Archives For August 2006

The Final Four

Kurt —  August 30, 2006

There are just four left, the world’s Final Four. The USA deserves to be there. But after looking stats and watching the first half of the USA/Germany game live this morning (thanks to an unhappy baby who apparently wanted to be up for the game at 3:30 on the West Coast), I still have concerns about what happens when the USA reaches the finals.

I’ve discussed the stats for Team USA before, but compared them to NBA numbers, which is not the best context — a better one is how they compare to the other 22 teams in the FIBA tournament. So, thanks to deepak_e at the APBR board, here are some updated stats for the four remaining teams, with their ranking among the 22 teams next to it).

Team eFG% Pace Off. Rating Def. Rating
USA 56.9% (2) 98.4 (1) 129.2 (1) 98.4 (7)
Spain 57.9% (1) 92.6 (8) 120.1 (T-2) 89.0 (2)
Argentina 56.2% (3) 89.7 (12) 120.1 (T-2) 87.3 (1)
Greece 53.9% (5) 86.6 (19) 111.5 (6) 89.2 (4)


(A quick key for those of you new here: eFG%: Shooting percentage combining two and three pointers; Pace, possessions per game; Off. Rating, points scored per 100 possessions; Def. Rating, points given up per 100 possessions.)

Yes, the USA has been the best-shooting team in the tournament, but after watching them against Germany I still am not comfortable. The Germans did not turn the ball over, so the USA had to rely on its half-court offense and in the first half they missed a lot of open jumpers. And they led by one (40-39) at the break. For the game they shot a weak 43.5% (eFG%) and just 25% from three.

That likely will be good enough against Greece. Looking more closely at the stats (I have yet to watch a Greece game), they can’t stop a team from shooting well, allowing opponents to shoot 53.5% (eFG%) against them in the tournament (that’s 18th out of the 22, for comparison the USA allows 49.8%, 10th best).

What Greece counts on is creating turnovers —30.6% of opponent possessions end in a turnover (for comparison, the gambling USA defense has led to 29.1% of opponent possessions becoming turnovers).

Except that is a bad mix against the USA — Paul, Wade, LeBron, Hinrich, really none of the USA primary ball handlers are going to give up many turnovers. And, if you don’t stop them from shooting well… let’s just say it should be a long night for the Greeks. Look for the Greeks to try to slow the tempo way down, and I’m curious how the USA will adapt.

But both Spain and Argentina play a better, more traditional defense. And they are not going to turn the ball over much. For that game, the USA will need its half-court offense to click. But let’s worry about that hurdle once we’re past the Greeks.

5-0, and now it gets serious

Kurt —  August 25, 2006

Superior athleticism funneled into a pressure defense has netted Team USA four impressive wins at the World Championships — it’s the Italy game that is the outlier. That’s also the game gave a blueprint to teams like Spain and Argentina, and it’s going to be harder to come from behind against those teams than the physically-outmatched Italians (who should have gotten away from man-to-man in the second half).

Just how impressive has Team USA been? Here are a few stats through five games:

They are averaging 82 possessions per game — actually not far behind the number of possessions a game as the NBA’s slowest-paced team last season, the Memphis Grizzlies (85.9), who played 8 more minutes a game. The fastest college team in the nation last season was Campbell University at 77 possessions per game (Long Beach State was second at 75.8) in 40 minutes (although the shot clock is 35 seconds in college, 24 in International ball.

Team USA has an amazing offensive rating of 133.9 (points per 100 possessions), compare that to the best team in the NBA last year, the Phoenix Suns, at 113.9. Team USA’s defensive rating is 100.3 (points per 100 opponent possessions), which would have been the best in the NBA last year (the Spurs were at 100.9).

Team USA is averaging 14.8 more free throws per game than their opponents.

As a team the USA is now hitting a decent 39.5% on threes, although our opponents are shooting 43.4%. Overall, the US has an eFG% of 58.7%, compared to 51.9% for their opponents. Individually, Carmelo Anthony is shooting 66.9% (eFG%), LeBron James is at 64%, Chris Paul at 68%, and both Elton Brand and Dwayne Wade at 60%, all incredible numbers.

It goes on and on with impressive stats for Team USA, although to be fair blowouts like the Senegal game skew the numbers. But that should not take away from how good the USA has looked or how important it was to win the group and get the easier path to the finals (I’m not worried about Australia).

But the USA has some flaws, which Italy exploited. Italy got the ball inside on penetration then kicked out for open-look threes — the best international team do that well, as Team USA advances they will see more of it and needs to defend it better. Italy didn’t turn the ball over as much and slowed the pace. The good news about the USA defense is they showed they can get away from the full court pressure defense against the Slovenians, which was smart against a team that can handle the ball so well. Fortunately, Slovenia wanted to run with more athletic USA squad, a foolish error.

What worries me is that team USA’s half court offense often reverts to the kind of isolation basketball that cam be a death sentence in international ball. Team USA does not move well without the ball, particularly when there is a pass inside to a big. They can become stagnant, and the better teams can defend that, leaving team USA to hope Carmelo gets hot (like he did against Italy) or someone else can step up and carry them. There needs to be more movement in the USA’s offense.

Team USA has impressed, they are amazingly skilled and, and I like how they fought back against Italy. But right now they are just one of the favorites and their best games had better be in front of them if they are going to win the gold.

Big Norman turns 70

Kurt —  August 22, 2006

This month Wilt Chamberlain would have turned 70. Long after his playing days and his passing, he remains one of the more complex and misunderstood men ever in the game, a giant who could be both intimidating and gentle. A man who never received the universal love of the fans and who, unfairly, was often blamed for the shortcomings of those around him.

