Archives For International/Team USA

U.S. national basketball team players (L-R) Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose take a break while warming up at Madrid's Caja Magica pavillion prior to a friendly game against Lithuania August 21, 2010. The U.S.A. basketball team is in Madrid to play two friendly games against Lithuania and Spain in preparation for the upcoming Basketball World Championships in Turkey later this month. REUTERS/Paul Hanna (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It may not be a Lakers game, but there is actual basketball on today that is well worth a watch as Team USA faces Spain in a warm up to the FIBA World Championships that begin next weekend.  This is the first time that these two countries have faced off since the 2008 Olympics gold medal game where the Americans beat the Spaniards 118-107 in a thrilling, hard fought contest.

And while this is technically a rematch, the only thing that is truly the same is the name on the front of the uniforms – especially when speaking about the US team.  Because while Spain is missing its best player and current Laker Pau Gasol, the American squad will not return a single player from the team that clinched the Gold in Beijing almost one two years ago to the date.

So, while Spain will surely be looking for a bit of revenge as they warm up for a tournament in which they’re favored by many analysts to win, the U.S. team is really looking to find a rhythm as a unit and sure up some of their weaknesses so that they can continue the run they started at the Tournament of the Americas starting in 2006.  Because while there are some that do believe the US to be the 2nd best team leading up to the tournament, the Americans themselves remain confident and hope to continue to build momentum and show that this country is still the one that rules the basketball world.

But mental state aside, this US team will be tested today.  Because while the U.S. team was able to defeat a game Lithuania team yesterday on the strength of their pressure defense and open court play, today’s game will feature a Spanish team that is better than it’s European counterpart in every conceivable way.  As Matt Moore explains at ProBaskeball Talk:

The contest does lead to several significant questions going into tomorrow’s exhibition against the arguable favorite in the FIBA tournament, Spain. Spain is going to have better shooters, better bigs, better defenders, and better ball athletes. If USA comes out in a shooting slump like they did today, often lost on rotations inside and struggling to contain the boards, that game likely won’t right itself like today did.

As Moore mentions, the U.S. team’s real weakness is with its inside play.  In the past, the one advantage the U.S. team could typically rely upon was its superior talent in the pivot.  However, with nearly every great American big man either declining invitation or injured and unable to play this Summer, the U.S. team is going with a big man rotation of Tyson Chandler (starting Center), Lamar Odom, and Kevin Love.  And despite my personal affinity for LO and Love, those guys are not Howard, Bosh, and Amar’e.  Really, they’re not even KG, Bynum, or Brook Lopez as they don’t possess the size, defensive excellence, or offensive polish of the big men that have donned the U.S. jersey in recent international competitions.  This means that the shot blocking, interior rotations, and ability to plain “beast” it on the offensive end just isn’t there with this group.  This bears watching today.

But besides the interior play, what I’ll really be looking for today is how the guard rotation shakes out and if the U.S. team can show a bit better touch from the outside.  This team, despite the presence of Kevin Durant, Billups, Curry, Granger, and Eric Gordon is not a good outside shooting team.  Because while Westbrook, Rose, and Iguodala have all flashed an improved jumper they’re not quite the consistent shooting group that could off-set the lack of high level interior play.  And when you throw in Rudy Gay and Rondo, what you really have is a team that is built on strong defense that leads to open court chances.  As for the rotation at guard, yesterday against Lithuania, Rondo was put on the bench to start the second half in favor of Westbrook (which turned out to be a very good choice as the young OKC guard was the driver behind the win).  And seemingly every game, there seems to be another guard that steps up to make an impact.  At some point though, a standard rotation will have to shake itself out so that players can get comfortable in their roles.  Maybe that shaking out begins today.

And we’ll all be able to see together.  So, join us here as we observe the action.  You can watch on NBA TV at 12 noon on the West coast and you can also click here to watch the game online at ESPN3.

Lamar Odom is surrounded by members of the media at a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Last night, ESPN2 aired the Team USA intra-squad scrimmage. As you would expect from an exhibition game featuring guys who haven’t spent a lot of time together on the court, the game was rather sloppy and I don’t expect the scrimmage to weigh too heavily on the decisions made by Coach K and Brian Colangelo. Recapping the game won’t be necessary (the white squad won 114-96), but there were a few guys who stood out and made a case for a spot on the team.

