Archives For International/Team USA

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.

Team USA Live Blog

Phillip Barnett —  September 11, 2010

USA's Lamar Odom (C) shoots under pressure from Angola's Joaquim Gomes (R) as Angola's Carlos Morais (L) looks on in the first quarter during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Team USA tips off against Lithuania at 9:00 a.m. PT. Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant and co. need one more win to play in the title game. I’ll be updating the blog as the game unfolds. Feel free to add comments of your own during the course of the game.

— (8:30 1st Q) Team USA has come up empty on their first three possessions and have given up two layups. I can tell you now, if they’re going to beat Lithuania, they’re going to have to move the ball much better than what they’ve been doing all tournament. Lithuania plays a pretty unforgiving zone.

— (6:45 1st Q) It looks like Andre Iguodala will have the defensive assignment of taking on Linus Kleiza, who has had a great tournament thus far.

— Kleiza has been stripped on 2 of his 3 post-ups. Once by Billups, once by Iguodala. (via @johnschuhmann)

— (4:33 1st Q) Kevin Durant has things going early, scoring 12 of Team USA’s first 14 points.

— (1:30 1st Q) Lithuania was very efficient their fist few possessions, but Team USA seems to have figured out how to play their S&R offense. They’re currently on a 12-0 run.

— (End of 1st Q) 23-12 Lithuania’s offensive efficiency has really came to a stand still during the second half of the first quarter. Team USA got their hands on a lot of balls, creating deflections and getting into transition. Kevin Durant finished the first quarter with 17 points, Lithuania really has no answer for him.

— (7:40 2nd Q) Lamar Odom picks up his first points of the game on a tip in after a missed layup.

— (5:35 2nd Q) Team USA finally got some really good movement against Lithuania’s zone which led to Odom feeding a cutting Iguadala. Beautiful basketball.

— Lamar Odom doing all the little things that he never gets credit for. Great pass led to an easy dunk. (via @JonesOnTheNBA)

— (3:50 2nd Q) Lithuania has weathered the early storm and seems much more comfortable against USA’s athleticism. They’ve cut down their turnovers and have taken away a lot of Team USA’s fast break points. They’re only down eight points: 33-25.

— (2:10 2nd Q) Lithuania guard Martynas Pocius has been good thus far. Nine points and four rebounds. Most importantly, no turnovers.

— (End of 2nd Q) Team USA extended their lead back out to 15, going into the half 42-27. Kevin Durant, as always, has been brilliant with 24 points at the half. Lamar Odom has been doing a lot of really good things. He has six points, five rebounds, an assist, a block and no turnovers. He’s been great defensively sliding to help side on the S&R and closing out on shooters. He’s having one of his patented all around nights, doing a lot of things you won’t find in box scores.

The first half has gone pretty smoothly for Team USA. They have 12 turnover, which is way too many. They’ve also missed a lot of shots around the rim, something that I talked about in their preliminary games. @jose3030 posted Russell Westbrook’s missed dunk late in the first quarter, something that he’s done all tournament:

Team USA really just needs to keep the pressure on Lithuania on both ends of the ball. If they keep the ball pressure at a high level, they’ll be able to continue to score in transition.

— (8:31 3rd Q) Andre Iguodala’s offensive rebound started a sequence of five passes finishing with Lamar Odom scoring and getting fouled. They came up empty in their first two possessions. Iguodala’s offensive rebound was huge. Don’t want to come out of the half cold.

— (5:30 3rd Q) Eric Gordon missed a dunk on a fastbreak leading to a Lithuania three pointer. The  five point swing cut the US lead to 10.

— Odom has been huge. Hopefully he’s exhausting himself for the NBA season. (via @celticshub)

— (1:40 3rd Q) Lithuania’s shots are starting to fall and have picked up their intensity. They’re on an 8-0 run. Timeout USA.

— Kevin Durant has 27 points on 16 shots. 74.2% True Shooting. Yeah, he’s been pretty good. (Via Darius; @forumbluegold)

— (End of 3rd Q) It was an up and down half for Team USA. Lithuania was finally able to knock down some shots, but they weren’t really able to pick up too much ground on the Americans, down 12 going into the fourth quarter: 65-53

— (8:15 4th Q) LO with a great sequence there. Instead of forcing a bad pass while trapped underneath the rim, he was patient and hit a cutting Chauncey Billups. He didn’t give up on the play, and tipped in Billups’ missed layup for his 12th and 13th points.

