Team USA will continue to start Josh Hart and bring Brandon Ingram off the bench, coach Steve Kerr told reporters Thursday. The team made the switch , and Kerr said the coaching staff will stick with it against Montenegro on Friday because it “makes a little more sense” to put Ingram on the second unit, rather than starting him next to Anthony Edwards and Jalen Brunson, the team’s two most ball-dominant players.
“I really liked the lineup shift for B.I.,” Kerr said, via ABS-CBN News. “The game was much smoother. He had five assists, there was more space, he had the ball more. I know he enjoyed it. We’ll keep doing the same thing tomorrow, we’ll start the same way as we did last night and see how that goes. But I can’t speak highly enough of B.I., just his character and the way he handled that. Because he’s not used to coming off the bench. And he was playing fine. He wasn’t really struggling, he just wasn’t featured in that lineup.”
Hart stands 6-foot-4, four inches taller than Ingram, but he’s a sturdy defender and an outstanding rebounder for his size. He’s used to playing a low-usage role on offense, and he has no problem defending taller players. Now that he’s starting, he’s sharing the court with two of his former college teammates (Brunson and Mikal Bridges) and a big man who is both an elite shot blocker and a threat from long range (Jaren Jackson Jr.). It is an ideal situation for him, and that unit needs a complementary player at the 4 spot more than it needs a playmaker like Ingram.
“Josh is our leading rebounder, he had 12 more last night,” Kerr said. “He has a strength and a tenacity to him that sometimes overcomes a height disadvantage. He’s used to guarding bigger guys with all the switching that happens in the NBA. So we go into a game comfortable with Josh guarding 4s.”
Four days ago, Ingram told The Athletic’s Joe Vardon, “This is totally different than what I am used to. 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.” After the adjustment on Wednesday, Ingram told Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer that he was excited about the opportunity to play with the reserve group, and that he and the coaches were on the same page: “They thought it was a better fit for me playing with Tyrese [Haliburton] and playing with some guys that are a little less ball-dominant than Jalen and Ant. They just talked about it being a better fit, and I agreed with them.”
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Ingram has a 7-3 wingspan and made 41.7% of his catch-and-shoot 3s with the Pelicans in 2022-23, so it’s not crazy that Kerr’s coaching staff initially envisioned him sliding into the stretch 4 role more comfortably. He had a 30.6% usage rate last season, though, and Team USA’s coaching staff likely knew there was a decent chance that they’d have to balance the starting lineup out eventually. In the team’s first scrimmage in Las Vegas, Edwards , with Cam Johnson starting in his place. Since then, Edwards has become “the guy,” in Kerr’s words.
Team USA went undefeated in the first round of pool play, and they will begin the second round against Montenegro, who are led by Nikola Vucevic. On Sunday, they’ll face Lithuania, who are led by another big man familiar to the Americans: Jonas Valanciunas.