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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12 responses to 5-0, and now it gets serious

  1. worlds recap

    USA, Argentina and Spain have the homeworks done. they are the proven teams to beat.
    France’s Gerabale quoted yesterday: if today was the Final game, Spain would win including the US.

    teams doing good job:
    Germany. despite “only” having Novitzki on the roster they still being a tough team to play against
    Greece. their group is one of the easiest ones but they showed good teamwork and they can surprise anyteam (ala Italy in the 2ndQ with the US team)
    Italy did a good job. bellini showing NBA flashes vs the US
    France. they can do more, too much preasure on the espectations may hurt them

    Championship surprise:

    ANGOLA

    these guys managed to put in trouble Germany in a Triple OT and lost to spain for “just” 10 points
    the France-Angola Matchup will be the most exciting in the first Win-Or-Go-home games

    Previsions

    i see Argentina Germany USA and spain passing the first game without any problem. Italy playing a quality game beating the non Jasikevicius Lithuania. a poor Turkey-Slovenia game. Greece shooting good over a great performance in the low post by YAO and a who-ever-can-win game between France and Angola

  2. The two players this team is missing most are Michael Redd and Kobe. Both of them are money from behind the international 3 -point line. Right now they only have Hinrich. You have to take advantage of the shorter 3-point shot in international play because most of your opponents can nail it. Team USA is praying that full court pressure D will keep the other teams from being able to set up their offense and get good looks at the 3ball. We’ll see if that philosophy works.

  3. I think the USA’s style of defense and uptempo game is the right move against 90% of the teams in the world, the USA can simply overwhelm them and get the win. They need to play to their strength. The concern is can they adjust for the three teams that will force them too? But you’re right, Redd and Kobe and I’d be less concerned.

  4. Worth a read: John Hollinger on the USA’s path the finals.

    http://www.nysun.com/article/38597

  5. Okay, I know the USA team is supposed to fear the international squads, but let’s get real. Melo and Co are head and shoulders above the other teams. 2004 happened because of lack of will and refusal to adjust their game to fit the international play/rules. That is not the case with this team.

    When I watched the Italy game, even when USA was down, they still looked the better team. Italy never exhibited play that put any doubt into my mind as to who was going to win that game. And that was our wake-up call? Our guys will win gold now that they realize that’s the three-point line they shot in high school.

    I apologize for being so rah-rah USA, but our local sportswriters have seemed incapable of recognizing how good this team is. The drama of LB is over. Enjoy the ride.

  6. I’ll reserve judgement until I see the US play an actual powerhouse.

  7. The team needs smarts more than it needs more scoring. Kobe will help, but Billups will be more important than Redd. LeBron and Wade are obviously more athletic and talented than their opponents but I’m not getting the impression they are self-aware and adjusting to the situation.

    At this point give me Paul/Heinrich, Billips, Bryant, Battier, Brand.

  8. FYI … Ronny Turiaf stats:

    – solid rebounding: reb/40min = 13
    – weak shooting: TS%=34%, eFG%=33% (3 for 9att)

    still showed great defensive energy in the games i saw.

  9. On an unrelated note: Am I the only one who thinks the veteran presence of Othella Harrington would be welcome on this year’s Lakers squad?

  10. You want to buy out a garunteed contract for Harrington? And whose minutes are you taking away to give him? He’s played a lot of center but is really undersized for that roll. Would you take away Turaif’s minutes at the backup four to give Harrington? Take away time from the developing player for a 10-year-vet who was never great and is past his prime?

    Like it or not, the roster is basically set.

  11. He’s back…

    The Warriors have fired Mike Montgomery and brought back Don Nelson. That should make Baron Davis happy for a couple of minutes….

    “Two league sources also said that Mullin recommended Montgomery be fired after the regular season but was overruled by ownership.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2006/08/29/SPGF2KR9MV2.DTL