Archives For International/Team USA

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.

UPDATE: My worst-case scenario held sway for about the first 15-minutes of the game, but in the third quarter in particular the USA’s defense took over, and that was the difference. KD emphasized the defense and Kobe’s role in his great roundup.

Craig W. said the same thing in the comments:

All the flash and dash was the reason we lost those other basketball games this last decade. The people who win these things play in the trenches and stop the other people. Players the world over can score. It is defense and how you transition both ways that wins championships – FIBA or NBA. Kobe takes the best scorer on the other team and all people talk about is how Lebron and Wade dominated the scoring. What they dominated is the defense – then they scored.

Next up, Argentina. A very good team where pace will be the key, but we’ll get to that down the line. Today we enjoy a good win.

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Laugh if you want, but I think the Australia — and the following game if it is Argentina — are going to be a bigger test to the Americans than another match up with Spain. Australia may be the team most capable of the “Greece game” that beats the United States.

The reason is that Australia brings to the table a couple of the things that will slow the US.

First is what Patrick Mills brings — a point guard that the USA must respect and may not succumb to the pressure defense. So far in this tournament the USA has forced turnovers on 23% of opponent possessions, that has led to those fast-break baskets they thrive on. If Mills can again handle the pressure — which needs to come from Paul and not Kidd for much of the game — it will be one thing to slow the game.

And slowing the game will be key. The USA has averaged 81 possessions a game so far in the round-robin play, Australia is at 73 (Argentina, by the way, is at 69). If the Aussies get back on defense, if they don’t turn the ball over, that will be the first big step. The USA just needs to run — after makes and misses.

And the USA needs to force misses. Australia’s hybrid-Princeton offense is very effective — the USA has an offensive rating in the Olympics 126 (points per 100 possessions), but Australia is second at 125.1. They are deliberate but they can score, both on the back cuts that have killed the USA in the past and from three. The USA must be focused in its half-court defense, watch the cuts and close out on shooters.

That will mean Dwight Howard with a lot of one-on-one time with Andrew Bogut. Howard should be able to hold his own but he cannot get in foul trouble. While Bosh has been great Bogut may be able to be physical with him on the block on offense.

Despite all that, to lose I think the USA would have to go cold from the outside, and Australia hasn’t defended well. They have let teams shoot 60.4% (eFG%) and have a defensive rating of 110 (sixth in the games). Once again, the USA should be able to score, either in the half court or on the run.

But Australia will be the biggest test for the USA yet, and we are now in the one-and-done phase. Argentina in the next round could do the same thing (slow pace, good outside shooters, a defense as good or better than Spain’s).

Play focused, play like they have and the USA wins. But take a night off and……

By the way, I think Lithuania and Spain should move on, but the Greece/Argentina game could be interesting.

Vacation And Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 18, 2008

I just got back from a vacation that included Chicago and the Detroit suburbs, and first things first, thanks to Reed for the breakdowns, Darius for his game thoughts, Gatinho for his history and game thoughts, and Nomuskles for filling that live-blog Jones we all had. This site never misses a beat with them around.

So, here are my pent-up thoughts on a whole range of issues.

• Chicago is an amazing and fun place, and hats off to a city willing to invest so much in fantastic public art like at Millennium Park. Those are the kind of things that really make a city. Of course, ask my kids what the best part was and they say pizza.

• We should get into the Lakers news. A couple weeks ago we were talking about “Tractor” Traylor and others as the possible back up big at the end of the bench next season, but it appears Josh Powell will get that role.

It’s a nice pick-up, one that fits with the team Mitch Kupchak has built in that he is a player whose skills fit what the Lakers do and need. Powell has good energy and is scrappy, and that shows mostly on the boards (he grabbed 15.6% of available rebounds last year with the Clippers, that’s the same percentage as Odom). He scores mostly at the basket but has a nice midrange jumper, although was a little slow to use it last year, and he sets a very good pick away from the basket. If he can do those things with the Lakers he will get some decent minutes.

