Archives For August 2008

If you haven’t checked out HP’s entertaining live blog during the Spain vs. Greece game, check it out. Spain won pretty handily but didn’t exactly light the arena on fire. Their guard play was pretty good and I agree with HP, Rudy was very impressive. But overall, they weren’t the dominant force you would’ve expected given the hype.

1st Quarter

The crowd is so loud. There are probably 2008 people in attendance.

Yao Ming drains a straight away three pointer. This could be a very awkward game if Yao turns into a sharpshooter from distance. Only because he’s going to be breaking out the Tiger Woods fist pump after all of his makes.

Kobe, who has been tasked with guarding Lakers signee Sun Yue, just shot a corner three off the side of the backboard. Well, I’m sold, Team USA is clearly going to win the gold.

Yao Ming is playing like a man possessed by Allen Iverson’s spirit. He’s diving all around and running full speed.

Mike Breen informs us that FIBA has decided to go with three officials on the floor, instead of the usual 2. They should go with 2008 of them.

Number 6 on the Chinese team drains a super tough three pointer. I was thinking this game was going to be a blowout and Team USA would just walk away with this one and I could make all kinds of jokes about Kobe carrying Dywane Wade home, accidently mistaking his bald head for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Apparently so did team USA.

China has been mad impressive so far. Yao just stuffed the Mamba.

Doug Collins has some keys to the game. And they display the keys in a graphic that looks like the inside of a volcano. I want to know what was going on at that design meaning.

Executive 1: Hey, China’s main color is red. let’s use that.

Executive 2: Okay. And let’s add some fire.

E1: No too cliche. How about Lava.

E2: Yeah. Lava is badass.

E1: Maybe we don’t want too much red in there. People’s eyes will bleed. How about, sky blue?

E2: Done and done. These people are going to love it. Do you think anyone will suspect we’re board members of the Volcano Tourism Committee?

E1: Heh Heh Heh. Why so serious?

Kobe just nailed a long three point shot from the left wing.

COOKIES! Wade is going with the double kneepad look tonight. He just picked Number 7’s pocket out high. Free two points. Wade’s resurgence has absolutely been the story of team USA so far this Olympic season.

China is not only surviving on the three pointer, China is only trailing by 2 at the 3:20 mark.

#4, Chen, does a little Ginobili European shuffle through the lane and Team USA celebrates with some matador defense. Bravo Bravo.

HAHAHAHA. Chris Paul just got sent flying by a mean pick by Yao Ming. It was totally awesome.

Sun Yue is suppsed to be the Chinese Magic Johnson, but Mike Breen just said #8 is the best ball handler. Not necessarily a good thing for the Lakers to find out that their new PG hope isn’t even the best ball handler on a sub par team.

Oh look, Coach K got off his chair to coach a little. But he won’t call time out? What a cocky poop face.

President George Bush, the elder, is in attendance. So is the current President.

That floor is kind of a mini travesty. Especially the half on the right side of the TV. People have been slipping too often. Most notably, the Greek point guard, Spanoulis can now send in an audition tape for that show on ABC; Wipeout (the one with the big red balls). He had a clear breakaway and his footing just gave way. He didn’t even try to change direction. Just running in a straight line. There was more spectacular spillage on that play than at a lingerie store in Beverly Hills.

#4, Chen JH tries a little HORSE shot and the refs disallow it. “off the shot clock, off the back of the backboard, nothing but net.” That was what he called. Execution lacked a little bit. The ball didn’t come close to going in. A for effort though buddy.

 

2nd Quarter

Yao Ming is looking svelt. But he’s still rocking baby cows for legs.

Dwight Howard shoots some good looking free throws.

I’m so glad that we’ve got real basketball announcers. You should’ve heard the announcers from earlier…hold on.

Lebron James just pwned China. He CAUGHT a China layup attempt two-handed and sent it down the length of the floor for an easy dunk by Wade! A block would’ve been spectacular. But this was unbelievable athletic. Kevin Love has nothing on that sequence, including his much fancied outlet pass.

As D12 is shooting free throws Wang ZZ throws his hands up like a reverse Cameron Crazy. Dwight misses. I love it.

Apparently in Olympic play you are allowed to two hand shove people in the waist as long as they don’t have the ball.

I’m happy to see Redd in the game. Hopefully he’ll get some real playing time.

Magic Johnson drills a three pointer. That’s 7 of 11 from behind the three point arc for China.

So back to the point about announcers. Sometimes on the basketball channel there are no announcers. And sometimes, like during the spain vs. Greece game, we get assaulted by Snapper Jones and some other guy calling the game from New York. Speaking of that game, How come no one told me Marc Gasol is a fatty? And the announcers even said he had slimmed down tremendously. That’s absurd. There is no way he is going to be a force in the NBA. Unless you are counting the mass * acceleration type of force. He’s got plenty of that.

Kobe sends a brief memo to his future teammate, Magic Johnson 2.0, that he’s not a nancy boy by dunking in his face. Magic Johnson, it should be noted, is wearing a magic arm sleeve. Maybe he forgot to put in the batteries.

Craig Sager is not wearing his trademark crazy suits. He’s just wearing a regular button up shirt with the top button undone. He’s interviewing Jerry Colangelo who says that it’s just about the US staying focused on their own play and not worrying about who they are playing. Isn’t that the same cockiness that got us in trouble before? Confidence is great, but seriously, we haven’t won a major competition in years! EXASPERATION!

