Team USA’s Struggles Against Brazil

Phillip Barnett —  August 31, 2010

USA's Derrick Rose shoots during his team's FIBA Basketball World Championship game against Croatia in Istanbul August 28, 2010.   REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT SPORT BASKETBALL)

After Team USA’s recent win over Brazil, it was hard to remain optimistic about their chances to bring home the gold. The Brazilians were able to expose Team USA during long stretches on both sides of the basketball before dropping a game for the first time in these FIBA World Championships.

Both teams got out to hot starts with Team USA scoring 18 points on 12 possessions in the first 6:40 and Brazil scoring 17 points on 13 possessions in the same time. We expected the US National team to be this efficient on the offensive end with their athleticism, but they’ve been winning their games because of their defensive prowess, and haven’t allowed opposing offenses to be as efficient as the Brazilians were on the whole first quarter and the better part of the second half. The Brazilians – namely Marcelo Huertas – lived in the paint in the first half. Brazil’s first five field goal attempts, all good, were in the paint. Their sixth field goal attempt was a wide-open three pointer after a penetration and kick out. Their next six field goal attempts after the three-pointer were in the paint. Of Brazil’s first 12 field goal attempts, 11 were in the paint, and one made three-pointer because the point guard got in the paint. To end the first quarter, Brazil hit three straight three pointers and Tiago Splitter was found for a wide-open dunk.

Brazil was able to pick Team USA apart for most of the first half, scoring 46 points on 43 possessions, giving them an offensive efficiency rating of 106.97 for the half. Brazil ran a plethora of screen and roll sets and back screens off of the ball, allowing Huertas to run amok the American defense, living in the paint and finishing with six points and five assists in the first half. Huertas’ propensity to get into the paint at will didn’t just propel their offense, but it helped slow down Team USA’s offense. The Brazilians certainly didn’t score on every possession, but a lot of their misses came in the paint, reducing the amount of long rebounds that get Team USA in their coveted transition game. When Brazil did take shots behind the arch, they hit them at a 63 percent clip. Team USA had to play a large portion of the game in the half court.

While Team USA did have some very good stretches of offensive basketball (a 150 Ortg for the starters in the first quarter), they struggled mightily in the second half. Team USA was able to stymie the Brazilian offense by trapping hard on their high screen and roll sets, but weren’t really able to put a good offensive stretch in the second half. Of their 42 second half possessions, 11 ended in turnovers and nine more ended in missed shots around the rim, 20 wasted possessions. Team USA had ball movement problems, recording only eight assists for the game (compared to 15 for Brazil). Kevin Durant was able to score effectively, but the rest of the team struggled for most of the second half – especially the second unit. With at least two reserves on the floor, Team USA had an offensive efficiency rating of 76.92 compared to an offensive efficiency rating of 100 when at least four starters were on the floor (these number aren’t counting an absolutely awful fourth quarter for both teams, which forced me to tweet, “4th Q numbers: 18 pts, 9TOs, 9 missed layups/tips, 10 missed 3s and 10 minutes of Lamar Odom looking lost” – and yes, those were the numbers for both teams combined).

What the Brazil game taught us is that Team USA can be beat by their opponent repeatedly getting into the lane, limiting their time in transition, and shooting a high clip from behind the arch. Brazil played Team USA perfectly in the first half, and went into the break with a 46-43 lead. And as bad as they played in the second half, they were able to turn Team USA over enough to finish the game only one possession away from a victory. The US National team is going to have to move the ball much better than they did against Brazil. There were too many possessions where shots were taken off of one or fewer passes. Also, Team USA’s second unit leaves much to be desired. Russell Westbrook has had shaky confidence entering games, and has had to gain that confidence as the game progressed. Turnover problems start with the point guard, and if Westbrook can’t hold onto the ball, it’s going to continue to be rough for Team USA to keep their play consistent for 40 minutes – which they’re going to need to do when the Worlds begin the elimination rounds. Team USA has today off, but plays again Wednesday against Iran.

