Lessons Learned

Kurt —  September 1, 2006

Because as a nation we can often be both arrogant and impatient, sometimes it’s hard for us to admit things. Like that, playing the international game and rules, parts of the world have caught up to us in basketball. It’s hard to accept that the USA made strides toward being the best basketball team on the planet in the FIBA tournament despite the loss to Greece. Good steps were taken, but maybe we need to face up to the fact we had a long way to go and it couldn’t be done overnight.

But there is a deadline, at least in my mind, and it’s two years away. The real question is what steps do we take? How do we get there? I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’ll throw out some ideas for discussion.

1) Getting many of these guys back for next summer’ Olympic qualifying tournament. The problem was never really the USA’s offense — sure, there are some gearing weaknesses, but even in the loss to Greece the USA scored a fair amount of points. But defense takes a team. A team that has seen the pick and roll enough as a team to know their roles in stopping it. Learning defensive schemes and rotations do not happen overnight. Up until they faced Greece, team USA’s defense had gotten better over the course of the tournament. Playing together next summer makes these guys more familiar with each other and the team’s defense.

2) Outside shooting. While Team USA’s overall shooting percentage was the best in the FIBA tournament, nobody that watched them play thought their outside shooting was consistent. For the tournament they shot 36.8% from beyond the arc (not what you’d hope for a 20-foot line), and they shot just 32% against Greece and 25% against Germany the game before. I don’t have the stats from the midrange (sorry I didn’t get up at 3 to chart games) but it didn’t feel impressive either. This can be solved with personnel — Redd and Kobe are places to start, but more outside shooters are needed.

3) Movement within the halfcourt offense. If the USA could not get into transition, it looked like the USA wanted to go with the Phoenix “set the high pick and let the ball handler create” offense. Except that we don’t have anyone with the experience and savvy of Nash. And that meant guys stood out at the three-point line and let Paul/Wade/LeBron/Anthony drive, and they watched from a nice vantage point. I’m not saying run the Princeton offense, but there needs to be some movement, particularly against the zone.

4) Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream. Believe it or not, this USA team looked better than the one I remember from two years ago. It starts with a process that was better for selecting players and getting them in synch. The up-tempo, aggressive style was an improvement. They’ve got two years to build on that.

to Lessons Learned

  1. I knew it. The US team reminds me of all those teams, in all those leagues I’ve played in over the years. You know the one. The one with all the athletes(ringers) that join a league and pretty much dominate… until they meet that one team. The one team that is a little older, has played together for a couple years and doesn’t get rattled. Usually size and athletism will wear down and overwhelm most teams. But not every time. Sometimes the less physically gifted TEAM plays a great TEAM game and beats the athletes.


  2. Hey, first of all, I must admit I was wrong. I didn’t expect that Greece would be able to beat the US, but I also expected the US to play differently.

    I’m going to make an analysis of what was wrong with team USA point-by-point with no statistics backing it up (stats are definetly not everything, although they help).

    So let’s get this started….


  3. 1. Player rotation during the tournament

    Every USA team, tries to rotate through the 12 players (10 this time) while trying to provide equal playing time for everyone. While this proves to be very motivating when playing against lesser teams, when you play against the best you must behave like the best. You need to have a starting lineup well defined and give more playing time to the ones who are most effective.

    For instance, Carmelo was the only scoring against Germany in the previous game at one point (he was with 4 for 4 on FG that period) and yet he was benched. LeBron was messing up the whole game and yet he still played longer than others. Did coach K planned the substitutions BEFORE the game? Is there some sort of subs plan which he must obey? (e.g. “three mins to go and we’re doing good with Hinrich… Hmmm, but the book says that Paul must come in… Better replace Hinrich now”)

    Am I the only one to find this completely stupid in important games? Who cares if LeBron (and others) doesn’t like to be benched? Victory comes first, and those making the bigger contribution must be on court…

    Yet, this is a problem that comes from every US national team. I was at the 1999 Youth World Championship and watched Spain (with Gasol and Navarro) beat the US in the final match. I was watching that game next to the Coach of Brazil and he kept talking on what would happen to the US if the coach kept changing the lineup. His predictions were right…

    Ok, so, a last reminder to every national coach that might read this… an international game is NOT an all-star game. Rotate the players against weak teams, use the best against the best. Period. (Or get the original dream team 15 years younger)

    PS: that youth championship was nice (I’m one year younger than Gasol) with a certain Andrei Kirilenko being named MVP if I recall 😉


  4. 2. Outside shooting

    You can’t fail open jumpers and you can”t try to dunk over everyone in international games.