* Before I get into some of the players who impressed, I’ll take the opportunity to share a few thoughts on Lamar Odom. Odom went into camp out of shape and hadn’t participated in any basketball related activities since helping the Lakers bring home number 16, and it showed in the scrimmage. LO finished with just two points, six rebounds and three assists (which you’ll see in Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose highlights later). Odom’s poor showing in the intra-squad scrimmage really doesn’t mean much in terms of him making the squad. From everything that I’ve read, Odom is pretty much a lock to make the team as a veteran presence among a slew of youth. His versatility (he started at center in the scrimmage) and the lack of size on Team USA is coveted by the Colangelo/Coach K brain trust and will definitely make the first set of cuts to be happening on Monday.

THE WHITE TEAM

* As expected, Kevin Durant had the biggest showing of the bunch finishing with 28 points and player of the game honors. Durant began his night with what was arguably the highlight of the night – a nifty crossover that led to a dunk that set the tone for the white squad – and had a four-minute stretch in the third quarter where he scored 10 of his 28. Durant picked his spots nicely, didn’t force anything and was genuinely enjoying himself out there on the floor. He did have seven turnovers, but it was a sloppy game all around. Only Derrick Rose and Chauncey Billups played more than 20 minutes and finished with no turnovers. Below are a few highlights from Durant’s night.

* Derrick Rose played along side of Durant and also had a fantastic night finishing with 15 points, eight assists, five steals and no turnovers. Rose played a lot stronger than his counter parts at the point guard spot and definitely made a case for not only making the team, but also for starting as he impressed more than the other point guards. Rose’s quickness isn’t news to anyone, but watching how fast he changes direction and his ability to change speeds is still awe inspiring every time you get an opportunity to watch him play. You’d be hard pressed to find a more athletic point guard in the NBA right now. Below are some highlights of Rose.

* Also for the white team, Andre Iguodala impressed with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. His game was stamped all over the first half with athletic moves to the basket, he hit all three of this 3-point attempts and got to the free throw line six times. Eric Gordon hit four of seven from behind the arc and was 50 percent from the field for the night. I don’t think Gordon has done enough in the past week to earn a spot on the roster, but he did some good things while on the floor in the scrimmage.

THE BLUE TEAM

* Rudy Gay did a lot of the damage for the Blue Team scoring 23 points and going three for four from behind the three point line (both teams shot over 45 percent from behind the arc). No news, Gay is a terrific scorer and was able to get his points in a multitude of different ways: he hit from behind the arc, was able to create shots off the dribble, scored from the block, got the free throw line seven times and was able to grab a few offensive rebounds (4) and convert those to points. Like Durant, Gay finished with seven turnovers but seemed committed to playing defense, finishing with a pair of blocks and steals. Starting Gay and Durant on the wings would make Team USA awfully long, but bringing Gay off the bench to replace Durant would keep a long, athletic scorer on the floor at all times. I don’t think there is anyway Gay doesn’t make this team. I’ve been having problems getting my Rudy Gay clips up, so hopefully I can have them for you guys at a later time.

* Rudy Gay’s Memphis teammate, O.J. Mayo, also had a strong night scoring 18 points while showing off the clean stroke on his jump shot. There was a lot of talent on the floor, and Mayo didn’t let anyone forget that he was on the floor. He was able to get loose on a few fast breaks and excite the Thomas and Mack crowd with some dunks. Mayo has wanted to play point guard since he was a Trojan at USC, but is finding his game translates better as an off guard with his ability to shoot. He hit a few pull up jumpers and knocked down half of his three point attempts. Mayo highlights are shown below.

* Also for the blue team, teammates Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green both did a lot of good things. Westbrook was a hound defensively on the parameter and finished with three steals to go along with his 14 points. Westbrook is one of the most fearless guys in the NBA and attacks the rim relentlessly. Jeff Green finished with 11 points and a very quiet eight rebounds (second only to Tyson Chandler). If you’re going to make this team, grabbing rebounds is a great way to do it considering Team USA’s size issue.

