt should draw bigs away from the rim, opening up slashing lanes for Mitchell and Walker.
9. Joe Harris
2018-19 RPM: -0.15
2018-19 BPM: 1.0
2019-20 Projected WAR: 1.2
Speaking of shooting, no one on this roster provides it more consistently than Joe Harris.
His 47.4 three-point percentage didn't just lead the NBA last season. It's the third-highest ever among seasons with at least 386 attempts. Kyle Korver's 49.2 in 2014-15 and JJ Redick's 47.5 in 2015-16 are the only campaigns ahead of Harris' 2018-19.
And while playing the 4 might be difficult (or nearly impossible) for Harris in the NBA, the U.S. may be able to get away with a few minutes of the 6'6" shooter there against certain international squads.
8. Jaylen Brown
2018-19 RPM: -1.12
2018-19 BPM: -2.1
2019-20 Projected WAR: 2.9
In terms of lateral and vertical athleticism, the Americans should have an advantage on the wings over the competition in China. Jaylen Brown is one of the reasons why.
Brown's defense will be important against teams with NBA talent on the wings (Marco Belinelli for Italy, Bogdan Bogdanovic for Serbia and Cedi Osman for Turkey, just to name a few).
But that's something you can pretty much count on. His consistency as a shooter may be the real key to success. In three exhibition games (one against Spain and two against Australia), he's at 70.6 percent from the field.
7. Marcus Smart
2018-19 RPM: 2.25
2018-19 BPM: 1.8
2019-20 Projected WAR: 3.9
For years, the only thing holding Smart back was poor shooting. Through the end of the 2017-18 season, among players with at least 1,000 three-point attempts, Smart was 395th (out of 396) in effective field-goal percentage.
In 2018-19, Smart's percentage skyrocketed from 43.1 in the first four years to 53.3.
If Smart can maintain that kind of efficiency in the World Cup, he could prove to be the X-factor off the USA bench.
He's likely the squad's best perimeter defender. Combining that with a little shooting will make him an important piece.
6. Brook Lopez
2018-19 RPM: 4.07
2018-19 BPM: 2.7
2019-20 Projected WAR: 2.8
Lopez blocked 179 shots in 2018-19. Kevin Garnett's career high was 178. Lopez also hit 187 threes. Kobe Bryant's career high was 180.
That combination of stats, pointed out by DailyNBApoll, is a mind bender. And Lopez's combination of rim protection and outside shooting seems almost tailor-made for this tournament.