Jordan Clarkson’s journey with the Philippine National team has ended, for now. The Philippine National team was hopeful to have Clarkson join them later in September for the FIBA Asia Championships in China, but, via a statement by the PBA, those hopes were recently dashed:
Archives For International/Team USA
When we last discussed Jordan Clarkson’s desire to play for the Philippine National Team in the Asia Championships the focus on him being named to 24-player pool and his status was tied more to is ability to play as a “natural born” player. The Philippine basketball federation was said to be getting FIBA the paperwork they were requesting to clear Clarkson and, thus, opening the avenue for him to play in the end of September tournament whose winner would earn a berth to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Well, while we are still waiting for a final word from FIBA, there seems to be a more pressing question about Clarkson’s availability and it is tied to the Lakers, the start of training camp, and the timing of the tournament in China. Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk has the story:
Jordan Clarkson enjoyed a breakout rookie season, continued his strong play into the Las Vegas Summer League, and, via recent summer workouts, looks like he’s ready for the season to start. But before he suits up for the Lakers, he may be wearing the uniform of the Philippine National Team at the FIBA Asia Championship being held in China in late September.
But the name that is sure to draw the most attention is the inclusion of Jordan Clarkson, the Filipino-American Los Angeles Lakers guard whose eligibility to play for Gilas Pilipinas as a “natural born” player was revealed this week by SBP. Clarkson arrived in Manila on Monday night amid high hopes and intrigue over news of his possible eligibility.
It has been an open question whether Clarkson, whose mother is Filipino, was actually eligible to play for the Philippine National team as a “natural born” player. The team, apparently, had tried to recruit him several years ago, but it was believed he was ineligible to play as a natural born player and would have to be naturalized (a la former Net Andray Blatche) in order to suit up for the National Team.
However, per a previous report at Rappler, the governing body of Philippine Basketball is saying that Clarkson does, in fact, qualify:
The best American born players gathered in the desert as Team USA held it’s annual summer mini-camp this week in Las Vegas. From LeBron James to Kevin Durant to Steph Curry, the game’s elite showed out to practice and throw their names in the hat as potential participants in next summer’s Olympics being held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
One player who was not present, but still getting ink, was Kobe Bryant. Though Kobe has previously gone on record saying the 2012 games in London would be his last, Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo left the door open for Kobe to compete in 2016. This led to a flurry of reports openly wondering if Kobe could, in fact, find his way onto the team.
Well, those reports will only intensify now that Colangelo has gone even further with comments detailing conversations with the Lakers’ star. From ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“I was quoted on Kobe,” Colangelo said after USA Basketball’s intrasquad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center. “In response to a question about him, I said it would be a great story if he did [play in Rio].
“And so, he also mentioned to me in a private conversation that if he had his druthers, he would love to ride off into the sunset playing one more time and winning the gold medal. And that would be the end. But he was very quick to say, ‘But, I don’t want a spot. I need to earn the spot. I need to be capable of playing at that level to be considered.’ And I said, ‘You got that. That’s always there for you, Kobe.'”
If Kobe cannot go out on a winning Lakers’ team, the next best thing would be for him to represent his country one last time, playing alongside the game’s elite players, and earning a gold medal in the Olympics. Kobe already has two golds (from 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London), but joining his teammates on that medal stand one more time as the national anthem played would still be an amazing accomplishment.
With the Olympic Ceremony already happening (we’ll get to watch it at 7 p.m. on NBC if you’re out here in the West Coast), Team USA hoops is right around the corner. Before they take the floor for the first time in this tournament against Tony Parker’s French National team, lets take a look at some of the positives and negatives that I’ve noticed from Team USA on the floor.
The Stretch Four
Throughout the five games Team USA played, one of the problems that we consistently saw was a propensity for taking way too many long range shots. The athleticism on this team should call for a lot more penetrating and finishing around the rim and posting up mis-matches. Everyone who has handled the ball around the perimeter has taken at least one ill-advised three pointer. However, two guys were able to somewhat-consistently knock down shots from behind the arc during the course of the five games — Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. During the five games, Durant and Anthony combined to shoot .489 from range while the rest of the team shot .404 (it should be noted that Anthony Davis shot a perfect 1.000 from three, he was one-for-one). Furthermore, a lot of those threes were a direct result of either pick-and-pops or guys penetrating, drawing defenders and kicking out to either Durant or Anthony. Of course, both of them took their fair share of ill-advised threes off the dribble, but Durant and Anthony shooting off the catch have been better than anyone else on Team USA. Also, having those two straddle the perimeter or as the pick man in P&Rs have taken opposing fours away from the rim and opened the lanes for guys like Paul, Williams, Westbrook and LeBron to do what they do best. Truehoop’s Beckley Mason has even gone on to say that Melo can take his role as the four for Team USA.
