Thursday, July 31, 2008

A few thoughts about Team USA

By chance, I happened to turn on ESPN this morning and surprise, Team USA is having a friendly against Turkey. I missed the first half, but watching the second I have the following observations:

1. Our offense is least by Turkey. I'd be seriously surprised if we ever have trouble scoring. In this game, we've scored by posting up, with the pick and roll, isolation plays, dribble drives and kicks, and simply blowing by everyone and taking it to the rack. I know Turkey isn't the greatest team but, by comparison, I watched Argentina in a friendly against Poland the other day and there is no comparison. Our athleticism at the guard positions is far beyond anything that any team has and that means we're going to score an awful lot of points. (Aside: Argentina was kind of sorry. Maybe they'll play better in the Olympics, but the looked slow, unathletic, and lacking in shooters.)

2. We still have problems defending the pick-and-roll. I know this is a friendly, but the pick-and-roll is the most basic and fundamental basketball play and we haven't defended it properly once so far. Part of this is because in the NBA, you can't have rolling-pick-and-rolls (the guy setting the pick has to be standing still), but in international basketball, there is apparently no such restriction (let's just say that rule is fungible). That makes it a lot more difficult to defend. But our guys haven't really responded well to that and they need to and fast.

3. Our lack of size is a problem on the defensive boards. Several times in the fourth, DWade (6'2") was trying to box out a 6'10" guy to no avail. I don't think our size is going to matter hugely on defense because the international game isn't really about finding size mismatches and posting up and so many international big men shoot 3-pointers and thus hover around the perimeter. But I do think it will be a problem on the defensive boards. Something to watch.

4. We blew out Turkey, as we should have, but it wasn't like Turkey was shooting lights out. In fact, Turkey had a great number of open looks from the perimeter and just couldn't find the net. That's why they're not in the Olympics. Spain and Greece won't have that problem.

Bottom line about this game: We gave up a ton of open looks that Turkey couldn't capitalize on, got abused from time to time on the defensive boards, and scored at will on the other end. Works great against Turkey, not so great against an elite team.

But I won't end these observations on a sour note. Instead, here's a quickee prediction for the Olympics by game:

Game 1: China

It's rather popular to suggest that the combination of Yao Ming and the home crowd will make China a player. It says here that that type of thinking is nobariffic. China's guard play wouldn't make it in the D-League and Yao hasn't exactly led the Rockets to the golden land yet, has he. Look for a 40 point blowout here.

Game 2: Angola

To be honest, I know nothing about Angola. But I'm guessing they suck. Next.

Game 3: Greece

Our first challenge. We should defeat them but it won't be easy. Greece can shoot from the outside and have the big bodies down low to get more offensive possessions. But I don't believe they're as good as they were a few years ago and I think if it comes down to a close finish, they're no stopping Kobe or Carmelo and that should make the difference.

Game 4: Spain

We could very easily lose to Spain. They have, essentially, an NBA line up, they pass better than any team in the tournament, and they have the inside-outside combination that can be deadly. That being said, if we play better defense (no open looks, box out, defend the pick-and-roll) then we should win because they certainly won't be able to stop us on offense (the open seive that is Pau Gasol will be abused by the likes of Howard, Bosh, and Boozer, not to mention their guards have no hope of shutting down Paul or DWade).

At this point, the US will either be 3-1 or 4-0 and we shall know about their chances. If they get out of this group 4-0 with a decisive victory against Spain, then I think they take the gold going away. But if they struggle against Spain, then I'll be worried.



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