Dwyane Wade leaves number 10 WIDE OPEN behind the three point line to double on Yao Ming away from the basket. Wade forgot to read the game plan, don’t leave the shooters.

Jason Kidd reaches into the time machine and throws a great over the top pass to Chris Bosh through all kinds of traffic. It’s the kind of pass you get in trouble for if you play organized ball at the youth level because it is such a low percentage pass. 2 points.

Dwyane Wade to Lebron James for a vicious one handed alleyoop. Team USA turns up the pressure. And gets a turnover. 16-3 run helps the good guys pull away a little. 45-32. With about 2 minutes to go.

Yao Ming disposed of Chris Bosh going after a rebound. Just took his left arm and pushed him to the ground. No foul called. Chris Bosh, it’s time to man up.

Wade might be earning his nickname back: Flash. Nice baseline semi fast break finish against Yao Ming. It was speedy and delicious.

Carlos Boozer checks into the game, but disappointingly for Kyle, he’s not in there with DWill and there’s only 27 seconds left anyway.

Liu Wei is apparently Yao Ming’s best friend. They make s’mores in their dorm rooms and share bedtime stories while drinking hot cider. At least I hope that’s what happens.

Coach K actually does call a timeout to draw up a last second play and it ends with Kobe picking up his pivot foot apparently. Up until that point it looked very good. Traveling is very different than in the NBA apparently. Team USA goes into the Olympic sized locker room leading by a dozen. They put up 29 points that quarter.

Team USA is 1/12 on three pointers. That’s not going to get it done in the tournament. But they are forcing China into shooting a low overall percentage.

Halftime

My friend who’s watching the game on the east coast right now said that the NBA on NBC theme song makes its way back into the fold, but so far I haven’t heard it. And you have no idea how disappointed I am. That song is permanently ingrained in my parietal lobe somewhere. John Tesh, you are my hero. Maybe it isn’t on because I’m watching the special basketball-only channel which doesn’t even show commercials. (It just shows replays or a wide angle shot of the inside of the arena. No, they don’t seem to do halftime promotions where little kids try on Yao Ming’s shoes and race up and down the court. If you were curious.) Anyway, NBC has decided to tape delay their “real” coverage of the game for the West Coast so I’ll check it out again at 10am. Finding out what time a game is actually going to be on is tough enough. Finding out what time it is going to broadcast, is even tougher. If you wanted to watch Russia vs. Iran yesterday, you would’ve set your tivo to start recording the basketball channel at 6pm. But the joke’s on you brother! For some reason, NBC showed the games all out of order. Well technically, you could’ve watched the first 8 minutes of the game without commentary (which is very eerie) but then NBC pulled the feed. I have no idea what was the point of that. NBC’s Olympic coverage is really frustrating if you are trying to find a specific matchup in a specific sport. That being said, I love that the Olympics are in HD goodness.

 

3rd Quarter

Kobe starts it off right with a drive and dunk. Snakes can strike at any time.

Hahahaha. Doug Collins is doggin Yi and all of a sudden Yi dunks the putback over Melo’s back. Damn son. There might be problems bigger than snitchin if you’re gonna let Yi do that to you.

Magic Johnson just stuffed Dwight Howard’s fast break layup attempt. Ridiculous. The batteries are workin now!

I like the USA basketball jerseys and I even thought about buying one until I found out the replica version costs $80 and the authentic version costs $150. I’m not a baller. I gotta say though, whose idea was it to make white names on a white jersey and blue names on the blue jersey? Someone had to have thought “you know, this might be IMPOSSIBLE TO READ.”

China’s hyperdunks aren’t quite so hyper anymore. It’s 60-45 with 3:20 left to go in the third.

Everyone shortens their breaths a little as Yao Ming twists his ankle on Kobe, who had fallen under the basket. Yao gets up gingerly but it doesn’t look too serious. Probably just sore for a few days.

Kobe gets a fast break opportunity and does the simple one handed jam. The crowd is a little disappointed. They were expecting a back flip due to the hyperdunks.

Dwyane wade picks another pocket. This time he tries a fancy reverse dunk. Lebron should win MVP of this game but Wade/Flash has definitely had a positive impact, especially on defense/transition.

Yao Ming is back in the game looking fine. He might be favoring his ankle just a little.

Couple of noteable Jazz notes here. Deron Williams just tried to posterize Yao. He came up a little short. Coming back the other way, Boozer did his classic Boozerness. He reached and fouled a guy going to the basket.

Yao Ming apparently didn’t appreciate the DWill dunk attempt and just roofed DWill’s layup. Aww, stupid refs called a foul. That wasn’t a foul. Just awesomeness. There is no charge for awesomeness. Or Attractiveness.

President Bush declares mission accomplished and he’s out of here. 81 – 50 is the score. Unlike a previous declaration of mission accomplished, this one will probably stick.

You gotta be proud of Yao. Even though China won’t win this game, he is still playing his heart out and the fans love him for it. He’s been fighting for rebounds. Refusing to concede baskets on defense. And he goes out to a rousing ovation. Goose bumps people. With perhaps 500 million Chinese people watching on television, there is a lot of pressure on this team. And they’ve done very admirably this morning.

