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.

Kurt

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