Small Ball Defense
With a roster featuring only one true center, Coach K has had the liberty (or has been forced to depending on how you look at it) to play around with some unique lineups, seeing both LeBron and Anthony spend some time at the 5. While this is a big cause for concern on the interior with the lack of size, it has allowed all five parts of the defense to move interchangeably through screens. With five athletic guys who can all defend along the perimeter, it has given the defense — in these small lineups — the freedom to switch on nearly everything. Because of this, rotations become shorter, they’re able to use their collective athleticism to jump into passing lanes, and it takes the pressure off of one guy to have to work too much on an offensive player who moves around a lot. In the game against Argentina, Kobe was assigned to Manu Ginobili. With the Argentinians running the Flex offense, Ginobili often started sets in the corner and is run through a series of screens to free him up for open jump shots or cuts through the lane. One on possession in particular, Ginobili ran Kobe to one screen and Anthony picked him up. Ginobili ran Anthony to another screen and Deron Williams picked him up. Ginobili then ran Williams to a screen and LeBron picked him up. Ginobili didn’t touch the ball on that possession and a contested jumpshot was taken. Of course, they’ll try to avoid any match ups in which a point guard is forced to take on a big, but they have the speed along the perimeter to really disrupt what opposing offenses are trying to do with their small ball lineups.
The biggest hole in Team USA’s game is their inability to show any consistency attacking zone defenses. Starting late in the 2nd quarter, Argentina really just packed the paint and allowed the Americans to fire away from the perimeter, keeping Argentina in a game that they were down early. There was very little gap penetration, and all ball rotations were just along the perimeter. Yes, shots opened up, but it was the shots the Argentines wanted Team USA to take. Against Spain, things didn’t look any better against zone defenses. The score doesn’t really coincide with how much Team USA struggled with getting shots around the rim against Spain’s zone because they hit 13-three pointers as a team. The reality is that they shot 54 percent from three against man-to-man and only 25 percent against the zone (numbers per ESPN Stats and Information’s Ryan Fieldman). LeBron has been the best at busting zones, especially when he’s able to catch the ball near the free throw line and either attack or facilitate, but even he has been prone to just taking perimeter jumpers like the rest of the team. We should expect to see many more zones against this Team USA, and I’d like to see them counter with gap penetration and jumpers only after the ball has touched the paint. Putting pressure on the defense by attacking the rim is the easiest way to get teams out of the zone, and if they’re going to try to shoot themselves out of zone defenses, Coach K might want to have both Melo and Durant on the floor simultaneously.
Protecting the Rim
Earlier, I noted how well Team USA has defended teams around the perimeter, stopping them from getting into their sets and forcing contested jump shots and turnovers. On the flip side, they’ve been susceptible to back cuts and hard rolls in P&R sets, especially when Tyson Chandler is on the bench. Case in point is Serge Ibaka’s personal 10-point run early in the game against Spain. Chandler got in early foul trouble and Ibaka scored on a series of P&Rs and back cuts. When the defense wasn’t able to keep the ball on the perimeter, Ibaka had a field day with being guarded by Durant/Anthony/James in the paint. Furthermore, perimeter defenders were repeatedly beat back door in games against Brazil, Spain and Argentina. I remember at least two times where Kobe himself was beat back door by Ginobili in the Argentina game. These things are less of a problem with Tyson Chandler holding down the fort, but with only five fouls allowed in international play, Coach K will really have to watch his minutes should he get in any early foul trouble.
That said, Team USA are the clear favorites to take home the gold as their positives far outweigh their negatives — but their close calls against Brazil and Argentina show that this team is beatable under the right circumstances. Their opening game against France is at 2:30 p.m. local time, which would make it 6:30 a.m. PST, if it did that right (feel free to correct in the comments if necessary).