Most Impressive US Players: Lebron James and Dwyane Wade.

Most Impressive Chinese Players: Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian. Honorable Mention Liu Wei for not turning over the ball in the face of that intense US ball pressure.

 

-nomuskles

Breaking Down Team USA

Reed —  August 8, 2008

Due to particularly oppressive slave-driving from The Man, I was not able to watch any of the Team USA exhibition games. However, my good friend Kyle (my arch nemesis during hundreds of heated and poorly played pickup games during law school), has been breaking down the games and roster in a series of long emails that warm the soul during oppressive work weeks. Since his thoughts were so insightful, and with Kurt out of town, I asked Kyle to fine tune those emails into the following Team USA breakdown. — Reed

On Sunday night, the USA Basketball team officially begins its latest pursuit for Olympic gold and for recognition as the greatest basketball country in the world. In preparation of this, I have put together a breakdown of each player’s performance over the last few weeks during the exhibition schedule. While I tend to be a stat guy by nature, for this analysis I primarily used my observations of the games. I am not going to recap any of the games (plenty of other sites have done that), just the overall performance of each player. Unless noteworthy, I will not discuss their performances in any specific game, just my overall impressions. For those of you who have watched the games, your impressions may differ from mine so feel free to chime in. For those of you who didn’t see the games, don’t blast the analysis based on your NBA experience. As has been well documented on this site and others, the international game is vastly different from the NBA game and NBA skills do not necessarily translate into international skills or vice versa (see Carlos Arroyo). Away we go:

J. Kidd: The decline is significant, noticeable and not at all troubling (unless you’re a Dallas fan). Kidd will play the first 4-6 minutes of each half and then will likely sit out the rest of the time. He took two shots in five games, which is about right. He still runs an effective break but his ability (or lack there of) during half court sets hamstrings the offense. I am glad he is on the team for leadership and experience but even more glad he doesn’t get the bulk of the playing time.

K. Bryant: Pardon the blaspheme but so far, Kobe has not looked very good. He is gambling far too much on defense and when the other team scores in a half court set, it is usually Kobe’s guy that does the scoring. That can’t happen as Kobe is supposed to be our defensive stopper (our Doberman if you will). He needs to stop going for the home run on defense and stay put with his guy and stay more aware of back screens and back cuts, both of which have been used effectively against him. It is as if he is so juiced to lock his guy down, that he has forgotten all of the basic defensive principals that have made him one of the better defenders in the league over the last decade. Offensively, Kobe has looked out of sorts. He keeps taking long 3’s, which doesn’t make sense. If they are going to give you thee points for shooting a mid range jumper (the international three line is just behind the collegiate three line), take the mid range jumper. With all of the above said, Kobe has not yet had to guard any good players and when he finally does, I think he will shine. I would like to see USA use him more like Redd on offense. Set some off the ball screens for him and get him open 3’s, like they consistently do for Redd. He is just as good of a shooter when open, but since he doesn’t move on offense (not at all, not even a little), he ends up getting the ball four feet behind the 3 line and chucking up some terrible looking shot.

L. James: His strength is unbelievable compared to the international players. I think he is playing exceptionally well and will likely be the MVP of the Olympics (not sure if they have that award, but if they do, he will get it). On defense, he is playing consistently and doing a good job of getting into the passing lanes. He is rarely burned by his own guy and when he is involved in the pick and roll defense, USA is in good shape. His height and speed allow him to trap the ball handler and effectively prevent the pass to the screener. I think this has impressed me the most. On offense, he has played within the system for the most part and is I think our 3rd most effective offensive player (I will discuss the other two below). He attacks the rim, like he should, but he is also getting into the paint and creating little six foot jumpers that are essentially gimmes. He is also shooting well from the outside which makes him practically unguardable. He took over the Australia game down the stretch, which is the reason we won.

C. Anthony: Offensively, I have no complaints. He is a bit of a chucker but he has been tagged as the team’s first offensive option so I am ok with that and in some ways like it. For purposes of offensive rebounding (Howard), it is nice to know where a lot of the shots are going to come from. He settles some for his jump shot but it is consistent enough that I don’t mind too much. The only exception to this was the Australia game where he ended up going 4-13. It is imperative that Coach K keeps tabs on Anthony if we are going to win gold. When Anthony is on, he is perfect for international basketball because of his size, strength and quickness off the dribble (relative to the speed of his opponent, who is usually the 4). When Anthony is off (see Australia game), he is a gigantic liability as he is our worst defender (by a fair margin) and not committed to rebounding. As I said, on defense, Anthony is just terrible. Doesn’t move his feet and lets his guy get too many offensive rebounds. As he is the 4, it is critical that he spends a lot of energy on the defensive end fighting for position and keeping the other big off the glass. Anthony has not really shown a willingness to do that yet and it has hurt the team some. I think the good teams are going to use Anthony in the pick and roll and USA will have to rotate out of position to make up for his poor defense which will eventually leave some outside shooter open. This is what scares me the most right now.