Why take my word for it, look at what the brilliant Kevin at Clipper Blog said about Powell last season:

Josh Powell continues to show that he’s a serviceable frontcourt bench guy who can give you a quality screen up high.

I’d like to offer another endorsement of Josh Powell as a bona fide useful NBA piece. Back at NC State, he was an extremely active frontcourt player on both ends with more quickness than your average power forward. “Energy player” is a often a euphemism for a guy who is neither a small nor a power forward and I was initially skeptical that Powell could find a place on the floor except in those rare instances when a Boris Diaw-type is playing the 4, but his post defense has been solid. In addition, he’s improving in help situations with each passing week. Offensively, his mid-range game is what I remember from his ACC days – instinctive and with a better touch than you’d think.

• In Chicago we came across a few good jazz street musicians. I just love that in an urban setting. I wish LA had more of them.

• I only caught one Team USA Game while on vacation — USA vs. Spain, But that told me plenty. I’m not going to add on to the superlatives already seen at this site and summed up so well by KD. The USA put on a great performance.

But I will say that the USA still can be beat. And with the one and done games coming up (starting with Australia, it appears, who gave the USA fits in a tune up playing without Bogut) the USA cannot lose its focus. For the USA to lose, a few things have to happen:

1) The opposing team cannot turn the ball over. I think one of the most misused stats in basketball is “points off turnovers” (it bugs me how much Joel Meyers loves it) but in the case of team USA it is telling. You cannot give them easy baskets. They are unstoppable in the open court.
2) The opposing team has to shoot a high percentage, making the USA take the ball out not rebound and run. Bottom line with this and the first note, the opponent will have to slow the game pace down, and they have to get back on defense.
3) The USA has to be cold from three in the halfcourt. If they are hitting like they did against Spain, there is just no way to stop the scoring machine.
4) Score on the USA with back cuts and ball movement.

It may be hard to do all that in the face of the USA’s ball-pressure defense, and the USA is going to have to help the cause with an off night, but it’s not impossible. When they play again for the gold I think Spain will be able to deal better with the USA’s pressure, with turnovers down. But I doubt that will be enough.

• I watched that game on the Canadian Broadcasting Company feed (you get that in the Detroit area) and it was a pleasure to hear a game broadcast without all the hyping of stars that happens on ESPN and ABC.

• Ricky Rubio is just 17? He was Spain’s best PG by a mile, and dealt better with the USA’s pressure than Calderon. He’s got some flash but just kept making the right plays.

• China loves them some Kobe-a! Jones on the NBA breaks it down.

• It’s a ways away, but we’re starting to gear up for the season, and one way to do some review and look ahead is to check out an interview I did with Empty The Bench that covers a lot of ground.

• If you haven’t seen this yet, the account of how one woman became a Lakers fan is a fun read.

• If you go to Chicago, it’s not all that cheap ($30), but the boat architectural tour up the river is a must. Thanks to Matt from Blog-A-Bull for that suggestion.

Some quick hit notes about what’s going on recently in the Olympics and the NBA in general…

*Team USA ran away with it’s third consecutive game with a 92-69 bashing of Greece.  From the recap, this was obviously a meaningful game for the Americans.  Out of all the recent failings of Team USA in international competition, none has stung more than the defeat they suffered at the hands of the Greeks in the World Championships in 2006.  With that extra motivation, Team USA used its pressure defense and athleticism to take down the Greeks in another rout for the U.S. in its quest for Gold.  Today’s highlight play (SportsCenter’s Top 10 play for sure) was a D-Wade steal and perfectly thrown lob to Kobe for a tremendous two handed slam all while Wade was falling out of bounds.  If you haven’t seen it yet, believe me, you’ll get plenty of chances later today. (Update: here it is.  Hat tip to Awful Announcing via Ball Don’t Lie.)