— (4:26 4th Q) This game has been much closer than what the score board shows. Outside of that huge first quarter, Team USA has only outscored Lithuania by two points. 77-64.

— (2:20 4th Q) Kevin Durant sets the USA scoring record in international play with his 38th point. He’s 14 for 24 from the field and has added seven rebounds. Fantastic individual performance.

— (End of 4th Q) Team USA remains unbeaten in the 2010 World Championships after beating Lithuania 89-74. Kevin Durant paced everyone with 38 while Lamar Odom was second in scoring for Team USA with 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Team USA will play in the title game tomorrow against the winner of the Turkey/Serbia game, which promises to be a very good basketball game. Turkey and Serbia tip off at 11:30 a.m. PT today on ESPN Classic. Tomorrow’s bronze medal game begins at 9 a.m. PT and the Gold Medal game tips off at 11:30 a.m. PT.

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 27: Drew Brees  of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers at the Louisiana Superdome on August 27, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Tonight marks the beginning of the NFL season. I know all of us are huge hoops fans, but I like to delve into the other sports as well and I’ve been waiting for the football season to begin for an awfully long time. The Saints joined the Lakers in the immortal champion fraternity after beating the Colts in last season’s Super Bowl and kick off the season tonight against the Vikings.

Are there any teams you guys are excited about? Any early predictions about how this season might end. Just excited for some football. Let us know how you guys will be spending the NFL kick off.

Earlier today, Team USA took a step closer to the FIBA World Championships Title Game with a win over the Russians. Kevin Durant paced everyone with a very efficient 33 points while Lamar Odom helped out by chipping in six points and 12 rebounds. They will play Lithuania next.

World Championships Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  September 6, 2010

Brazil's Tyson Chandler (R) drives past USA's Lamar Odom in the first quarter during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, August 30, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

The FIBA World Championships may have started over a week ago, but really the tournament is just beginning.  The group stage is now over and the teams have started the NCAA style win or go home portion of the championships.  We’re now at the point where any slip up will mean an early return flight.  And for Team USA, it’s time to really prove if they have what it takes to compete at the highest level even though many have labeled them underdogs and the “B” team.  A few thoughts on the road ahead for this particular group.

*Today’s match up versus Angola really shouldn’t be a test at all.  With memories of the original 1992 Dream Team floating in my head, I recall what Charles Barkley said when that juggernaut faced the west African nation – “I don’t know anything about Angola, but I know they’re in trouble”.  In the past 18 years, not much will have changed.  The US will field an infinitely more talented team with advantages all over the court.  The US will surely use their pressure defense to create turnovers and generate open court offense.  We’ll likely see plenty of dunks from Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durnat, and every other Team USA player (save Billups and Curry as I’m not sure they can dunk).  I expect a 25+ point win and that will be that.

*But beating an overmatched Angola team isn’t really what this tournament is about.  Despite the US coming in as an underdog to Spain, it’s about winning the entire thing.  And in order to accomplish that, Team USA will have a tricky road to navigate.  While the match ups aren’t set in stone, the U.S. will likely face Russia in the next round and if they advance into the semi-finals a rematch with Brazil or a date with long time foe Argentina awaits (neither of which would be a cake walk).  In the Finals either Spain or host nation Turkey will be waiting for whoever comes of out the bracket the U.S. hopes to control.  Basically, if Team USA wins this tournament, they will have earned it against some very strong competition.

*Speaking of strong competition, the team that looks the best right now is probably Turkey.  Kurt explains over at Pro Basketball Talk:

The USA may prefer Spain right now. For two reasons.

One is Turkey has proven to have the best front line in the tournament. They start Omer Asik (coming to the Chicago Bulls), Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Hedo Turkoglu (Phoenix Suns). Then they bring in soon-to-be Celtic Semih Erden.

Turkoglu had not impressed through the group stage of the tournament but broke out in a big way against France scoring a game high 20 and hitting 4 of 7 from deep. Basically 2009 in Orlando Turkoglu showed up. If he does that will be hard for everyone else to stop. Meanwhile Ilyasova has averaged 15 points and 8.2 rebounds a game through the tournament and is hitting 56 percent of his threes.