As I mentioned earlier, Coach K and Brian Colangelo will look to make four cuts on Monday and hope to have their roster down to about 15 by the time they play an exhibition game against France in New York at the Madison Square Garden in August 15. From there, the team will travel to Europe to play a few more exhibition games before the FIBA World Championships start on August 28.

MENS hoops

With the NBA Summer League done with, Las Vegas is now home to the USA National Basketball training camp where 27 guys will be competing to make the 12 man roster that will take on the world come August 28th. Among those 27 is the Lakers own Lamar Odom.

This summer, Team USA will have a new face – or a plethora of new faces – as no one from the Olympic Gold Medal team will play in the World Basketball Championships. This opens up the door for a lot of the NBA’s young talent like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Danny Granger and the Lopez twins to compete for a roster spot and wear their country’s colors. Looking at the 27 invited to camp it is safe to say that competition will be fierce. Below I’ll take a short look at the positional break-downs and will have more on the team’s progress at the end of camp and again when the roster is cut to 12.

Centers: Tyson Chandler, David Lee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez and Kevin Love (Amaré Stoudemire was invited to camp, but is expected not to play after the Knicks requested that he sit out the worlds).

At first glance, these aren’t the kind of names we’re used to seeing at the center position for USA Basketball. This list lacks bruisers, this list lacks that defensive presence that penetrating guards will immediately fear, and most importantly, this list lacks a truly dominant center. When I said that these aren’t the names we’re used to seeing, I don’t mean the names per se, but more what the names represent. From Dwight Howard to Shaq to David Robinson to Hakeem Olajuwon – those were all names that represented what have defined the center position; tough, brutal, physical dominance in the paint. A few weeks ago, Rob Mahoney wrote on the lack of a traditional USA center for Hardwood Paroxysm, and I couldn’t agree more with his argument: it’s hard to be excited for this group of big men. I do think that the Lopez twins will be able to hold their own in the Worlds, but Kevin Love is extremely undersized and doesn’t rebound at a great rate while David Lee doesn’t play a lick of defense. Tyson Chandler, who would be a good defensive presence, needs a quality point guard on the floor to be a factor on the offensive end. It’ll be interesting to see which direction Jerry Colangelo chooses to go with this group.

Power Forwards: Jeff Green, Lamar Odom, Gerald Wallace

Green, Odom and Wallace are an athletic bunch and have all proven to be solid complementary players. Lamar Odom has the largest skill set of the three, but as we all know, he is consistently inconsistent. Odom’s past Team USA experience and the fact that he’s a proven winner gave him the early edge going into camp. Gerald Wallace is the best defender of the group, and actually has a better shooting percentage than Odom and Green. In the international game, a lot of power forwards are going to stand around the arc and launch up three pointers. I think Wallace’s game translates well to the international game, he has the ability to guard on the wing and also bring his game out there if needed. Shooters will be needed against the international zones, and if Wallace shoots at a higher rate than the other two, I think he has a great shot at making the team. For Jeff Green, he could end up being the odd man out despite being part of the Team USA program for a few years now. Colangelo and Coach K really like him as he’s played well at camps in the past, but if the two other guys have games that translate better to the international game, he could still be waiting to take his turn in wearing the national colors. However, Green is a very good perimeter defender and is young and athletic. With none of the Olympians returning for the worlds, we might see Colangelo and Coach K look to bring a youthful team to Turkey.

Wings: Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, O.J. Mayo

Kevin Durant is pretty much a lock for the starting three spot, but I can see up to three more of these guys making the roster. I think Danny Granger’s game translates to the international game the most out of this bunch for his ability to play and guard three different positions with his size and athleticism. He can fill up a stat sheet and will do all of the dirty things that don’t show up in box scores. Rudy Gay is athletic and a good scorer, as is O.J. Mayo, but Mayo is a much better shooter than Gay is, which is going to be needed off of the ball. I like Andre Iguodala and Eric Gordon, but I feel like if two of these guys aren’t going to make the team, it’s these two. Iguodala isn’t a good enough shooter and Eric Gordon isn’t athletic enough to be much more than a shooter. Gordon has a great stroke in his shot, can shoot it off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations, but he isn’t bringing too much more than that to the table at this point in his young career.