*Speaking of Wade, Flash is back.  (Besides Bosh) Wade has been the pleasant suprise of Team USA.  I was one person who, before this tournament started, questioned Wade and how he would fit in with this team and whether his game would translate well to the FIBA style of play.  I thought of an inconsistent long range jumpshot and wondered how he would create for himself against the zones that Team USA was likely to face.  Color me dumb.  Wade’s first step and strength has been the difference in him getting whatever he wants on offense, be it scoring or creating for others.  Wade has been fantasic as a playmaker (5 assists in 20 minutes against Greece) and has wreaked havoc in the passing lanes (6! steals in this game) and in finishing on the break (he’s obviously not alone there, though).

*As for our favorite son, Kobe, he finally had a more efficient offensive game.  Kobe had 18 pts. on 7-14 shooting and finally found some range on his jumper, going 2-5 from deep.  There have been questions about Kobe’s offense…if the shorter 3 point arc is messing him up, if his hand is injured, if he’s tired, or if the magnitude of playing in the Olympics (remember it’s his first time in FIBA play on this grand a stage) has him a little too excited.  Maybe it’s all of the above.  I happen to think he’s just a little out of rhythm and that his offense will come.  I also think that his “doberman” mentality on defense has made his offensive game less efficient.  He’s treating every defensive possesion like it’s the final possesion in the game and working like a mad man.  Sometimes working that hard on D makes your O suffer.  But, he had a decent game today, so maybe he’s turning the corner.

*Other Olympic notes:  Pau Gasol has played well for Spain.  He’s been shooting a good percentage from the field and had an excellent showing against the host country, China, with 29 pts., 8 reb., and 3 blocks.  Our other favorite Sun, Mr. Yue has played well.  His exploits against Team USA have been covered, but he also had a nice outing against Angola.  Sun had 11 points on 4-4 shooting (including 2-2 on threes) while also registering 2 assists and 2 steals in 29 minutes.

*On to the Association…In case you haven’t heard, Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala re-upped with their respective teams.  Iggy definitely got the better of the two deals, and as the better player (IMO) I think that should be the case.  As for Smith, Memphis GM Chris Wallace should get another high-five from a rival GM as he gave the Hawks an easy out by signing J-Smooth to a very fair market contract offer-sheet, and thus easily allowing the Hawks to match.  Even with ownership issues abound in the ATL, matching that deal was easy as pie.  Also making news of late is the 3 team trade that landed Lebron a new running-mate in PG Mo Williams.  Without getting too much into the details of the deal (but if you want a strong oppinion, check out Hollinger’s), I think the Cavs did well to get another guy who can handle the ball and score some points.  Williams may not be a classic PG, but he can handle the ball, run an offense, and he can score the ball, thus allowing Lebron a little more rest on offense.

*One final Olympics note:  Big props to Michael Phelps.  I am a Phelps Phan and will be rooting him on tonight in his quest for more shiny neck ware.

(UPDATE: As Paydawg mentioned in the comments, the Lakers have agreed to terms with former Clipper, Josh Powell.)

Darius

The new 08-09 NBA schedules are out, including the Lakers.

My thoughts at first glance — the Lakers should get off to a fast start. With the depth of the West there just are few if any “gimmes” but the front end of the schedule is fairly friendly. First, 10 of the first 15 games are home games (and one road game is at Staples against the Clips). While that stretch of games includes a couple against Dallas and one against Detroit, it is not a murderer’s row.

Overall 27 of the first 46 are at home.

The big road trips and some of the toughest games come in late January when a six-game east game road trip that includes Boston and Cleveland among others. Then there is March, which includes most of a seven-game road trip and where for just over a month the Lakers have 12 road games and just five at home. Among those road games are some trips through Texas (which is never easy)

Bottom line, there are going to be some periods in the middle of the season and nearing the end when wins will be harder to come by and the Lakers record will likely flatten out a little. So they need to fatten up early, gain some momentum that can carry them through the season.

