In Praise Of Team USA

Darius Soriano —  September 13, 2010

ISTANBUL, TYRKEY. SEPTEMBER 13, 2010. USA's Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom (L-R front) hold up the trophy as the US team celebrate their 81-64 victory over Turkey in the final of the 2010 FIBA World Championship at Istanbul's Sinan Erdem Dome. (Photo ITAR-TASS/ Roman Kruchinin) Photo via Newscom

Yesterday, Team USA did what many thought they could or would not do – they won the FIBA World Championships Tournament and cemented their status as the best basketball playing nation on the planet.  The American team defeated host nation Turkey 81-64 and cruised to the title by playing the type of pressure team defense and Kevin Durant fueled offense that carried them the entire tournament.  A hearty congratulations to the U.S. team.

This is a team that earned our respect for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost is the fact that many actually picked a different nation to claim this title.  With the U.S. not returning a single player from the 2008 Olympic gold medal team, many saw a young, inexperienced team, that lacked size and leadership.  Many labled them the B-team.  But, as Kevin Durant tweeted after the game: “B-team huh?? Haaaaa we got it done…US, seat pleasant, dc, oklahoma city…we did it for yall..GOLD MEDALIST”. 

Secondly, they played a brand of team basketball that many were unsure they could actually play.  Guys that many may see as second (or even third) tiered players that are asked to carry their NBA teams on most nights, abandoned any selfishness and contributed to wins by playing to their individual strengths that can sometimes be dormant when they put on their NBA jerseys for their respective teams stateside.  I mean, watching Andre Iguodala become a defensive and rebounding force while eschewing taking shots for the betterment of the team? Rudy Gay doing the same?  Eric Gordon hustling on defense to the point that he caused shot clock violations almost single handed?  Sure these players have shown in flashes that they are capable of playing this way, but to show a nearly complete committment to playing the role(s) that the coaches envisioned for them on a nightly basis was a great treat.  The fact that their perseverance was rewarded with the ultimate payoff only reinforces what the U.S. is capable of doing in international competition – regardless of the make up of the roster.

Below are a few notes on some of the players with some random thoughts gleaned from the gold medal game and the tournament as a whole:

*Kevin Durant is a monster.  I suppose you could say that we knew this already and that this is no revelation.  However, his performances in the elimination portion of the tournament were exceptional.  Not only was his scoring fantastic (99 points combines in the final 3 games) but his defense and rebounding were top shelf too.  Plus, his ability to raise his game in the big moments was just fantastic.  It seemed like any time the U.S. needed a big bucket, Durant was there to put the ball through the hoop.  Whether by driving to the hole, showing off his impressive handle and mid range game, or by bombing away from long distance, Durant continued to prove he’s as dynamic an offensive player we have in the world while also showing a great understanding of “the moment”.  Some players that show that they’re the former never quite prove to be the latter, but Durant is both.  What a talent.

*As far as explosive guards go, I don’t know if there is one better than Russell Westbrook right now.  Sure, there are more complete PG’s (Paul and Williams immediately come to mind) and there are better floor generals (Nash, Rondo) but Russell is the type of guard that can get you out of your chair in an instant.  His quickness, strength, and athleticism combination is unmatched (even by Derek Rose) by any other point guard and measuring these traits for a “pound for pound” argument, I would say he’s right up there with some of the best athletes in the entire league (yes, even Lebron, Wade, and Howard).  And sure his jumper needs some work and he can be a bit out of control at times, but focusing on the things he struggles with means you’re missing the point with this player.  Westbrook is just a fantastic young player that will only continue to grow and get better.  The sky is the limit for him.  (On a side note, you notice the first two players I’ve mentioned play for the Thunder? Yikes.)

*I already mentioned Iguodala, but he deserves even more praise.  His rebounding and defense were top notch the entire tournament and the self-less way he played deserves recognition.  And while his size and physique (you saw his Karl Malone arms, right?) sometimes had him miscast as a defensive stopper against some of the smaller, quicker guards in this tourney, his overall play on that side of the floor was stellar.  Add that to the fact that he willingly moved the ball and really only looked for his shot in transition situations and off hard penetration showed me that he’s also extremely coach-able and understanding of what winning basketball is.  I know when he goes back to Philly they’ll ask him to be the do it all scorer/playmaker for his team, but I shudder to think of what he could be playing next to an elite scorer like Durant where all you asked him to do defend, rebound, and slash off the ball.