Point Guards: Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook

I think this will be the most competitive portion of the roster. I think Chauncey Billups veteran presence will earn him a spot on the team and I think Derrick Rose is just too good to not make the team, but Curry, Evans, Westbrook and Rondo can all do great things. Of this group, it’s hard to fathom any of these guys not making a basketball team, but I think after Billups and Rose, either Rajon Rondo or Russell Westbrook earn the final spot. We’re talking about two extremely fast guys who can jump in just about any passing lane and are deadly in transition. Both of them have shaky jump shots that can hurt, but then again, these are the two point guards of the two teams that gave the Lakers the biggest run for their money. Tyreke Evans, as much as I love watching him play, has a game that least translates to the international game. Then again, people were saying that his game wouldn’t translate to the NBA and he posted a 20-5-5 line in his rookie campaign. Stephon Curry’s shooting and playmaking ability will keep him competitive, I just think there are better point guards. I’m not knocking his game, because I love watching this kid’s game as well.

Until 2 p.m. Pacific Time, NBA.com will be showing an inside view of the NBA training camp (which I’m sure will be aired at a later time as well). For more information on Team USA, make sure you check out the official website. I’ll try and keep you guys as updated as possible on LO and the rest of Team USA.

Pau Dominates With Spain, Too

Kurt —  September 20, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
If after its first game of Eurobasket you had said Spain was going to walk away handily with the title, most people would have said “that Spain, the one just crushed by Serbia? HA!” Nobody questioned Spain was the most talented team, but they didn’t play like it. But by the end, Pau Gasol was tournament MVP and he had another major title (and Spain got revenge on Serbia beating them by 22).

Here are some comments from Xavier, our friendly basketball coach from Spain.

(Spain) reminded me a lot the 2008 Boston Celtics. They started real slow, playing awfully and almost being sent home too early. Serbia killed them by 20+. They started clicking after the last second loss against Turkey. Lithuania (+14), Poland (+22), France (+20), Greece (+18) and Serbia (+22) where their victims. Everything that happened before was just the ugliest basketball they’ve played in six years.

As a Laker fan, I hope Pau doesn’t feel too tired next season because this one have been veeery long, NBA champions, Euro champion, and almost no summer to rest, next week will be flying to LA to start preseason. About his finger injury, nothing to worry about, he’s been incredible.

All of this sets up a potentially very interest ring World Championships next year in Turkey.

Name me a basketball fan that didn’t enjoy the Olympics final. A single one. I want more of them, actually I’d wish every single team played at that level. I enjoyed Eurobasket final till half 3rd quarter, when it was all said and done. I want 4 quarters 40 minutes basketball games (48 minutes NBA wise). I want to cheer every play ’cause the opponent won’t give my team a second chance to shine. I want every competitor to give their best while playing against the best.

Eurobasket preview

Xavier Sánchez —  August 25, 2009

FIBA World Basketball Championship - Day 15
Regular readers here at FB&G know Xavier, our friend the professional coach in Barcelona. He was kind enough to throw a few words together for us previewing Eurobasket starting in just a little over a week. I did make some edits around Sasha, who is off that team now, but the points are Xavier’s. —Kurt

On September 7th the FIBA Eurobasket 2009 tournament in Poland starts [link to the schedule]. I was talking to Kurt about it and he asked me which teams were worthy of seeing and I offered myself to write a small piece about it. In this long summer without any basketball, getting some international action will please us basketball junkies.
I’m disappointed that some teams are missing key players but are still pretty interesting to watch. Let’s have a look at what teams are bringing to Poland.

CONTENDERS

Greece: They have lost 4 players that could perfectly fit in their starting 5, top playmakers Papaloukas and Diamantidis, and frontcourt players Papadopoulus and Tsartsaris, but they still can put a very competitive five on the floor most of the time, lead by star SG the explosive scorer Vassilis Spanoulis. With Papaloukas out the team won’t play that much the high pick&roll, which you Americans might remember from 2006 in Japan. I’m intrigued to see them integrating two young upcoming players: Calathes and Koufos. You both know them, greek players with American education and college experience. I’ve been disappointed by Koufos season in Utah but I believe he’ll eventually flourish. Two years ago, in the U18 Euro tournament he was the MVP followed by Rubio and dominated every single post player, I think he’s gonna do good.