Basically the undersized USA would have to take on a long, skilled front line — Turkey’s strength is the USA’s weakness.

I know depending on a consistent Turkoglu isn’t exactly money in the bank, but Turkey is the host nation and will have all the fan support they’ll need to put on a major run to win this thing.  And with every other major contender missing some of their best players (besides a watered down U.S. team, Nene, Pau, Ginobili, and several other NBA players are missing from their respective teams), Turkey may just put it all together.

*In one of these games Lamar Odom is going to need to put on one of his classic performances to put the U.S. team over the top.  It won’t be needed against Angola and probably not even Russia.  But it would be nice if LO gave one of his vintage “wow, this guy really is good” performances against either Brazil or Argentina or in the Finals (should Team USA advance that far).  This tournament has been mixed bag for Odom as he’s shown flashes of his all court game but never quite put together a complete performance.  Lakers fans know better than most that he’s got it in him to do something special.  Will he show the rest of the world?  I think we’re all hoping to see it.

*Lastly, I’ve not seen as much of these championships as I would have hoped.  I DVR the games and watch the U.S. team, but I have not gotten to see as much of the other countries as I’d like.  However, as with the regular season there are some great writers and sites doing some fantastic work covering the tournament.  Go check out what The Painted Area is doing on a daily basis.  Visit NBA Playbook for break downs on plays, offensive and defensive sets, and individual players.  Follow the updates from John Schuhmann on his twitter page with everything that he’s writing about this tourney.  Really, you can’t go wrong following these folks.

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.

USA team pose for a photograph before their FIBA Basketball World Championship game against Croatia in Istanbul August 28, 2010.   REUTERS/Murad Sezer (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT SPORT BASKETBALL)

Team USA has looked very good in their two games against Croatia and Slovenia thus far. Below are a few links on Team USA’s performance up to this point and a little on the rest of the competition.

From Matt Haubs, The Painted Area: Um, so, yeah, about that pick of Spain to win the gold medal…. Just one day into the 2010 FIBA World Championship, the landscape looks mighty different as the United States efficiently dismantled a decent Croatia team 106-78, while Spain was shocked 72-66 by a French squad which was assumed to be merely decent as well. It may sound funny, but to me, the most impressive thing about the United States’ performance was that they forced only 12 Croatia turnovers and scored just 19 fast-break points. This wasn’t a game in which the U.S. overwhelmed the opponent by running them out of the building – performances which we’ve frequently seen vs. lesser opponents, and which can be difficult to sustain against better teams (as Kevin Pelton astutely pointed out on Basketball Prospectus).

From Mookie, A Stern Warning: The World Championships are pumping along just nicely, with the second day of action now under way. Day one in Kayseri saw a mixed bag of results. Firstly the Aussies gave their fans near heart-attacks with their last gasp win over lowly-ranked Jordan. Andrew Vlahov was in the stands to cheer the Boomers on. Defence was the main deficiency for the Aussies as they let the Jordanians waltz in for numerous uncontested baskets. The only Aussie performances of note came from David Andersen and Aleks Maric. In fact, Maric’s performance was so dominant that I had German girls in my hotel asking what NBA team he played for. He was the cog inside that the boomers definitely needed with Andrew Bogut’s absence. Meanwhile, Patty Mills didn’t show enough on either end to justify my usual man-love for him.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: Not that he’s a candidate yet to replace Phil Jackson, but Lamar Odom let it be known Friday what he hopes one day to do. “That’s why I’ll be a great coach,” said the Lakers and Team USA stalwart about what his versatility will mean when his playing days are over. Odom, you see, has played every position on the basketball court, a claim not many can make. So perhaps it’s no surprise Odom, who is mostly a power forward during his day job with the Lakers, has emerged as the starting center for the Americans, who open the FIBA World Championship here Saturday against Croatia.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: There’s a debate between Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon as to who is the best shooter on Team USA. The only thing they can agree upon is if they played H-O-R-S-E, it would last a very long time. “I got to say I am (the better shooter), and he’s going to say he is,” said Curry, a Golden State guard. “Of course, I think I’d like to be at the end of the day (the better shooter),” said Gordon, a Clippers guard. One could spend many a fortnight debating the subject. But let’s put it this way: On Saturday, Gordon definitely was the superior marksman. Gordon scored a team-high 16 points, including shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range, as the Americans defeated Croatia 106-78 at Abdi Ipekci Arena in their 2010 FIBA World Championship opener.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: The NBA scoring champion was acting as if he wanted to be an assists leader. But that’s not Kevin Durant‘s game. So after a practice 2 ½ weeks ago during a training camp in New York, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled over his star forward. “In practice, I was passing too much, passing up open shots and trying to find an open man,” Durant recalled. “Coach pulled me to the side and just told me to be who I am, score the basketball. That’s one of my greatest attributes, as a scorer, and he just told me to go out there and play like I play in Oklahoma City. Be aggressive and also find the open man as well.”