*Quietly, Lamar Odom did exactly what he was asked to do and did it well, overall, for this U.S. team.  Yes he showed that his inconsistencies can be as great as his talent level, but in the end he battled hard in the medal round and once again proved his worth to a winning team.  The man just does all the little things well and it was very nice to see him step up in the second half of the gold medal game to help turn a semi-contested game into a contest that wasn’t that close down the stretch.  Whether it was rebounding, bodying up bigger offensive players, starting the American’s fast break with pin point outlet passes, or slashing into the open space for either finishes or to make the extra pass on offense, the man filled a bunch of roles for this team and deserves his credit as a World Champion twice over (FIBA and NBA) in the same year. 

*On a not so positive note, I was not that impressed with Chauncey Billups in this tournament.  While he showed good presence as a floor general by aligning his teammates in the half court offense, he also often broke off too many possessions to fire up long range jumpers early in the shot clock.  I know that Billups has long been a fan of the “dagger” three pointer that can salt away the hopes of the opponent, but in the last few games I thought he went for these shots too often and did so in situations where it was not required.  I thought his defense was good, but that it wasn’t to the level of Westbrook and Gordon. 

*Lastly, on a confused note, I’m not sure why Kevin Love didn’t play more.  Without a representative (be it Coach K or anyone else) commenting on it, I would assume it had to do with the want to always have the most athletic team on the floor at all times that saw Love’s minutes decrease.  But, for a guy that rebounds and passes very well while also having some range on his jumper to only see one minute of game time in the gold medal game?  I just don’t get it.  When Turkey was really giving the U.S. fits in the first half with their zone defense, I really thought a Love/Odom front court with Durant, Westbrook, and either Billups or Gordon would have been a great line up to try out.  But alas, Coach K kept the T’Wolves’ big man glued to the bench.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to In Praise Of Team USA

  1. I think Coach K deserves a lot of credit for his lineups – using the strengths of this roster, particularly in relation to the FIBA rules, and not just going with the lineup that would be the best in an NBA game. And the team clearly bought into it – whether that was his doing, or him stepping back and letting the team’s leadership lead the way – it worked very well.

  2. Rudy Fernandez is on the open market… I think he would be a great guy to start at PG (of course only in a triangle offense). He is long and athletic (so he can be our best defender against PG’s and he can shoot. I love our squad … and in almost any year we could win with Steve Blake as our best PG… but not against these Miami Heat. I hope Im wrong, but I just think they are too loaded and I don’t wanna waste all this Lakers talent because we were too afraid to make a move for a PG that can actually be an above average defender and play maker. Kobe needs a break now from being the only penetrator.

  3. Yahoo Sports in praise of Kevin Durant.

    He’s well on his way to becoming my favorite non-Laker. And the thought of Durant and Westbrook bringing everything they learned from Team USA back home to the Thunder for the upcoming season should frighten the fans of every other team in the Western Conference. I really don’t want them in Round 1 again!

  4. Forget about Fernandez at PG; Odom can play C (he just showed that) or PF, and he’s a lot cheaper than Gasol. Trade Gasol for an All-Star PG!! That would guarantee the Lakers a title!!

  5. exhelodrvr

    I hope you’re being sarcastic because the triangle does not need an all star pg. But an all star power forward like Pau is a must

  6. #5. I’m positive he’s kidding. Ex has been around here a while and a comment like that fits right in. Ha.

  7. He’s joking. The bold claim that Odom can play center in the NBA is the first clue…. 🙂

  8. Do whatever we have to do to get Rudy Fernandez. He would certainly ease Kobe’s offensive burden. We all know that Kobe is getting on in years and NEEDS to see his minutes reduced. There’s no getting around it – Kobe is a great champion, but he can’t defeat Time. With Rudy Fernandez, the Lakers could start the Spanish swingman at SG and bring Kobe off the bench!!!

  9. 9, done, Andrew Bynum for Rudy Fernandez, straight up. You did say anything, right?

    and Aaron, did you even look at Fernandez’ PER against PG’s before making the assertion that he’s long and can defend? 19.4. That’s worse than Fisher.

  10. @10: Yeeeaaa booooy, for the 3-peat! Ship him out!