Slovenia: They are missing two players, but will be a big threat without them. One is Nesterovic, if you consider him an important player. The other was Sasha Vujacic, who was trying to play for his national team for the first time, playing in that European style for the first time, and apparently did not blend that well (also, his knee could have been part of the problem). Only scoring PG Lakovic, former NBA Nachbar and post player Matjas Smodis can be considered big names but the rest of players are above average. Slovenia is the country in the world that has more professional basketball players per habitant, it might give you a hint of the passion they have for this sport. It will be interesting to see Suns young PG Goran Dragic and Primoz Brezec who returns to the NBA this year to play for the 76ers.

Spain: This team has lost Calderon this summer and former captain Jimenez but the Spaniards are so deep and talent that anything but gold would be a big failure. Marc Gasol will make us look back at the Pau trade and think it wasn’t that lopsided. Navarro is coming of a ACB MVP season and Rudy Fernandez is nothing but a rising star. Then you also have seasoned veterans and young upcoming talent as Portland draftee Victor Claver (remember I talked about him by draft time), Sergio Llull and the guy Bill Simmons and half of the basketball world is enamored with Ricky Rubio. It’s a delight watching this team play ball and with no USA playing in euros tournament, there’s no way any team can upset them.

UNDERDOGS

Lietuva (Lithuania):
As did Greece, Lithuania has lost too many important players such as Jasikevicius, Macijauskas or Siskauskas. Jasikevicius will be missed, a lot. He’s the heart and soul of the team but he really needed a summer off. The team will present a very interesting frontcourt with Lavrinovic twins and Robertas Javtokas holding the fort and Jasaitis and Kleiza will provide 3 point shooting. At the end, I think the Jasikevicius absence will be too much. If they overcome that loss, they could be in the top level.

Croatia: A very solid team but without flashy names. Pretty consistent and above average. Nikola Vujcic comes back to the national team after 4 years and seeing how Roko Ukic does when he’s getting big minutes might be the big two storylines following this team.

Latvia and Turkey: Both teams are led by NBA stars, Biedrins and Turkoglu, and have interesting core of players around. Maybe Turkoglu has the better sidekick in Ersan Ilyasova, who had a one year stint in The Bucks in 06-07 and spend the last to years in Spain. This year he’s back in a Bucks uniform and will battle for the starting PF position.

OTHER TEAMS THAT MAY BE WORTH SEEING

Russia: The current Eurobasket champ, only has one of their previous starting five. No Holden, Savrasenko, Kirilenko or Pashutin. Imagine the 2004 Pistons champions losing Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Sheed, well that’s this Russian team. They still have Khryapa and they have recently made an express passport to the American Kelly McCarthy but that’s not enough. Its their time to show the world something good if they want to be considered a team to be feared, but I’m not confident they will.

Israel: They have a couple interesting players worth of seeing: SG Yotam Halperim, a very skilled scorer and Lior Eliyahu, that has been teasing with the idea of going to the NBA for some years. It’s a shame Omri Casspi isn’t playing this year but he’s decided to devote him to his new team the Kings.

Serbia: Outside of Nenad Krstic, Popovic (26) and Kecman (33), every single player is under 24. Milicic, after ripping the Italian referees in 07 Eurobasket [ video] will never play again for its NT, Stojakovic, Jaric, Vujanic and Radmanovic are too old for this and the sensational scorer Rakocevic finished this season injured so he decided to have a summer off. This team will show up the future of the country and I can tell you its pretty bright.

THE REST


Germany,
Without Dirk and Kaman, who is a no show. What the hell, even with them the team is a no show! I hope Dirkmania brings Germany some basketball fever.

Great Britain has very little talent. Well, there is the NBA’s Azubuike, Deng and Gordon, but none of them are playing. It might only be worth watching new Rocket Pops Mensah-Bonsu jumping up and down and one of many Blazers draftees Freeland.

Magic fans will be rooting for the home team, Poland, as the polish hammer is playing for them. But that’s all what you’ll see, Marcin Gortat. And if they are lucky, they may also have flashes of Maciej Lampe, former NBA who did not much in the states.