The good news is the final few games in April include ones we think should be winnable, which will matter trying to jockey for playoff seeding. In a deep West, there likely will be a team in the bottom half of the bracket you want to avoid (Portland?).

The Lakers open the season Oct. 28 against said Portland Trailblazers in a TNT game at Staples (what to start taking bets now if it starts on time?). The next night the Lakers get their first back-to-back of the year, taking on the Clippers (on ESPN).

Christmas day, the Lakers at least get to be at home this year but they are playing — against the Celtics. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. First comment by an announcer that this game is going to be different than last year’s finals should be at 2:01.

Overall, the Lakers have 24 national television games (that would be 29% of their games). Not sure what the NBA TV schedule is yet, but a few more may land there. The rest will be available on regional broadcasts (Fox Sports West and Fox Sports Prime Ticket).

A couple other links worth checking out:

Hoops Addict is doing the Floor Burn Tournament — a breakdown of the guys around the league who are not the stars but do the dirty work to help a team to win. Asked to nominate a Laker I said Sasha Vujacic (Kobe may actually be the best floor-burn guy on the Lakers but we’re talking non-star). In the first round, Sasha is up against Nick Fazekas of the Clips (and winning so far). Go vote for the man — I’d say he’s a better three-point shooter than anyone you can vote for come November, but then I saw that Obama clip. (Can we sign him for the vet’s minimum? It’s more than he would make as President.)

Really interesting Kobe Bryant interview at youtube, one where he talks about life growing up (hat tip to True Hoop)

For those of you jonesing to play GM this summer there is a new fantasy league set up that is governed by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement — you can’t just sign every free agent you want. It’s run by PASPN.net and you may want to check it out.

On a different note, I wrote in the last thing I did on Team USA that they were doing well against the zone. And, at that point, they had been, even against Lithuania they showed a lot potential with some ball movement and getting the ball inside to bust a zone. But against the matchup zone of Russia and against Australia they regressed. They went isolation and didn’t get the ball to a big flashing through the paint. The outside shooting went cold. These are correctable things, the kind of things that these players know how to do. Having an off night shooting in a “friendly” is no big deal. But the team cannot get into bad habits then flip the switch come the quarterfinals. It almost looks like that is what is happening. Coach K. needs to snap that out of them before things matter in the quarterfinals.

Finally, this is my last post for a couple weeks, as I am off on vacation (Chicago and visiting some cousins-in-law outside Detroit). The posts will keep coming around here, however, from some of your favorite sources. There will be plenty of international and other ball to talk about. Talk to you all mid-August.

Olympic Scouting Report

Kurt —  August 5, 2008

Regular readers of this site know Xavier, a professional basketball coach living in Barcelona (who recently earned a well-deserved promotion). He has a very good blog although the updates have been slow because he’s been working. The guy knows his stuff, and he has seen most of the world’s basketball teams much more than we have, so he was kind enough to do a little scouting report for this blog. Enjoy.

Teams to beat

While sorting the teams and ranking them, there were only 2 with more than 8 players other teams should take pretty serious and those teams were Spain and USA.

USA

On paper, this team is the greatest ever since 92’ Dream Team. You don’t need me to tell you about these guys but I can help with how they fit into FIBA ball.

You guys have been discussing how pick&roll killed the US team other years. That’s true, but it’s mostly because US team doesn’t know how to play team defense. What Celtics did to the Lakers was team defense, and that’s what USA should play in order to compete.

American fans belief the team is thin at the frontcourt. It would be thin for the NBA but not FIBA. Melo should be one of the main weapons of the team (he has the perfect combination of skill-set, size and athletism for a 4 in FIBA ball) playing the PF backed up by Prince or Boozer depending on the situation while Howard and Bosh hold the C. For me it’s perfect.