D. Howard: Fouls way too much and lets the physicality of international basketball get to him. This is a major issue and makes me even more furious that Chandler didn’t make the team. What is Howard doing that Chandler can’t do? You cannot run the offense through Howard because there is too much zone defense in international play and because the trapezoid lane makes it difficult to get good post position. Howard is there to rebound (on both ends), block shots (doing that very well) and be available for the around-the-rim pass. All things that Chandler does just as well as Howard. The reason Howard is always in foul trouble is that in international ball, the refs (A) suck, (B) suck, (C) suck and (D) like to call petty fouls against the interior defensive players, even though the bigs may have been elbowing each other for 20 seconds before the offensive player got the ball. In terms of what Howard is doing, I love it and think he is great. A bigger concern right now for Howard is that he appears to be in Coach K’s dog house. Coach K doesn’t like how Howard has gotten chippy with the other players and Howard’s tendency to gloat after good plays (he did this a lot during the five exhibition games, more than any of the other players, which was frankly shocking to me as I thought Howard was the nice, humble Christian). This bugs me too as the days of US dominance are over. Lets hold off on the showboating and rim hanging until we actually win an international tournament that matters. Hasn’t happened in six years.

D. Wade: Remember when Wade was in the discussion for best player in the league with Lebron and Kobe? Me either. But I do remember when he was a lock for an All-Star spot. That Wade happens to be back, wearing red, white and blue and playing the best basketball on Team USA. His windmill ally-oop dunk the other night was jaw-dropping (I actually let out an And-1 Mix Tape Tour like ‘holla, and as a white, middle aged guy, that is something). He is playing angry right now and it is positively scary. He is attacking the rim and breaking ankles left and right. The best is that somewhere along the lines, he picked up the Ginobili side-step that looks like a travel but isn’t. To complete his comeback and to once again cement his spot in the All-Star game starting line-up, he has been consistently hitting his outside jumper. On defense, he’s omnipresent and getting his hands on every loose ball. I am not sure of the stats but it feels like he is getting a lot of rebounds for his position. Just a force of nature and has answered all the questions about his come back. I love him coming off the bench by the way (though I would have him in my starting line-up). He is Ginobili 2.0 (two Ginobili references in one paragraph, nice), All-Star quality that comes in after a few minutes when the other team is getting a little winded and just creates havoc.

C. Paul: Disappointment so far, though he had an improved game against Australia. Some flashes of brilliance when he takes the ball into the paint but way too many turnovers and terrible defense. His outside shooting has improved, which is nice, but he keeps trying to make street ball plays which is nonsensical (please accept the fact that we cannot run most of the teams in the Olympics off the court). I think he has been tagged as the Kidd back-up, which is fine, but he has still not found his international groove yet. Maybe he is just too small for the very physical nature of FIBA, I don’t know. What I do know is that he needs to settle down and play more conservatively or he is going to cost us a lot of points. As I mentioned above, in the Australia game, Paul looked much better. When he got by his guy and the Aussies didn’t rotate to him quickly enough, he used his little teardrop to effectively score. That is the Paul that is dominating in the NBA. Too fast to keep in front of you and smart enough to immediately decide if he should shoot or pass. I think he was trying to be too much like J. Kidd in the first few games. In the last game he played like Chris Paul and we need Chris Paul.

D. Williams. Second best player so far. He is the perfect FIBA PG and a pretty darn good SG. He is a bulldog guarding the ball and plays the passing lanes as well or better than anyone on the team. I think the coaches thought Redd would be the zone buster but turns out Deron gives you everything Redd does plus a ton extra. He runs the break almost as well as Kidd and certainly better than Paul (Paul is trying too many dumb passes). He is hitting his outside shot consistently and every ball that leaves his hands looks like it is going in. He rebounds well, both high (jumping for boards) and low (running in and grabbing the lose boards). As mentioned, he is defending superbly. Finally, his penetration is the best on the team at this point and he can finish around the rim with power and/or finesse. He was also involved in my favorite play so far. During the Russia game, the Russians ran a pick and roll against Williams, who ended up switching onto Russia’s giant center. The center then tried to get position on Williams in the paint. The center might as well have been trying to move a house. Williams didn’t budge and I’m pretty sure the center got an elbow in his kidney for his efforts.

M. Redd: Giving us exactly what we expected, if not a little more. I like his energy on the offensive end (running around screens and trying to get to the open spot) and his determination on the defensive end. He is a great addition to the team.

C. Bosh: Nancy, first class nancy. Doesn’t rebound well against big men, doesn’t finish around the rim (no jumping ability and small hands) and isn’t hitting his outside shot. I’m not sure how many times he is going to drop a perfect pass before Coach K goes with Boozer over Bosh. I hate Bosh and hate him even more because Chandler should be on the team, not him. To boot, he sucks on defense and makes terrible decisions on the pick and roll (consistently gets screened and then guards no one as his guy rolls to the basket forcing the other players to rotate, leaving someone open). The only positive thing I have to say about Bosh is that he hits his free throws, unlike the rest of the team. I’m telling you right now, if Bosh gets major minutes once the elimination games start, we will lose.

C. Boozer: I think he has played well. He is the second best rebounder behind Howard and does a good job defending the rim as the center, even if he is undersized. He finishes weakly around the rim but his weak finishes tend to go in (a la Malone). As I discuss more below, the best thing about Boozer is the way he plays with Williams.

T. Prince: Fine. He should be the 12th man. He is too skinny to be a great defender in FIBA. Still, he rebounds well, gets his long arms in the passing lanes and hits the occasional open shot. I like him but his game doesn’t translate too well in international basketball. I don’t see him getting many minutes at all. Sure would have been nice to use this spot for either another big (hello Chandler) or a player committed to playing in 2012 (hello Durant).