He’s also one of the few NBA legends I’ve ever met (out on the beach in Pacific Palisades, when he was playing a lot of beach volleyball and so was I). My friends and I were all a little intimidated by him, but he was always polite in the brief conversations we had.

In honor of his birthday, there are a couple of interesting stories out on the Web today. The best is an excerpt of Roland Lazenby’s book The Show talking about Wilt that really is a must read:

Jerry West: “The ironic thing about Wilt was that he never seemed to be relaxed and fun. I think after he got out of basketball, he became much more relaxed. Much of it had to do with the fact he was Wilt Chamberlain, and no one pulled for him. I think those things really bothered him all his life. There’s no question it was tough to be a giant.”

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Bill Bertka (about Wilt coming to the Lakers): “(Laker coach) Butch van Breda Kolff was at a party at my house in Santa Barbara when he heard that Chamberlain was being traded. He was upset. Butch didn’t have anything against Chamberlain or his effectiveness. But you had to have Chamberlain in the post, and that dictated a style of offense that Butch didn’t particularly like. He’d rather have all five men moving, all five men interchangeable and sharing the ball. Van Breda Kolff had had the great Princeton team. Schaus coached fast-break basketball. When Van Breda Kolff came in, he had a great first year, the second year was even better, and then they acquired Wilt. He wasn’t an admirer of Wilt’s game and how he could fit in.”

If you like the excerpt on Roland’s blog, you really need to get the book. It is a great history of the Lakers.

Bill Dwyer, the former Sports Editor at the LA Times (and a Notre Dame grad, so you know he’s a good guy) has been doing some history pieces and also provides some insight into Wilt:

In dozens of ways, Chamberlain was quirky.

He was known to eat fried chicken just before game time, and hot dogs at halftime. When he traveled, he wanted his seat on the plane to be front row, aisle seat, right side. He played 1,045 games without fouling out. His soft drink was 7-Up. Always 7-Up.

All of this helps give you a window into a man that can be argued is the greatest Laker, and maybe the greatest NBA player, ever.

Fast Break

Kurt —  August 21, 2006

It’s the dog days of summer for NBA bloggers, with little news worthy of debate. I just look at the Countdown to tip-off at the right and think, “That long?!?” Still, there are a few things worth noting.

• The good news: Kobe, wearing a #24 jersey, will be on the cover of the NBA 07 game for Sony Playstation. That and his new marketing deal with Sony are signs that his reputation is starting to rehab, not so much with Laker fans (where it never ebbed as much) but with hoops fans and the general public.

• The bad news: Last season it was Amare Stoudemire on the NBA 06 cover. The last time Kobe was on the cover was 02, which was the last edition before his fateful trip to Colorado. Let’s hope there’s not a jinx involved.

• Brian Cook says he has been working out hard this off-season — and with good reason, he’s a free agent next summer.

“I’ve been watching a lot of game tape and working out, trying to make my body stronger and quicker. I’ve lost a lot of weight and am down to about 242 or 243 (pounds) right now,” said Cook, who was listed at 258 pounds last season. “I’ve learned I have to be able to run with these quicker guys.

“I’m watching film because I want to know how teams are playing me. Since I can shoot, they’re going to run at me, so I’m working on being able to put the ball on the floor to be a playmaker, to get the ball to the open man. I’m also working on improving my defense, being a good team defender and drawing charges, grabbing rebounds.”

• Roland Lazenby’s latest blog post is well worth a read, if for no other reason than to get a description of Phil Jackson’s Montana retreat. It sounds a little nicer than my digs.

• There have been a couple minor changes to the site — a new search feature and you can now click on the header at the top of the page and get back to the home page (finally). A few more things are in the works, but it will be a little closer to the season before they go live.

2-0, but…..

Kurt —  August 20, 2006

After watching both Team USA games in Japan (thank you TiVo), it’s clear that we deserve to be undefeated. And it’s clear we still have reason to be concerned.

The reason for my nervousness: outside shooting. The same issue that plagued the team in Athens two years ago and that some of us were concerned about early on. Through two games, Team USA is shooting just 31.9% from three (compared to 48.9% for their opponents). Overall their eFG% is 55.7% — good if you’re an NBA team but not great for a team with a three-point line nearly three-feet in from what you’re used to and a team counting on easy baskets from fast breaks.

UPDATE: I wasn’t expressing my other concern because it had been only two games, but it should be noted that the gambling USA defense has not slowed other teams scoring. Through two games USA opponents are averaging 113.5 points per 100 possessions, for comparison Argentina is at 95.6. I decided to bring it up after stats guru and Cav’s employee Dan Rosenbaum started discussing it on the APBR message board.

I have a theory on why Puerto Rico hung close– they have an NBA guard handling the ball much of the time and they were facing the USA for the fourth time in the last few weeks. The Puerto Ricans were used to the defensive pressure. China was not – their guards were not as good and they had seen the USA only once.

The USA has not looked bad, but the weaknesses are clear. Against a team with good guard play that will not turn the ball over 24 times in a game (like China) the USA is going to have to rely more on the half-court offense. And that means better shooting – guys like Wade can break down a zone with penetration but you still need other players to take advantage of the kick-out passes off the drives, or bigs who can find space when there is defensive rotation. Right now the USA just has the penetration part down.

Kirk Hinrich is an exception, he is hitting 66.7% from three, and Joe Johnson and Shane Battier have hit 40% of theirs. Wade was great against China. Dwight Howard is a force on the boards as well. But those are the only people worth mentioning. This team clearly misses what Redd and Kobe could bring.

The next game, against Slovina, should give us a better idea of this team’s capability. I still expect them to get through group play undefeated. Hopefully the remaining games will give the team the chance to work on its deficiencies before things get serious.