  11. I’m guessing we’re in for yet another year of real teasing from Lamar now that we’ve seen what he can do 3 games in a row, hah.

  12. Being half Spanish and all, I – amazingly enough – agree that Rudy would be a nice fit for the Lakers;) (Not playing PG however.)

    Funny thing today: Simmons wrote a WC-column in which both Odom and Pau, as well as the Lakers as a team, get some “love”. Where is the world coming to?

  13. I am glad I dropped by today, some funny comments here. Yeah, exhelodrvr, why not? I am happy for LO though in these FIBA games. Heck, all of the USA team guys for that matter.

  14. Mimsy, I think Odom can hold his own as a center in The Finals if the Heat make it, too. After all, Bosh will be playing center, as well …

  15. i worry rudy fernandez could wind up in Miami. They have a trade exception large enough to absorb his contract, and some unsigned 2nd rounders and draft picks.

  16. Haha thanks 13 bill simmons article was actually really good. I loved when he said the lakers are so stacked they could adapt to anything

  17. 16 — I don’t see Miami having anything to offer the Blazers, nor am I inclined to believe any GM is going to willingly help make Miami any better. Not to say Riles can’t pull another rabbit out of his hat, but Rudy to Miami just doesn’t make sense.

    Also, why would Miami need another perimeter player? Their real weakness is going to be on the block.

  18. Trading a proven winner for someone that has won nothing is exactly the way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    If (and I do mean IF, and knock on wood) the Lakers are healthy in the playoffs, with Gasol, Odom, and Bynum all at 90% or better, no one can beat the Lakers. No trio either.

    There is simply no other team that can go that deep at the big man spots and still contend with Kobe and Artest’s post up games as well.

    We are running a Triple Post offense with AT LEAST five amazing post finishers.

    We could have WNBA players at the PG spot and still compete, and win more often than not.

  19. 3. Mimsy, Kevin Durant is also my favorite non-Laker. I just love the kid’s demeanor, the fact that it appears that basketball is an “end,” not just a “means” to celebrity (aka LBJ). The kid is simply a gym rat who shows up for summer league to build solidarity with incoming teammates. Wow.

    I was just reading Adrian Woj’s article on LBJ regarding the 2008 Olympics, and how he was so close to being disinvited to the team based on his ridiculous antics and immaturity. Is there any way that LBJ is simply replaced by Durant for 2012, or is LBJ’s talent notwithstanding his attendant baggage “necessary” for the US?

    The Summer of 2012 also worries me from a Laker-centric perspective because we may have 4 Lakers participate (Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum…and Fisher…as a “motivational speaker). Kobe will be 34, Gasol will be be 32, Odom will be 32, and the team will probably be finishing up a long postseason. But I understand that representing one’s country is the ultimate calling card for most athletes.

  20. @R, 15:
    If the Heat make it, yes. If the Magic does, not so much :p

  21. I dont really like watching sports.

  22. Imagine the beast Durant REALLY could be if he bulked up, in a good way(muscle). He could really dominate more for years and keep himself from being injury prone.


  23. @#20 DY, I’d take Woj’s articles with a grain of salt though. Although I think he breaks trades and transactions decently, I’m always a bit suspicious of his behind the scenes anonymous reporting.

    Don’t forget this is the same columnist who castigated Kobe for his behavior in the Olympics. Woj quoted unnamed sources who said Kobe was aloof from the team. That the rest of the team resented how Kobe would get mobbed when attending other events and it was all staged by Kobe to walk through the arena just so he would get the attention. There was a lot of that kind of info from unnamed sources.

    I understand reporters have to protect sources but Woj’s articles when it comes to behind the scene stuff comes across as very gossipy and agenda driven.

    At the very least I just take those kind of columns from him as a data point and not a conclusion.

  24. @ Mimsy – Now, I like the idea of Dwight Howard vs Bosh in a playoff series …

  25. Zephid,
    I have watched a lot of Blazers games and I don’t think he has ever defend PG’s for them as they have a traditional offense which requires a traditional offensive PG. My assumption that he can defend PG’s well is based on my belief that any athletic SG can defend PG’s better than 95% of PG’s.

  26. Kevin Love didn’t play because his D is so bad.

    Big men score at will on Kevin Love’s slow defense.

    Sure, K Love was rebounding and passing but Team USA was getting pounded on the defensive end with K Love in the game.