    Why can’t you miss open jumpers? No need to explain.
    How to solve it? Make a different player selection and choose proper players that DON’T miss them.

    Why shouldn’t you attack the rim everytime? Well, since the FIBa basketball has no defensive restrictions (while the NBA has some weird rules regarding that), weak side rotation is much better. Simply put: when Wade beats his man off the dribble, I can guarantee you that there will still be one man between him and the basket.

    How can you solve this? Simple, HIT THE OPEN JUMPER!
    Why? Your man will have to be closer, which means you can beat him off the dribble and stop and hit the jumper. There’s also one other thing related to this…


  5. 3. International rules and referees

    Referees usually allow more contact in international games. And the more you whine, the more they will allow others to slap you around. Is it wrong? yes, it is. But learn to take it like a man and pay it back. (Yes, this is for you LeBron)

    Oh, and there is less superstar protection, although Wade and LeBron still travel a lot without hearing the whistle.

    One side note: is it bad when the coach doesn’t know the rules? In the final minutes, coach K tried to call a timeout after the greeks had shot their two free throws. This is not a FIBA rule. Timeouts are granted between the free throws, not after the final free throw. If he doesn’t know things like that, how can a team say that they “adjusted” to the international rules?


  6. 4. lack of versatility

    How many US players had an inside-outside presence/game? That’s right… If your game is uni-dimensional, then the matchups are on the side of the defense. Ok, they were athletic and skilled enough to still outplay the 1on1 defense. But what about the zonal defense? Where were the low post threats able to hit both the free throw shot and the baseline jumper? And what was Bosh doing there? He looked like a kid…

    If you see most european teams, they all can shoot from outside and dribble and play the low post if needed. Of course some are better at one thing than others, but still, they can do it…

    Which leads me to one other thing


  7. 5. back to basics

    Said over and over again. 10 to 15 years ago, the NBA game was more polished. Players took pride on little things and had a proper footwork with nice shooting mechanics. Since everyone wants to make a $ fast, too many kids are skipping college (or at least most of it).

    Stay in college longer and give them time to develop and remember that…


  8. 6. younger doesn’t mean better

    Young american players are often inexperienced when compared to european players of the same age. You may say, “oh, but Dwight Howard has 2 full NBA seasons at age 20”.
    You’re right, but what competition or pressure did he have when he was in high school? Close to none.

    Maybe (and I know what I’m saying), the 20 year old greek has been playing in greeks main championship for 4 years now, with pressure surrounding him since he was 13. European players play in clubs which are responsable for thei whole formation as a player. They play against kids their age one day, but they practice with the top players and sometimes even play games with the main team.

    That allows them to deal with the pressure from an earlier age and still learn a few old school tricks, like complaining to the referee the right way or getting the offensive foul call… you name it.

    Brad Miller was a bad choice as the older player. They needed someone of the likes of Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce… An older cat who could take charge of crunch time situations, carry the team and play his heart out on both ends. Leading by example…


  9. 7. half-court offense

    Ok, you might have read this before but… International games are not about athlethics nor skill alone. You need to get some movement in order to get EASY shots with some patience.

    8. defense

    Shane Battier can’t guard a whole team alone… You needed better defensive stoppersand more heart. Nothing much to say really, although the defense wasn’t THAT bad. The greeks do know how to shoot the ball…


  10. And most of all, take notice that the bashing of the american team has a purpose.

    The US still have the largest talent pool and yet is not having the success everyone demands. The fault isn’t on the players but on the coaching staff and the current system. Play to win, not to prove a point. Get a coach with triple digit IQ on the bench and try to keep players in college longer. IF you really WANTED to win, the US would be unbeatable for the next 10 years or so…

    End of the LOOOONG speech


  11. So much analysis, and yet the real story is very simple. In the game, the refs neglected to add in the degree of difficulty weighting to the scores. Had they done so, as the NBA marketing handbook has required since at least 1992, the US would have, as it should have, been declared the winner.