Phillip Barnett

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12 responses to Team USA’s Struggles Against Brazil

  1. Although the USA men’s squad didnt play it’s best game, I dont think they have anything to hang their heads about. To pull out a close win against a decent Brazillian team, who by your post shot above 60 percent from behind the line, is a stepping stone in the learning curve of a young bball team. Im confident that Coach K will emphasis the little things that the team forgot about that almost cost them the game. For a team that is fairly new, playing against squads that have played with each other for a while. I must say I have been proud of the effort and determination to represent this fine country we live in.

  2. I too am proud of our guys, but not so much the coaching staff – unless, of course they are using this round as a teaching thing. However, coach K seems to be consistent about his use of starters. He is much like coach Jackson, in this regard. When you are in a best of 7 series this may be the best way to coach your team through its roles. However, we will soon be in a 1-and-done situation and we may be a bit sorry, a bit late.

  3. Craig,
    I agree with you on Coach K. I think he’s still feeling out what works and that has led him to lean on some guys a bit too much in the first couple of games. However, I also don’t envy him as he’s dealing with a lot of young players that aren’t always the most consistent guys (and even the vets aren’t guys you’d call steady), so he may just be going with what he trusts even if that’s not always the most prudent decision when it comes to the allocation of minutes.

  4. All I can say is that the US needs more Kevin Love and Eric Gordon.

  5. All I can say is does anyone remember what Artest did to Durant in that 6 game series? In my opinion the best man to man defense ever played in a series considering who Kevin Durant is and what he will go down as when he retires.

  6. Keep in mind that Durant is 21. Durant is a beast right now, but he’s also got a lot of room left to grow. If he keeps at it, he might reach Kobe’s skill set with his size, length, and athleticism. Just if we had a time machine at our disposal.

  7. There have been a number of players, over the years, who might have gotten to where Kobe is. The problem is always what’s in their head and how hard are they willing to work after they become the best?

  8. I think it’s time to realize and truly acknowledge that perseverance is just as innate and unchangeable a talent as height or athleticism.

    You can’t expect players to have Kobe-like mentality just because it is not a visible, physical trait. It is a very special talent, even more so if you stop to consider that the ‘other’ players are professional athletes who spend considerable time as is on their skills.

    That doesn’t mean, of course, that Durant won’t be as good a player in the overall sense. I just doubt that Durant will develop as complete and thorough of an offensive arsenal as Kobe’s, partially because he won’t need as much to be efficient (like LeBron).

  9. I understood that whole dynamic when I said what I said, and I agree that it is unlikely that Durant would dedicate himself to basketball in the same way that Kobe has. That said, Durant is a player that has added creases to his game every season, and he seems to possess a drive towards leadership. Will Durant develop the master movements as Kobe has? It is impossible to determine, but if there is a player in a better position to take the torch, Durant is he.

  10. From what I have read about Durant he is very coachable and very hard worker. His personality seems more like Tim Duncan’s, wuiet guy that goes and gets the job done. He’s not as flashy and ego-driven as James or intense as Kobe. He is a super talented guy and if he can continue to develop his game, getting better at using his ability to score to make other around him better, and working to get better defensively he could be one of the best players of all time.

  11. I’m a bit unimpressed with Coach K recently, particularly in how unimaginative he appears at both ends. True, in a group like this, you will get stilted ball movement and a bit of isolation heavy offense, but that doesn’t excuse him from running a pick-and-roll on nearly every play — this is FIBA ball after all. If anything, this team is stacked with point guards and nearly all of them save Westbrook are solid initiators of the pick-and-roll, which would also get the bigs involved in the offense a lot more.

    This also extends to the other end, where there is a huge lack of communication on picks and roll men often get to the rim with utter impunity. From time to time, the defense will play smart and blitz the ballhandler before the screen is set, but most of the time, the defense is lackluster. Perhaps Coach K is simply unfamiliar with it — you see a lot less pick-and-roll in college play and he never runs it — but that doesn’t excuse him for not developing some sort of defensive scheme for it, as FIBA play is basically all pick-and-roll.