Jan 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Phoenix Suns shooting guard Goran Dragic (right) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA vs. Slovenia: Goran Dragic's World Cup prep


Tuesday, 11 a.m. MST



Goran Dragic‘s growth into an All-NBA caliber guard hinged on his development as a leader for his Slovenian national team. Last summer at the EuroBasket tournament, that meant taking his lumps by over-dribbling late in games, turning the ball over or taking contested fadeaway jumpers. Yet Slovenia, behind Dragic, not only became quite competitive but grew enough for a fifth-place finish, solidifying its spot in the 2014 World Cup.

The exhibition season is almost up.

One last step for a more mature Slovenian squad led by a year-wiser Dragic is playing against a United States team led by Anthony Davis. A beefy frontcourt will define the Americans, but another bit of identity the U.S. can claim is coach Mike Krzyzewski’s emphasis on point guard defense. Dragic is going to be targeted, as he should, but Team USA’s ability to hound him will make the Tuesday afternoon outing quite compelling.

It’ll be one of few chances for American audiences to watch Slovenia, and if Dragic isn’t held back as Slovenia avoids the injury bug, it’ll hint a lot about what both Slovenia and the United States will look like once the games begin to count in the win-loss columns.

What’s the deal with Slovenia?

The Slovenians are one of the younger teams in the FIBA World Cup with an average age of 25. They lost former NBA player Bostjan Nachbar and Jaka Lakovic to retirement, which effectively turns the reins over to Goran Dragic and brother Zoran. They are considered the two best players, and as such the strength in the national squad is its familiarity with one another.

It’s a scrappy bunch. The Dragic brothers can play alongside very capable guards in Klemen Prepelic and Domen Lorbek. At points this summer, Slovenia has placed Goran at the shooting guard position.

In the frontcourt, veteran forwards Uros Slokar and Miha Zupan, along with 22-year-old center Alen Omic, have the length and mobility to play with any team — they didn’t fair too poorly against a very big Brazilian squad this week — but will be giving up a lot of athleticism to the U.S., as would most any team.

Who will Dragic match up against?

The Americans have been running out a backcourt with Warriors guard Stephen Curry at shooting guard and are expected to roll with Kyrie Irving ahead of Derrick Rose at point. How much of each Dragic will see is hard to say, especially since he’ll be limited to about 25 minutes per game. Expect both point guards to put a lot of pressure on Dragic.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Slovenia will be tasked with riding its best scorer without putting the ball in his hands, something that can’t be too appealing since Dragic is by far the best ball handler of the bunch. That’s a good lesson and a solid way for Dragic to practice finding opportunities off the ball. When he has it, he’ll obviously have to make the right plays as well. Can he score against the U.S.? If not, his teammates will have to knock down shots when the USA’s Tom Thibodeau-brewed defense collapses.

What will Team USA be doing?

It’s hard to say if Coach K will continue rolling with a smaller starting unit. Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried and James Harden have started in the frontcourt, and this is the first time we’ll see USA play since cutting its roster down to 12. Krzyzewski kept DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond on the roster, so whether they go big just for the sake of will be interesting to note.

As far as Dragic is concerned, he’ll likely be seeing Irving and Rose picking him up at halfcourt or even fullcourt. He’s going to be quite winded even if his playing time is down to 25 minutes.

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