    For example, at the end of the 3rd quarter, DWade beat 4 different Greeks off the dribble on his way to the rack. Sure, the 5th guy stripped him of the ball, and the Greeks scored a layup at the buzzer. But if there w eredecent and honest refs in this game, like say Bennett Salvatore, Flash would have been awarded at least 1 point, maybe 2, for his freakish moves.

    So it’s that simple. Either David Stern takes over FIBA basketball, and installs his highly prfoessional refs in the 2008 Olympics, or I don’t see why the US should even field a team.

    Give those Greek short shorts and who did they look like? They looked like Celtics of Russell, Couz, Nelson, Havlicek, et al. That’s right. Stiff white guys and Oreos. Who needs that? Been there, done that.


  12. Peter, i dont think the refs are the cause of the bad results.
    look, i’ve been defending the NBA over the FIBA fanatics for ages. they said that NBA isnt about real basketball because they just play the isolation, that they care more about phisic than talent, that they dont know how to work without ball and atack the zones.

    now i have to defend the FIBA, at least for this time.
    the REAL reason why the US arent in the finals is because they dont know how to atack the zones, they dont move the ball because they are used to shot on the isolation, they think more about hey! i need 3 more assist to go for a triple double, im gonna pass the ball then.

    i strongly believe the NBA is the best league in the world, i strongly believe any NBA starter could dominate the most strongest domestic in europe like spanish or italian.
    and what i most strongly belive is that, as in soccer happened with Brazil, they thought they were so good that they didn’t need to work much on it bcuz they rule the world.

    no men, international basketball is about heart, is about playing hard till the last second, its crying at 90 seconds to go because your team is 1 over, you broke your foot and you wont be able to help your team to win the gold.

    its not about thinking: Damn, if we dont get to the finals i wont be in the All-Worldchamps team.

    i will always love the nba, and i enjoy much watching nba games than fiba games, but please, dont look for fake answers at the question: why we couldnt beat a team with just an NBA player that hasnt even played a game yet while we are all All-star players?

    and of course, tomorrow i’ll be in a bar, with a beer in my hand, cheering Rudy’s dunks, calderon’s layups, navarro’s 3s, garbajosa’s leadership and GASOL’S ANKLE while he’ll still be crying inside his heart for not being able to help his team win the gold.



  13. Peter,

    You forgot that since it was single elimination – the equivalent of the playoffs – Dwade should automatically gets free throws every time a greek player lookedat him in a way that was less than awe humble and amazed.

    Also the US should have been allowed 3 balls so that LBJ D-Wade and ‘Melo could work their magic at the same time, as befits super stars of their stature.


  14. Sorry for leaving out the smily faces 🙂 in my comment. I was being sarcastic. I agree that there exists no greater individual skilful players than the US players. But since Jordan started to win championships, a couple of things happened: (1) every kid wanted to me like Mike, and (2) the league’s income skyrocked.

    Now, 14 years later, the league is still trying to milk money from pushing individual stars, and those individual stars seem to have no clue how to play off the ball, why it might be better to kick the ball out after the 3rd defender arrives even though you know you can beat him, etc.

    So now USA basketball is a circus, while the rest of the world seems to playing hoop circa 1990 and before.

    To me, Greece resembles the championship Pistons, Red Sox, White Sox, Patriots, etc. On all of those winning teams over the past few years, there was no clear MVP on the team. Same with the Greeks.

    I further believe that the NBA finals this year was a throwback to the Jordan days, with Wade serving as a second coming of Jordan. I can’t shake the feeling that during the finals this year, the league’s income interests in Wade bled into the games.

    Then we get to the FIBA games, and we see what Wade really is: A phenomenal athlete, and skillful player, who seems to have been seduced by the NBA sucking his dick so much so that he’s forgot how to play as the team player he used to be back in Marquette. That combination of attributes may be what works in the NBA, but it works nowhere outside of this country.

    That Wade scored 32 today in the win against Argentina will, I suspect, keep the US stuck in losing mode for the next few years. Battier’s quote after the game said it all. He said something like: “Wade thought he was back in the NBA finals and it was great to watch him”.


