USA vs. Argentina, and the Semis

Kurt —  August 21, 2008

I think my premise here is pretty simple:

Argentina may well give the USA their toughest test to date, but I don’t think Argentina can beat the USA unless the Americans help out.

A few thoughts to flesh that out. Argentina will try to slow the game down (the USA is at 81 possessions per game, fastest in the Olympics, while Argentina is at 69, the slowest) and because they have ball handlers like Manu that will not be coughing the ball up a lot they should be able to limit turnovers. That said they will give up some — sometimes against teams that bring high pressure and tempo it takes a while to adjust. The USA does that, with starters and off the bench. I think at some point in the first half the pressure is going to get to Argentina, maybe some subs, and the USA will go on a fast 10-0 run or so. Argentina will have to play catch-up from there, but I don’t think they can do it.

Argentina can score (their offensive rating through six games is 121 [points per 100 possessions], not bad but well behind the USA’s 129.1). They have good offensive talent, starting with Manu (Kobe on Manu is going to be fun to watch), but Delfino looked very good last game and they are a deep team (no, they are not, really). One thing the South Americans will have to do to win is hit threes — teams are shooting just 28.6% from three against the USA, to beat them you are going to have to shoot 40% or so.

But to win Argentina will need help — meaning the USA would have to be cold, particularly from the outside. The South Americans will have a hard time playing catch up on the USA, Argentina’s defense is not good enough to get a series of stops to make a counter run (they give up 107 points per 100 possessions, worst of the four teams left, compared to the USA’s 95).

That is to say, Argentina’s defense isn’t good enough unless the USA helps out. At times in the half court the USA just goes too much isolation and not enough ball movement (Kobe is one of the worst offenders). They get away with it because, well, Kobe and Wade and LeBron are very tough to stop in isolation. But Argentina has good defenders in Manu and Delfino, with Scola and Fabricio Oberto inside to help. If the USA’s offense stalls, if they shoot jumpers (especially early in the clock) and miss, it plays into Argentina’s hands. What will be key for the USA is less iso and more ball movement to get the ball into good position.

The thing to really watch is the tempo — if the USA gets turnovers and runs well, it could be another blowout. More likely, Argentina will keep it close for a while, but once the USA puts together one run Argentina will just not be able to catch up. I don’t think this version of team USA is going to help out opponents like past versions — they have been so focused on defense they will slow the Argentineans, and Argentina cannot slow them.

I’ll post some links to other previews here, starting with Basketball Prospectus. Now Fanhouse is in (from the amazing Ziller). Ball Don’t Lie links to a bunch of previews.

And one more link worth checking out — comparing Usain Bolt to Magic Johnson in a meaningful way.