One thing I have some concerns is team mentality. Lebron and Wade promising the gold medal after all those years of disappointment? Twelve alpha dogs in the same team…How many balls do this team need to have all players happy? Having 3 great PG it’s not enough, you need guys who can play without the ball to get the right mood to be great. Will they be able to do that?

If this can be solved, damn we’ll have fun watching this team.

SPAIN

Their names may sound familiar to you. Four NBA players (Gasol brothers, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon) three former NBA (JC Navarro, Raul Lopez and Garbajosa) and one soon to be NBA (Ricky Rubio).

Jose Calderon would be a starter in 25 of the 30 NBA teams, Navarro and Rudy Fernandez are one of the best 1-2 punches at the wings and the Gasol brothers are sick at the frontcourt. Marc Gasol quick improvement might send Felipe Reyes to the bench while shifting Pau to the 4, anyway this 3 headed monster is a pretty good one to have. Throw in Garbajosa playing some 3 and 4 if you wish to be more pleasant with it. Carlos Jimenez, team captain and one of the best European glue guys, may start at the 3 but I expect to see Navarro and Rudy in crunch time.

But this is not just about names. These guys have something other teams don’t have. They are all FRIENDS. Gasol, Calderon, Reyes, Lopez and Navarro have been together in the national team since they were 15. Their team chemistry could not be better and that give them a plus over any other team.

One guy you’ll probably want to see is the 17 years old sensation Ricky Rubio. He’s smarter than any other player his age. Led the ACB in steals last year (second was his team mate and now blazers rookie Fernandez) while just playing 25 min per game. He might not have many minutes because he’s the third PG behind Calderon and Lopez.

Coach Garcia-Reneses loves defense and use it to confuse rivals. For the years I’ve seen him coaching, his trademark has always been “don’t let them think on the offense, make them run on defense”. An NBA scout told me that it’s a shame NBA teams doesn’t look for coaches overseas because Garcia-Reneses would be a great steal.

The team will be playing with a high tempo but not rushing, creating the game not from quick steals but from exhausting defense.

Contenders

ARGENTINA

I understand why Ginobili and Oberto play in San Antonio — because Argentina is the closest team to the Spurs. They might look old, and they can play dirty basketball, but they win. Argentina is that team that’s always there playing for the top spot.

They are built from the inside-out. Scola is a monster inside the paint and Oberto will be his sidekick in the frontcourt. Nocioni, Ginobili and Delfino handle the outside scoring while Pablo Prigioni takes the ball to the best chance to score the ball.

I don’t know how Ginobili will be when the tournament starts but what I’ve seen in a couple pre-olympics games is that he’s not 100%. With Ginobili in killer-mode they are a team to beat, without they are a step behind USA and Spain.

LITHUANIA

Linas Kleiza might be it’s only NBA but Lithuania’s heart and soul is Sarunas Jasikevicius. His NBA career wasn’t as dreamt but in Europe is a basketball god. I’ve seen Saras with the team around him, listening, and then leave the huddle 100% motivated. Saras is the consummate leader.

Two guys I like a lot are the Lavrinovic twins. Darius and Ksystof are the pair of interior players of the team. They are comfortable leaving the paint so defenses might be aware of that while defending the low post.

The twins, Kleiza and Jasikevicius will be on the starting 5 along with Ramunas Siskauskas key member of CSKA Moscow Euroleague title.

Jasaitis(SG-SF), Javtokas (C), Kaukenas and Maciulis (SG) will play a big roll from the bench.

GREECE

I’ve heard many times I’ve heard that the Greek pick&roll killed US 2 summers ago. Guys, by then the USA was too confident and inexperienced in FBIBA play — and that’s when they had to face the best pick&roll PG in the world, Theo Papaloukas. It’s incredible how he read the game. His favourite play is a right handed pick anywhere the court (pretty often from the top of the key and even from half court) and get to the paint to see what happens. Once he’s there he takes his time. Look right, look left, walks thru the bigman forest, fake it with his head and while he’s heading out dish it from nowhere or take it out to start it over again.