From Brian Mahoney, Sympatico.ca: Playing a rare early game, the United States had stalled after a quick start, and a double-digit lead was down to five as halftime approached. Then, every time the Americans needed them, Kevin Durant seemed to get on the scoreboard and Kevin Love was on the backboard. Durant scored 22 points, Love added 10 points and 11 rebounds in a gritty 13 minutes off the bench, and the Americans beat Slovenia 99-77 on Sunday in an opening-round game. “They did a great job of fighting, getting stops and making plays, and we know that we can’t go out here and blow every team out,” Durant said. “We had to make this a grind game and we did that, and a good job of keeping our composure.”

From Matt Lawyue, SLAM Online: So that was easy. Yesterday’s demolishing of Croatia (106-78) sent a loud message throughout the basketball universe (particularly contrasting against Spain’s unexpected loss) that Team USA should not be underestimated. Despite all the chatter about being too small, too young and too inexperienced, the American’s put on a well-rounded offensive display. Overall they shot 55.4 percent from the field, while going 12-30 beyond the arc. After a tight first quarter, where the Croatian’s pounded the ball inside for close buckets, Kevin Durant lead the charge in the second quarter where USA outscored Croatia 26-6. “I think we did a great job of talking in the second quarter,” Durant says. “Guys put pressure on the defense. It was a great team win. If you look at the scoreboard, everybody had a bucket, everybody contributed. It was a good win for us.”

Odom the Olympian

Jeff Skibiski —  August 25, 2010

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USA Basketball finalized its 12-man roster for the 2010 FIBA World Championships yesterday afternoon and as expected, the Lakers’ Lamar Odom was selected as one of its representatives. Odom will be joined by Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala. The 12 players who will compete this summer will join a narrowing pool of players with which USA Basketball will choose from when filling out its 2012 Olympic roster.

“We play professional basketball for a living,” said Odom, summing up his decision to play for Team USA this summer in a great feature from ESPN LA. “We come out and we represent our country with pride. This is something we do just for pride. We playing for the names on the front of our jerseys.”

Odom’s willingness to slap on the Team USA jersey, after three consecutive grueling trips to the NBA Finals, offers a great deal of insight into his character and motivation as a basketball player. To some, the chance to play for your country on one of the world’s largest stages is a no-brainer, yet several of the league’s top players chose to remain on the sidelines for this summer’s World Championships. Some had legitimate injury reasons (Kobe), while a lack of commitment by others was more confounding (Dwight Howard). The Lakers forward could have looked at this offseason as a time to rest up for the Lakers’ historic three-peat bid, saving himself from potential burnout or injury. Instead, Lamar jumped onboard without the slightest hint of hesitation, eager to to take the first step toward redeeming Team USA’s loss in the 2004 Olympics—a team on which his solid play received almost universal acclaim. Odom has been criticized in the past for his wavering motivation, but his dedication to Team USA has never been questioned.

As previously noted by Darius in last week’s Mailbag, Lamar’s selection has potential implications for both the forward and the Lakers this season, as well as for the 11-year veteran’s legacy. On a U.S. team seriously lacking in the size department, Odom was used as the team’s starting center against Spain earlier this week. Though that’s not a role he’ll be asked to fill in L.A. (barring catastrophic injuries to the Lakers’ entire front line), the experience should prepare Odom well for when the forum blue and gold will need him to join Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the court for Coach Jackson’s seldom-used “bigs” lineup.

That works both ways too, as Team USA’s reliance on Lamar to provide desperately needed muscle inside could open the door for Phil to use him in a dramatically smaller lineup against run-and-gun teams like the Suns and maybe more urgently, the Thunder. Neither of these possible roles are anything new for the Lakers’ versatile assassin or the Lakers, but the opportunity to observe Odom in a different context as part of Team USA is nevertheless an interesting one.