Now for a few general impressions on the overall team, though most of it you can glean from my thoughts above.

Offense: What I expected. Constantly pushing the ball to create easy offense and when forced, going into isolation or pick and roll basketball. If forced into a half court game, Wade and Williams, or at least one of them, need to be in the game. They give us our best chance of breaking down the defense and then hitting the open players around the rim or at the 3 line. I’m a little disappointed that we still don’t have any plays at all. Maybe they are being saved for the actual competition, lets hope that is the case. The only time our players seem to have a purpose on the offensive end (at least in half court sets) is when Redd is in the game. Then we run a Pistons type offense keyed at screening players to get Redd open shots. I like this offense but feel we should also run it for Kobe, Anthony and Williams, all of whom can hit the open outside shot. I would also like to see more pick and roll rather than throwing the ball to Anthony and Lebron at the elbow which is our go to play. I hate when we try the Shaq offense with Howard (throw the ball into the paint and hope he scores or they double him). Howard is not skilled enough yet and the bumping and grabbing allows by the refs almost always leads to unnecessary turnovers. Howard should only get the ball when he is in a position to finish, not when he will be forced to create.

Defense: I have mixed emotions about our defense. On the one hand, we are playing aggressive and seem totally committed on the defensive end. On the other hand, we are being too aggressive and getting exploited because of it. The best part of our defense has been our commitment to trapping the pick and roll and our efforts at pressuring the ball up the court. This forces teams out of their sets which is key, as well run offenses can still beat USA. What has hurt us the most on defense is that the players are so keyed on ball denial and high pressure on-the-ball defense, that they expose themselves to back cuts and back screens, both of which have been used effectively against Team USA. Kobe is especially guilty of this. While a high pressured defense creates turnovers and thus avoids us having to run offensive sets, it also leaves us vulnerable to the Princeton style offenses that are so prevalent in international play. What is most frustrating is that many of the players on the team are great team defenders (Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Williams, Paul, Howard) but for some reason, when they landed in China, they checked their defensive IQ’s at customs. Obviously we are more athletic than our opponents, but when a team has good guards and solid passing big men (hello Spain and Argentina), a high pressured defense often results in open baskets for the other team. Sorry to rant, this is really bothering me. We need to control our emotions on the defensive end and play a more team oriented style of basketball. Finally, our defensive rebounding is not perfect but what did we expect? We don’t have a four other than Anthony, who is Tin Man like in his heartlessness. I think the guards are doing an adequate job of trying to help out and Howard is really flexing his muscles when he can stay in the game.

Best Line-Up: This is obviously debatable, but I think our best line-up is Williams, Wade, Kobe, Lebron and Howard. Williams has been the best PG so far and with him and Kobe on the court together, Wade’s and Lebron’s penetration should lead to a lot of made 3’s. I would play a lot of pick and roll with Williams and Wade (using Howard as the screener). I would also try to run Kobe off of some screens and get him open looks. When the offense breaks down, we would have the 3 best playmakers on the court (sorry, Kobe isn’t one of them at this point). On the defensive end, we lack size but only just. Lebron is huge compared to most international players so he can play the 4 just fine. Kobe is certainly tall enough to play the 3 with ease. Williams is a big PG and can guard either guard position. In terms of subs, I think Paul goes in for Williams. No Kidd at all, he gets to play the first few minutes but then must cheer from the bench. As for Wade, when he comes out, I would either put in Redd or move Williams over to the 2 spot. Kobe’s primary back-up should be Lebron (i.e., Lebron or Kobe should be on the court at all times, same with Williams or Wade). For Lebron, bring in Anthony or Boozer. If Williams is in the game, I would make a special effort to use Boozer rather than Anthony. Though they didn’t play together often during the five exhibition games, when they did, the chemistry was palpable (shocking right, teammates for 82 games a year play better together than guys who play 10 games together each summer). Howard can be spelled by Boozer or Bosh. Prince and Kidd should stay off the court as much as possible, unless it is a blow-out.

Conclusion: I have serious, serious concerns about our team. We still don’t have an offense and on defense, we are too arrogant in thinking our athleticism will overpower our opponents. I am hoping beyond hope that Coach K has some offensive sets up his sleeve. I’m also hoping that we can figure out how to tone down our defense when needed. If my hopes are in vain, I think we lose in the elimination round, probably in the semifinals. If you have watched international basketball over the last five years, you know very well that America has the best players in the world, hands down, but that we are not the best team, probably not even top three. Can great players beat great teams? Didn’t happen in LA vs. Boston and I don’t think it will happen in the Olympics. Am I totally hopeless? Absolutely not. I trust Kobe and I trust Coach K. I think there is more there than they have let on, or at least that is what I’m going to be telling myself until August 24th (the gold medal game).

–Kyle

The new 08-09 NBA schedules are out, including the Lakers.

My thoughts at first glance — the Lakers should get off to a fast start. With the depth of the West there just are few if any “gimmes” but the front end of the schedule is fairly friendly. First, 10 of the first 15 games are home games (and one road game is at Staples against the Clips). While that stretch of games includes a couple against Dallas and one against Detroit, it is not a murderer’s row.

Overall 27 of the first 46 are at home.