And as for Macedonia, I have very few things to say other than they have a couple of American guys with Macedonian passport, Massey and Washington that can play some ball and that a “macedonia” is a dessert consisting of a salad of different fruits cut in small pieces with its juice pretty common in Spain.

The qualifying tournament hasn’t finished yet so we don’t know which team will get the final berth, once I know it I’ll give Kurt some new information.
Let me know if any of you plans on catching any action and if you are interested we could discuss some of it.
– Xavier Sánchez.

Pete Newell: Basketball Royalty

Gatinho —  November 17, 2008

The Guru, The Godfather, The Teacher…

A hall-of-famer who coached teams to an NIT championship, NCAA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal, Pete Newell’s impact on the game we all love should come out of the shadows now that he has passed away.

His first success would come coaching the USF Dons when he would lead them to an NIT championship, then the decider of the National Champion, in 1949. He would have another successful run at Michigan State before moving on to the University of California.

At Cal he would do something that alone could be reason enough to honor him; he beat John Wooden’s UCLA teams. It was Newell who would hand Wooden some of his only 2nd place finishes from 1956-1960 in the then Pacific Coast Conference. He would end his successful tenure with an NCAA title that had his team beating powerhouse Oscar Robertson and his Cincinnati team in the semifinals, followed up by a one point victory over Jerry West and his West Virginia Mountaineers.

Newell would retire from coaching abruptly at the age of 44 after leading West, Robertson, Jerry Lucas, and Walt Bellamy to an Olympic Gold medal in Rome in 1960. A squad that was the original dream team and proved as much by averaging 101 points a game and having four players average in double figures.

He would become the Lakers GM in 1972, and it was his close friendship with Milwaukee GM Wayne Embry that would be instrumental in the Lakers landing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Newell would guide the Lakers through the 70’s and place them in the capable hands of Bill Sharman once Sharman’s coaching career ended.

As Laker GM he would begin the most enduring part of his legacy, tutoring players in footwork. And that tutoring would center around the post.

Newell would draft Kermit Washington, most notorious for almost killing Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch in an in game fight. Washington had played as a center at American University and Newell was looking to make him a power forward due to his 6’7″ height. Newell spent the summer teaching Washington post moves and face up moves, joined by then UCLA star Kiki Vandeweghe.

This would be the genesis of Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp. Which would be attended by a number of NBA and college players, including an 18-year-old Andrew Bynum, and would be centered around the intricacies of proper footwork to enable a post player to move efficiently and be able to counter the defense with a myriad of moves in the pivot.

He longed for coaches at all levels to get back to teaching: “If a player knows why he’s doing something, he’s more likely to do it naturally.” And he co-authored books with Bobby Knight that would become gospel for many. But more importantly he would begin a basketball family tree that would include Knight, Jerry Tarkanian, and the inventor of the Triangle himself Tex Winter.

Tex’s senior year in high school in Huntington Park he would be manager of the Loyola freshman team, coached, or rather taught, by none other than Pete.

Peter Francis “Pete” Newell
Teacher
b. August 3, 1915 – d. November 17, 2008

-Gatinho

Gold Medal Game Time

Kurt —  August 23, 2008

Here’s my prediction — not only is the USA going to win the gold in Beijing, it will win it in London in 2012, too.

I’ll explain the second prediction first. One thing has been pretty clear in these Olympics and said by Kelly Dwyer among others — the USA is the best NBA-style team in this Olympics by a mile. It’s not a gap that other countries are going to close completely in the next four years.

And in four years (actually in two), the international game is going to look more like the NBA game.

The 3-point line will move from 20 feet, 6.1 inches to 22 feet, 1.7 inches. The NBA line is 23-9…..FIBA also will reconfigure the three-second area to match the NBA shape, going from a trapezoid to a rectangle.

FIBA is also throwing in a charge circle under the basket, as in the NBA. These rule changes favor the NBA players. For example now Dwight Howard can post deeper on the low block, and what player in the world can move him off that? All those changes will move the game toward more of an NBA style — there still will be no defensive three seconds and other key differences, but it will be more in the comfort zone of the NBA players.

Combine that with the larger three-year commitment and other things used as a structure this time around, and the USA will win the gold in London.