Dimitris Diamantidis, a superb defender and good playmaker, is the other PG of the team, and will probably see lots of minutes at the SG as he’s also one of the stars of the team. Both PGs are over 6-5 feet tall.

There’s just 1 player shorter, team’s first scoring option SG Vassilis Spanoulis. You might remember him for his one-year tenure in Houston leaving the next year saying he was homesick. The truth is that he reminds me a lot to former Grizzlie JC Navarro but Spanoulis didn’t have a coach who gave him a chance to show his game.

The guy Greece will be missing a lot is Lazaros Papadopulous, one of the top 5 bigman in Europe, who said he would not be playing for national team anymore. Without him they’ve lost their core interior weapon.

I want to see to see Clippers draftee Sofoklis Schortsanitis, nicknamed Baby Shaq because his strength… and because he weigh the same as Shaq at 6-9. I heard a story of him that Olimpiakos sent him to a weigh losing center and came home with some pounds more than how he entered. Concerned, the team looked the bill of the hotel and saw that the room service bill was quite expensive…

RUSSIA

Winning Spain in last year’s Eurobasket finals makes me give them some respect, and that’s why I consider them contenders.

JR Holden has been playing great lately making CSKA Moscow consider trading European superstar PG Papaloukas (finally traded to Olimpiakos). He is never tired, could play 44 min per game and be able to hit the big three in crunch time. That said, he’s not the best playmaker.

The playmaking of the team relies in Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. I don’t know what goes thru AK mind when playing FIBA ball that changes his offensive arsenal lately hidden in Salt Lake City.

This team relies a lot in three pointers. Holden, Khryapa, Monya, Pashutin can shoot out the lights and even AK jacks some long range bombs. Alexey Savrasenko will be an important player in the paint helping AK.

Big bodies closing the lines in defense while playing the drive and kick in offense.

Bubble/Enigma teams

GERMANY

You can never count off a team that features Dirk Nowitzki but for me this team has more questions than answers.

Kaman asking for the German nationality was as a gift from above for Germany as the C position was held by the old Patrick Femerling. He and Dirk may lead the team or head early back home.

Other bigmans of the team, Tim Ohlbrecht and Jan-Hendrik Jagla are two of the most inconsistent contributors in Europe. Ohlbrecht is still young at just 20 but skinny for the five spot. Time ago he was projected as a top 20 draft pick but his lack of presence could not get him even an important contract in Europe. I’ve seen Jagla scoring 5-6 3’s one game and the next shoot 2-12. I like this guy, he got game, but at 27 years old you are supposed to be more consistent and offer a solid contribution every time you hit the court.

Outside the frontcourt, this team is pretty thin. Pascal Roller (PG) and Robert Garrett (SG) are the two vets who can deliver it more constantly but I would not bet my money on them.

CHINA

I was thinking of handling China the ALL-ENIGMA TEAM award. Outside of Yao no one here is proven.

Jianlian Yi, newly acquired by the Nets, has potential, coached when young as a wing player he grow late and became a face to basket 7 footer.

There are two other interesting prospects in the squad. Lakers draftee Sun Yue and Chen Jianghua.

Sun’s case its pretty similar to Jianlian’s. When he was young he was short and played the PG since then one day started to grow quick — really quick — and now is a 23 years old 6-9 PG. Talent is there but he doesn’t really knows how to use it. More over, he’s been out of Chinese team for political reasons (Beijing Aoshen, his pro team, didn’t want its players play for the national team years before and they were excluded from Chinese league, since then the team plays in ABA league) so his spot in rotation may not be clear at all right now. Might see also minutes at the 2 and the 3

Chen Jianghua is a 19 years old speedy PG from Guangdong. He is considered one of the best talents in China where few short players have become worth watching. The squad is pretty loaded at the guard but he’s got a chance to take the starting spot.