The big road trips and some of the toughest games come in late January when a six-game east game road trip that includes Boston and Cleveland among others. Then there is March, which includes most of a seven-game road trip and where for just over a month the Lakers have 12 road games and just five at home. Among those road games are some trips through Texas (which is never easy)

Bottom line, there are going to be some periods in the middle of the season and nearing the end when wins will be harder to come by and the Lakers record will likely flatten out a little. So they need to fatten up early, gain some momentum that can carry them through the season.

The good news is the final few games in April include ones we think should be winnable, which will matter trying to jockey for playoff seeding. In a deep West, there likely will be a team in the bottom half of the bracket you want to avoid (Portland?).

The Lakers open the season Oct. 28 against said Portland Trailblazers in a TNT game at Staples (what to start taking bets now if it starts on time?). The next night the Lakers get their first back-to-back of the year, taking on the Clippers (on ESPN).

Christmas day, the Lakers at least get to be at home this year but they are playing — against the Celtics. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. First comment by an announcer that this game is going to be different than last year’s finals should be at 2:01.

Overall, the Lakers have 24 national television games (that would be 29% of their games). Not sure what the NBA TV schedule is yet, but a few more may land there. The rest will be available on regional broadcasts (Fox Sports West and Fox Sports Prime Ticket).

A couple other links worth checking out:

Hoops Addict is doing the Floor Burn Tournament — a breakdown of the guys around the league who are not the stars but do the dirty work to help a team to win. Asked to nominate a Laker I said Sasha Vujacic (Kobe may actually be the best floor-burn guy on the Lakers but we’re talking non-star). In the first round, Sasha is up against Nick Fazekas of the Clips (and winning so far). Go vote for the man — I’d say he’s a better three-point shooter than anyone you can vote for come November, but then I saw that Obama clip. (Can we sign him for the vet’s minimum? It’s more than he would make as President.)

Really interesting Kobe Bryant interview at youtube, one where he talks about life growing up (hat tip to True Hoop)

For those of you jonesing to play GM this summer there is a new fantasy league set up that is governed by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement — you can’t just sign every free agent you want. It’s run by PASPN.net and you may want to check it out.

On a different note, I wrote in the last thing I did on Team USA that they were doing well against the zone. And, at that point, they had been, even against Lithuania they showed a lot potential with some ball movement and getting the ball inside to bust a zone. But against the matchup zone of Russia and against Australia they regressed. They went isolation and didn’t get the ball to a big flashing through the paint. The outside shooting went cold. These are correctable things, the kind of things that these players know how to do. Having an off night shooting in a “friendly” is no big deal. But the team cannot get into bad habits then flip the switch come the quarterfinals. It almost looks like that is what is happening. Coach K. needs to snap that out of them before things matter in the quarterfinals.

Finally, this is my last post for a couple weeks, as I am off on vacation (Chicago and visiting some cousins-in-law outside Detroit). The posts will keep coming around here, however, from some of your favorite sources. There will be plenty of international and other ball to talk about. Talk to you all mid-August.

Olympic Scouting Report

Kurt —  August 5, 2008

Regular readers of this site know Xavier, a professional basketball coach living in Barcelona (who recently earned a well-deserved promotion). He has a very good blog although the updates have been slow because he’s been working. The guy knows his stuff, and he has seen most of the world’s basketball teams much more than we have, so he was kind enough to do a little scouting report for this blog. Enjoy.

Teams to beat

While sorting the teams and ranking them, there were only 2 with more than 8 players other teams should take pretty serious and those teams were Spain and USA.

USA

On paper, this team is the greatest ever since 92’ Dream Team. You don’t need me to tell you about these guys but I can help with how they fit into FIBA ball.

You guys have been discussing how pick&roll killed the US team other years. That’s true, but it’s mostly because US team doesn’t know how to play team defense. What Celtics did to the Lakers was team defense, and that’s what USA should play in order to compete.

American fans belief the team is thin at the frontcourt. It would be thin for the NBA but not FIBA. Melo should be one of the main weapons of the team (he has the perfect combination of skill-set, size and athletism for a 4 in FIBA ball) playing the PF backed up by Prince or Boozer depending on the situation while Howard and Bosh hold the C. For me it’s perfect.

One thing I have some concerns is team mentality. Lebron and Wade promising the gold medal after all those years of disappointment? Twelve alpha dogs in the same team…How many balls do this team need to have all players happy? Having 3 great PG it’s not enough, you need guys who can play without the ball to get the right mood to be great. Will they be able to do that?

If this can be solved, damn we’ll have fun watching this team.

SPAIN

Their names may sound familiar to you. Four NBA players (Gasol brothers, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon) three former NBA (JC Navarro, Raul Lopez and Garbajosa) and one soon to be NBA (Ricky Rubio).

Jose Calderon would be a starter in 25 of the 30 NBA teams, Navarro and Rudy Fernandez are one of the best 1-2 punches at the wings and the Gasol brothers are sick at the frontcourt. Marc Gasol quick improvement might send Felipe Reyes to the bench while shifting Pau to the 4, anyway this 3 headed monster is a pretty good one to have. Throw in Garbajosa playing some 3 and 4 if you wish to be more pleasant with it. Carlos Jimenez, team captain and one of the best European glue guys, may start at the 3 but I expect to see Navarro and Rudy in crunch time.