And they will win in Beijing too. Spain may be the most NBA-like team outside th USA in this tournament (although I expect they will break that mold some in the Gold Medal game) and as was said earlier, the USA is by far the best NBA-style team in this tournament.

Much like the Argentina game, I think for the USA to lose they would have to take the game off. Spain has a lot of talent, but not enough to withstand a focused USA team at both ends of the court. The USA has to be focused on defense and use ball pressure and stick with men at the three-point line. They have to be focused on offense and take advantage of good ball movement against a zone defense, not over-dribble and go into isolation then launch threes (Spain prefers a man-to-man but will play zone much more because Argentina had some success with it). They have to play through what will be a physical Spanish side. But they can do all that, and they have advantages. Rubio may be one of the best 17-year-old players I’ve ever seen, but he still makes 17-year-old mistakes when pressured and the USA bench should be able to run on those. The USA is a very deep team and that will wear Spain down.

As way of evidence, look at the raw +/- numbers for the Olympics and you see something interesting — no USA players in the negative. Also, whether adjusted or straight up, the two guys doing the best with plus-minus are the first two guys off the bench — Wade and Bosh. The USA brings guys off the bench that would be a team’s main weapon anywhere else.

There is no way the USA is not focused for the Gold Medal game. So there is no way they lose. And I don’t see them losing in major international play for a while now.

By the way, I’ll be up and commenting during the game (probably not a live blog, unless there is a lot of interest, but there are ones all over the Web tonight). Come by and share your thoughts.

USA vs. Argentina, and the Semis

Kurt —  August 21, 2008

I think my premise here is pretty simple:

Argentina may well give the USA their toughest test to date, but I don’t think Argentina can beat the USA unless the Americans help out.

A few thoughts to flesh that out. Argentina will try to slow the game down (the USA is at 81 possessions per game, fastest in the Olympics, while Argentina is at 69, the slowest) and because they have ball handlers like Manu that will not be coughing the ball up a lot they should be able to limit turnovers. That said they will give up some — sometimes against teams that bring high pressure and tempo it takes a while to adjust. The USA does that, with starters and off the bench. I think at some point in the first half the pressure is going to get to Argentina, maybe some subs, and the USA will go on a fast 10-0 run or so. Argentina will have to play catch-up from there, but I don’t think they can do it.

Argentina can score (their offensive rating through six games is 121 [points per 100 possessions], not bad but well behind the USA’s 129.1). They have good offensive talent, starting with Manu (Kobe on Manu is going to be fun to watch), but Delfino looked very good last game and they are a deep team (no, they are not, really). One thing the South Americans will have to do to win is hit threes — teams are shooting just 28.6% from three against the USA, to beat them you are going to have to shoot 40% or so.

But to win Argentina will need help — meaning the USA would have to be cold, particularly from the outside. The South Americans will have a hard time playing catch up on the USA, Argentina’s defense is not good enough to get a series of stops to make a counter run (they give up 107 points per 100 possessions, worst of the four teams left, compared to the USA’s 95).

That is to say, Argentina’s defense isn’t good enough unless the USA helps out. At times in the half court the USA just goes too much isolation and not enough ball movement (Kobe is one of the worst offenders). They get away with it because, well, Kobe and Wade and LeBron are very tough to stop in isolation. But Argentina has good defenders in Manu and Delfino, with Scola and Fabricio Oberto inside to help. If the USA’s offense stalls, if they shoot jumpers (especially early in the clock) and miss, it plays into Argentina’s hands. What will be key for the USA is less iso and more ball movement to get the ball into good position.

The thing to really watch is the tempo — if the USA gets turnovers and runs well, it could be another blowout. More likely, Argentina will keep it close for a while, but once the USA puts together one run Argentina will just not be able to catch up. I don’t think this version of team USA is going to help out opponents like past versions — they have been so focused on defense they will slow the Argentineans, and Argentina cannot slow them.

I’ll post some links to other previews here, starting with Basketball Prospectus. Now Fanhouse is in (from the amazing Ziller). Ball Don’t Lie links to a bunch of previews.

And one more link worth checking out — comparing Usain Bolt to Magic Johnson in a meaningful way.