CROATIA

Balcanic teams always inspire my fear. Croatia is a group of talented hard workers. They started a youth movement a couple years ago in the national team — Davor Kus (29) and Nikola Prkacin (33) are the 2 vets and are surrounded by the likes of new Raptor PG Roko Ukic (24), Popovic (26), Marko Tomas (23), Planinic (26), Banic (24) and Stanco Barac (22).

The PG duties are well distributed with Ukic and Planinic with both able to play the SG. At the wings will be Popovic, Tomas and Kus while Banic and Barac are two young frontcourt players with great work ethic and growing into pretty solid basketball players in Spanish ACB league.

Be careful with Croatia because is the kind of team that could beat bigger teams who are too confident.

Lucky to be there

Australia, Iran and Angola are 3 teams that got their passport to the Olympics because of regional distribution of invitations to keep the competition the more international as possible. I could start saying many teams that deserve this berth much more than them, starting with France, Italy, Slovenia or Puerto Rico.

Team USA and Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 2, 2008

A few thoughts after watching the USA v. Lithuania game, plus some other stuff.

• We still don’t know how this USA team will fare against a team that can maintain ball control against their aggressive defense — but the question really is how many teams are going to be able to do that? In this game the USA realized that Lithuania had one guy who is really a good ball handler, former Pacer and Warrior (and Terrapin) Sarunas Jasikevicius. They stuck Kobe on him to take the ball out of his hands, and with that the turnovers were flowing.

• All the USA wing defenders extended their defense way out beyond the three-point line. This made it hard for Lithuania to get into the pick and roll, but when they didn’t turn the ball over (when they settled down in the second quarter) Lithuania was able to get the ball inside and score.

• Lithuania did get into the pick and roll, in the first quarter the USA was generally aggressive and switching on defesnse. That left some mismatches big on small inside that another team may be able to exploit if they have the ball handlers. As the game wore on Lithuania was able to exploit this some with some baskets on good rolls to the basket. The USA had some confusion. It’s a kink the team still needs to work out.

• In transition team USA’s ball movement is fantastic. And fun to watch.

• D. Wade played some nice help defense.

• Lithuania really should wear the old Grateful Dead jerseys again.

• In previous Olympics and international competitions, team USA struggled against a zone. Not so far with this group — Howard is a good presence in the soft underbelly of the zone, Wade a d LeBron can drive into the lane, Kobe and Redd will just shoot over the top of it. Both are willing to shoot the NBA three, nearly three feet beyond the international arc, and defenders are just slow to come that far out.

• Against the second USA unit, where Chris Bosh is the center, the USA is soft inside. That may come back to bite them against a deeper team (Spain, for example).

Studies have shown that guys who played in the Olympics/World Championships are not any more likely to be injured the following season (although the sample size is pretty small). I think it will be interesting to see this year — if I were a Cleveland fan I wouldn’t be that worried about LeBron, but Kidd in Dallas is another matter. Will he be a little more worn down and not bounce back as fast? That matters as dependant as Dallas will be on Kidd to contend.

• For the Lakers, I’m not that worried about Kobe after the Olympics. He takes amazing care of himself, plus he will get a little down time due to the hand surgery after the games.

Pau Gasol on the other hand, that has me a little concerned. Remember, he got a broken bone in his foot two years ago in the World Championships, missed the first few months of the season and was never quite right that year. That was a fluke accident, but flukes happen, particularly in the paint where bodies bang around.

• It’s been discussed in the comments here and everywhere else, but here are my two cents: Ron Artest makes Houston a top title contender — on paper. If Yao Ming can have a healthy season after the Olympics, if McGrady can stay healthy, if Artest can blend in comfortably as a third offensive option and not dominate the ball in crunch time, they can be contenders. That may be a lot to ask, but it is far from impossible. Much like Portland, Houston is a team that could be very good or very disappointing come February and March. By then we’ll have an idea if they are contenders or not.

• If you travel with your laptop, there are things you should know.