  15. Hey, is it only me, or is anyone else of the opinion that the FIBA rules actually make more sense than the N BA?

    I love it that the team can actually beat the individual (see Dwayne Wade in the finals).

    I love it that you must learn how to pass the ‘rock’ to get a shot.

    I love it that a fancy move doesn’t automatically draw a defensive foul.

    I actually like the combination of the trapizoid key and more physical play. A nice combination that gets the ‘Shaqs’ moving and still allows some banging.

    Keep the 6 fouls and 12 minute quarters, tho.


  16. Does anyone want to surmise the result of the tournament if the USA had a healthy Kobe?


  17. Yes, he would have played his heart out, gotten injured, and then the Laker’s season would have gone down the drain. Look what happened to Pau.

    I mean the world championships is important but give me NBA success any day. Call me a short sighted american, but I grew up in Turkey so I do have some perspective.

    Also Roland Lazenby has a great blog, as usual. Well worht the read.


  18. Well I have to eat crow instead of Sheridan. The one game I didn’t get to see is the one they lost – I was partying because it was my last night in Baltimore; I was honestly shocked when I woke up to see the score and that the US lost. I still haven’t seen the game but from what I’ve heard, Greece basically ran one play all day and the US couldn’t stop it. 2004 Lakers anyone (when teams would run the high pick and roll and Payton would ALWAYS go behind the pick, giving Billups/Hamilton/etc a wide open look.

    There is no excuse for team USA. Renato, as long and detailed as your analysis was, in my eyes it is pretty much useless. A lot of what you said is heresay and conjecture – it’s no good keeping kids in college longer (where superstars completely dominate a weaker talent pool), the team was coached to play an aggressive style of defense that they did well. 10-15 years ago the NBA was certainly not as “polished” – that kind of good old days reminicising might get people by in the retirement home but come on; these are some of our most unselfish, talented, and fundamentally sound players (Howard, Lebron, Paul, Anthony, Miller). We aren’t throwing the AND1 team at them here.

    We knew all of that coming into the tournament but we failed to make use of it. Coach K did a great job motivating his players but a poor job with the actual coaching. I think the blame goes all around and I wish I could watch the Greece game to actually see what they did wrong.


  19. These complaints about Wade and the NBA offensive style seem a bit misplaced. It was the inability to defend against Greece that killed us, not so much any offensive missteps. Our superstar offense was pretty good.

    (And Wade has always had a fantastic Assist Rate anyway.)

    “Yes, he would have played his heart out, gotten injured, and then the Laker’s season would have gone down the drain.”

    While that would certainly be dissapointing for the season, an early Kobe injury would be the best thing that can happen to this franchise. You guys could really use a high lottery pick in next year’s stacked draft if you want this team to get anywhere before Kobe’s prime is past.


  20. Kurt,
    This blog and the ensuing comments are as good as it gets. Great observations, very little bull and no loonies. Just people who love and understand basketball.
    Your comments are killer. Especially the half-court offense. There’s work to be done, but a loss now could actually prevent a worse one later, in Beijing. Win out in the world championships and the Americans don’t face up to their issues. Now, I’d be surprised if they don’t win the gold.

    Roland Lazenby
    author of The Show


  21. Roland, thank you for the kind words. And it is the commenters and visitors here that make this humble little blog special.

    You had some greeat points in your recent post too (which I’ll be linking to in a new post Sunday nightt or Monday morning). But, if the core of this group stays healthy and you can add Kobe and Amare Stoudemire (who could provide good post defense along with a stronger and more mature Howard) and this team even gets better. Still need some movement in the halfcourt offense, but the personnel should be better in two years.


  22. I just tried to explain why the coaching sucked the way it did. Make no mistake, there were two different ways the US could win against Greece. (Spain is a whole different game).

    1. Getting consistent shooters ingame. (Redd, Kobe)
    2. Getting a decent coach. Motivational speech is important, but you need someone who knows what he is doing. I’m just mad at seeing that fast rotation the US teams always use. I want to see the best playing against the best and throwing everything they have at each other. That kind of rotation does not allow the US to be the best they can be.

    If my comments are conjectural, then you must be refering to the part I talk about the old game and keeping kids in college longer. Well, maybe you are right, maybe keeping kids in college longer wouldn’t get them to learn the fundamentals, as they should be learned before they reach college.
    Then, the problem might be even deeper and harder to solve than I thought and, if so, I’m really not qualified to talk about it.