More than anything, I think that Odom will benefit the most from his more symbolic role with this year’s Team USA squad. As the de facto veteran sage, Lamar will be entrusted to do something he’s struggled with at times during his L.A. tenure—lead. Though Team USA has up-and-coming stars like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose to take on the scoring burden during crunch time, it is the Lakers forward who has been through it all before as a starter on the 2004 Olympic squad. As such, he’ll be relied upon to help the set tone for Team USA in a tournament where most experts are actually picking them to place second or worse. The early returns have been mostly good for Team USA too, as Lamar produced a 12-point, 9-rebound performance against Spain earlier this week. He followed it up with a less than stellar game today in 18 minutes of playing time (zero points on one field goal), but his team still managed to blowout Greece, 87-59.

Overall, the experience should prove invaluable for Odom as he’ll not only be asked to serve as a locker room presence, but also as a consistent leader on the court too. While Lamar willingly accepted a new role as sixth man prior to the 2008-09 season, he hasn’t always shown himself as a reliable force off the bench, night in and night out. Against increased competition from teams like Spain and Greece, he’ll have to be consistent if Team USA hopes to prevail. As is the case with the Lakers, Odom is indisputably a key X-factor for Team USA, even in this differing role. With a replenished bench that now includes newcomers Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers will similarly need Lamar to serve as a steadying force. Whether or not the forward can pull from this newfound leadership mentality and apply it toward next season is certainly one of the Lakers’ more intriguing plot lines heading into the 2010-11 season.

“We want him because of his versatility,” said Jerry Colangelo, about why he coveted Lamar’s presence. “He can be effective playing five minutes or playing 25 minutes. It’s not about 12 superstar players. It’s about finding the right components to make up a team. He fits the bill. He was valuable to us. We didn’t just pick him because how he plays, but because of who he is.”

After 11 NBA seasons, Lamar has still never been selected as an NBA All-Star, but now owns two NBA rings that I’m guessing hold a lot more weight for the Queens native. Next up: Olympic Gold Medal.

“I would love to go back and be able to redeem myself and win a gold medal, but more, I would love to go back just to play for USA again,” said Odom.

Looking ahead to what promises to be a challenging World Championship tournament, it is clear that Lamar’s priorities as a basketball player have shifted. While there is no guarantee that he’ll be an Olympian when the team carves out its 2012 Olympic roster, Lamar’s selflessness and commitment to Team USA’s endeavors prove that he’s worthy of the title either way.

Lamar Odom (L) of the U.S. goes up for a basket over Spain's Marc Gasol during their friendly basketball game at Caja Magica pavillion in Madrid August 22, 2010. REUTERS/Sergio Perez (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

This morning, the US National team will take on the Greeks, in Greece, in another preparation game for the World Championships. The US National team are fresh off a one-point victory over the Spaniards which ended with a game winning block by Kevin Durant. The Greeks have been in the news lately because of their recent brawl with Serbia, which forced the game to end two minutes early.

This is a Greek team that is coming into the game against the US with wins over Canada, Russia, Germany and Croatia by 74, 38, 28 and nine points, respectively. I’ve read that the Greeks have made their final cuts, so the team we see this morning will be the actual roster that will suit up for the Worlds. However, it’s been reported that their starting center, Ioannis Bourousis, will not play due to an injury. No suspensions have been handed out from their brawl yet, so the USA will see everyone else on the roster.

One guy we should look out for is Sofoklis Schortsanitis, the 6’10”, 350+ pound monster on the block affectionately nicknamed Baby Shaq. He’s never been a great scorer, but he’s a bruiser. Considering the US National team’s size problems, Schortsanitis could be a huge problem on the boards for our guys. Outside of that, I don’t see the US having too many problems with this Greek team. They’re ranked fourth in the world and are a high quality opponent, but the Americans are just too athletic up top and too quick defensively for this Greek team. Vassillis Spanoulis is a quality point guard and Antonis Fotsis is a formidable power forward, and are two guys who can potentially do very good things against the US National team.

As far as Lamar Odom goes, he had a very good showing against Spain and I think his good play should continue against the Greeks, who don’t have anyone who can match up with his size and athleticism.

You can watch the game on ESPN, or watch it online at ESPN3.com.