But this is not just about names. These guys have something other teams don’t have. They are all FRIENDS. Gasol, Calderon, Reyes, Lopez and Navarro have been together in the national team since they were 15. Their team chemistry could not be better and that give them a plus over any other team.

One guy you’ll probably want to see is the 17 years old sensation Ricky Rubio. He’s smarter than any other player his age. Led the ACB in steals last year (second was his team mate and now blazers rookie Fernandez) while just playing 25 min per game. He might not have many minutes because he’s the third PG behind Calderon and Lopez.

Coach Garcia-Reneses loves defense and use it to confuse rivals. For the years I’ve seen him coaching, his trademark has always been “don’t let them think on the offense, make them run on defense”. An NBA scout told me that it’s a shame NBA teams doesn’t look for coaches overseas because Garcia-Reneses would be a great steal.

The team will be playing with a high tempo but not rushing, creating the game not from quick steals but from exhausting defense.

Contenders

ARGENTINA

I understand why Ginobili and Oberto play in San Antonio — because Argentina is the closest team to the Spurs. They might look old, and they can play dirty basketball, but they win. Argentina is that team that’s always there playing for the top spot.

They are built from the inside-out. Scola is a monster inside the paint and Oberto will be his sidekick in the frontcourt. Nocioni, Ginobili and Delfino handle the outside scoring while Pablo Prigioni takes the ball to the best chance to score the ball.

I don’t know how Ginobili will be when the tournament starts but what I’ve seen in a couple pre-olympics games is that he’s not 100%. With Ginobili in killer-mode they are a team to beat, without they are a step behind USA and Spain.

LITHUANIA

Linas Kleiza might be it’s only NBA but Lithuania’s heart and soul is Sarunas Jasikevicius. His NBA career wasn’t as dreamt but in Europe is a basketball god. I’ve seen Saras with the team around him, listening, and then leave the huddle 100% motivated. Saras is the consummate leader.

Two guys I like a lot are the Lavrinovic twins. Darius and Ksystof are the pair of interior players of the team. They are comfortable leaving the paint so defenses might be aware of that while defending the low post.

The twins, Kleiza and Jasikevicius will be on the starting 5 along with Ramunas Siskauskas key member of CSKA Moscow Euroleague title.

Jasaitis(SG-SF), Javtokas (C), Kaukenas and Maciulis (SG) will play a big roll from the bench.

GREECE

I’ve heard many times I’ve heard that the Greek pick&roll killed US 2 summers ago. Guys, by then the USA was too confident and inexperienced in FBIBA play — and that’s when they had to face the best pick&roll PG in the world, Theo Papaloukas. It’s incredible how he read the game. His favourite play is a right handed pick anywhere the court (pretty often from the top of the key and even from half court) and get to the paint to see what happens. Once he’s there he takes his time. Look right, look left, walks thru the bigman forest, fake it with his head and while he’s heading out dish it from nowhere or take it out to start it over again.

Dimitris Diamantidis, a superb defender and good playmaker, is the other PG of the team, and will probably see lots of minutes at the SG as he’s also one of the stars of the team. Both PGs are over 6-5 feet tall.

There’s just 1 player shorter, team’s first scoring option SG Vassilis Spanoulis. You might remember him for his one-year tenure in Houston leaving the next year saying he was homesick. The truth is that he reminds me a lot to former Grizzlie JC Navarro but Spanoulis didn’t have a coach who gave him a chance to show his game.

The guy Greece will be missing a lot is Lazaros Papadopulous, one of the top 5 bigman in Europe, who said he would not be playing for national team anymore. Without him they’ve lost their core interior weapon.

I want to see to see Clippers draftee Sofoklis Schortsanitis, nicknamed Baby Shaq because his strength… and because he weigh the same as Shaq at 6-9. I heard a story of him that Olimpiakos sent him to a weigh losing center and came home with some pounds more than how he entered. Concerned, the team looked the bill of the hotel and saw that the room service bill was quite expensive…

RUSSIA

Winning Spain in last year’s Eurobasket finals makes me give them some respect, and that’s why I consider them contenders.

JR Holden has been playing great lately making CSKA Moscow consider trading European superstar PG Papaloukas (finally traded to Olimpiakos). He is never tired, could play 44 min per game and be able to hit the big three in crunch time. That said, he’s not the best playmaker.

The playmaking of the team relies in Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. I don’t know what goes thru AK mind when playing FIBA ball that changes his offensive arsenal lately hidden in Salt Lake City.

This team relies a lot in three pointers. Holden, Khryapa, Monya, Pashutin can shoot out the lights and even AK jacks some long range bombs. Alexey Savrasenko will be an important player in the paint helping AK.

Big bodies closing the lines in defense while playing the drive and kick in offense.

Bubble/Enigma teams

GERMANY

You can never count off a team that features Dirk Nowitzki but for me this team has more questions than answers.

Kaman asking for the German nationality was as a gift from above for Germany as the C position was held by the old Patrick Femerling. He and Dirk may lead the team or head early back home.

Other bigmans of the team, Tim Ohlbrecht and Jan-Hendrik Jagla are two of the most inconsistent contributors in Europe. Ohlbrecht is still young at just 20 but skinny for the five spot. Time ago he was projected as a top 20 draft pick but his lack of presence could not get him even an important contract in Europe. I’ve seen Jagla scoring 5-6 3’s one game and the next shoot 2-12. I like this guy, he got game, but at 27 years old you are supposed to be more consistent and offer a solid contribution every time you hit the court.