    Regarding the game against Greece, I recomend you watch it as soon as you can. The greeks didn’t use the same play all the time, rather used a system that seems to work against the US. The game was a clinic on how to play half-court offense… The greeks are smaller, slower and less explosive. What led them to victory then?
    Better fundamentals, better shooting and a higher basketball IQ (or maybe even a better coach).


  23. Team USA should run a motion style offense against any man to man D. If would force all the superstars to keep the ball moving. Pass and screen away. If the ball stopped for some ball hogging 1 on 1 move, everyone would see it right away.
    Against the zone D, we need a couple more SHOOTERS. Not SCORERS. There is a difference. A REAL shooter will stick a WIDE OPEN jump shot. Especially on a swing pass againt a zone when he catches it and shoots in rythm. The problem is alot of Team USA players want to catch, take a few dribbles, and then take some kind of girlfriend shot.
    On Defense, they need to quit gambling so much. Lastly, I didn’t see a vocal leader on the floor. The co-captains are D Wade, LeBron and Carmelo? Give me a break. They’re too young and don’t have the experience and respect of others to get in anyones face. I think Kobe is that guy.


  24. i can’t believe any of yours have some words for the world champions. if the usa had won it i bet you’ll be saying the US rule over the planet.
    now all you can say is excuses why the us didnt.

    isnt it this site a comunity of inteligent basketball lovers who enjoy real basketball?????
    or is just that the envy is too huge that you can just walk away as the US did

    im not against you all, i just wanted to know how you saw the FIBA world champs


  25. Xavier, congratulations to Spain on the win. From the little I saw and all the reports I read, Spain is the deserving winners.

    I say from what little I saw becase here, for example, the USA games were all on at 12:30 and 3:30 in the morning, so I only saw the USA gmes delayed on Tivo (save for the couple times my four-month old kept me up), and while the USA games werre on one channel the other nations were on another. so I didn’t see enough of Spain to form a detailed opinion.


  26. I live in the United States of America. I was born here. I care most about our basketball team. I understand your sentiments Xavier, but I feel you are being unfair. It’s like asking a Lakers fan to appreciate how awesome the Phoenix comeback in last year’s series was. For me, being a fan of my team can sometimes overshadow my love of the game as a whole. Please understand this feeling. We aren’t slighting the rest of the world’s basketball teams. Quite frankly, we’re trying to figure out what went wrong for our guys in the hopes that those mistakes can be corrected. Don’t mistake analyzation with making excuses.


  27. Kurt, Rob. i appreciate that.
    I’m impatient to see the next World Champs in Istambul. then, Ricky Rubio (future top3 draft pick, remember this words) will be 19 and will play with all the Gasols, Navarros, Rudys, Calderons…
    its just once in loads of time that you get to see these guys together. they are not All-star players in the nba, but they are all friends (they have been together in the spanish team since they where 16, and they won the U16 world), they all know the other one cellphone and they call each other just to know how are they doing.

    thats what have given them the Tournament. they play together with the eyes closed, because they know how their team-mates move.

    when the US team will have a group of friends playing basketball together for 5-8 years, then, they will beat by 25 the team that defeated the most talented team since the 92′ dream team


  28. Xavier,

    Congrats are definitely in order. What other team could lose a star like Gasol and still win?

    Roland Lazenby
    author of The Show


  29. Xavier, I was rooting for Spain as well. Ok, maybe portuguese are not very fond of the spanyards historically, but Spain proved they had the best ball game. Oh, and they showed the world how to play defense. Offense wins games, defense wins championships. The cliché applies perfectly to this championship.



  30. Thanks Roland (love your articles man, you do a great job) and Renato. even im really happy for it, i would change FIBA gold medal for an NBA finals Lakers-Heat with Kobe hitting the wining 3-point in the seventh game over shaq trying to block him.

    am i dreaming too much? well the gold medal was dreaming a lot for us hehe

    but no joke, world champs is past, now im 100% into my lakers and nº24 looking again for an MVP season and go through the 1st round in playoffs


  31. Here’s hoping Gasol is back and healthy in time for the NBA season, as well as hoping for Laker wins.