Outside the frontcourt, this team is pretty thin. Pascal Roller (PG) and Robert Garrett (SG) are the two vets who can deliver it more constantly but I would not bet my money on them.

CHINA

I was thinking of handling China the ALL-ENIGMA TEAM award. Outside of Yao no one here is proven.

Jianlian Yi, newly acquired by the Nets, has potential, coached when young as a wing player he grow late and became a face to basket 7 footer.

There are two other interesting prospects in the squad. Lakers draftee Sun Yue and Chen Jianghua.

Sun’s case its pretty similar to Jianlian’s. When he was young he was short and played the PG since then one day started to grow quick — really quick — and now is a 23 years old 6-9 PG. Talent is there but he doesn’t really knows how to use it. More over, he’s been out of Chinese team for political reasons (Beijing Aoshen, his pro team, didn’t want its players play for the national team years before and they were excluded from Chinese league, since then the team plays in ABA league) so his spot in rotation may not be clear at all right now. Might see also minutes at the 2 and the 3

Chen Jianghua is a 19 years old speedy PG from Guangdong. He is considered one of the best talents in China where few short players have become worth watching. The squad is pretty loaded at the guard but he’s got a chance to take the starting spot.

CROATIA

Balcanic teams always inspire my fear. Croatia is a group of talented hard workers. They started a youth movement a couple years ago in the national team — Davor Kus (29) and Nikola Prkacin (33) are the 2 vets and are surrounded by the likes of new Raptor PG Roko Ukic (24), Popovic (26), Marko Tomas (23), Planinic (26), Banic (24) and Stanco Barac (22).

The PG duties are well distributed with Ukic and Planinic with both able to play the SG. At the wings will be Popovic, Tomas and Kus while Banic and Barac are two young frontcourt players with great work ethic and growing into pretty solid basketball players in Spanish ACB league.

Be careful with Croatia because is the kind of team that could beat bigger teams who are too confident.

Lucky to be there

Australia, Iran and Angola are 3 teams that got their passport to the Olympics because of regional distribution of invitations to keep the competition the more international as possible. I could start saying many teams that deserve this berth much more than them, starting with France, Italy, Slovenia or Puerto Rico.

Team USA and Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 2, 2008

A few thoughts after watching the USA v. Lithuania game, plus some other stuff.

• We still don’t know how this USA team will fare against a team that can maintain ball control against their aggressive defense — but the question really is how many teams are going to be able to do that? In this game the USA realized that Lithuania had one guy who is really a good ball handler, former Pacer and Warrior (and Terrapin) Sarunas Jasikevicius. They stuck Kobe on him to take the ball out of his hands, and with that the turnovers were flowing.

• All the USA wing defenders extended their defense way out beyond the three-point line. This made it hard for Lithuania to get into the pick and roll, but when they didn’t turn the ball over (when they settled down in the second quarter) Lithuania was able to get the ball inside and score.

• Lithuania did get into the pick and roll, in the first quarter the USA was generally aggressive and switching on defesnse. That left some mismatches big on small inside that another team may be able to exploit if they have the ball handlers. As the game wore on Lithuania was able to exploit this some with some baskets on good rolls to the basket. The USA had some confusion. It’s a kink the team still needs to work out.

• In transition team USA’s ball movement is fantastic. And fun to watch.

• D. Wade played some nice help defense.

• Lithuania really should wear the old Grateful Dead jerseys again.

• In previous Olympics and international competitions, team USA struggled against a zone. Not so far with this group — Howard is a good presence in the soft underbelly of the zone, Wade a d LeBron can drive into the lane, Kobe and Redd will just shoot over the top of it. Both are willing to shoot the NBA three, nearly three feet beyond the international arc, and defenders are just slow to come that far out.

• Against the second USA unit, where Chris Bosh is the center, the USA is soft inside. That may come back to bite them against a deeper team (Spain, for example).

Studies have shown that guys who played in the Olympics/World Championships are not any more likely to be injured the following season (although the sample size is pretty small). I think it will be interesting to see this year — if I were a Cleveland fan I wouldn’t be that worried about LeBron, but Kidd in Dallas is another matter. Will he be a little more worn down and not bounce back as fast? That matters as dependant as Dallas will be on Kidd to contend.

• For the Lakers, I’m not that worried about Kobe after the Olympics. He takes amazing care of himself, plus he will get a little down time due to the hand surgery after the games.

Pau Gasol on the other hand, that has me a little concerned. Remember, he got a broken bone in his foot two years ago in the World Championships, missed the first few months of the season and was never quite right that year. That was a fluke accident, but flukes happen, particularly in the paint where bodies bang around.

• It’s been discussed in the comments here and everywhere else, but here are my two cents: Ron Artest makes Houston a top title contender — on paper. If Yao Ming can have a healthy season after the Olympics, if McGrady can stay healthy, if Artest can blend in comfortably as a third offensive option and not dominate the ball in crunch time, they can be contenders. That may be a lot to ask, but it is far from impossible. Much like Portland, Houston is a team that could be very good or very disappointing come February and March. By then we’ll have an idea if they are contenders or not.

• If you travel with your laptop, there are things you should know.