Archives For International/Team USA

Argentina and Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 31, 2007

I got injured the other day just watching Beckham play…..

• Well, if Argentina wants another shot at the USA, they should get it in a few days. But after watching the first meeting I’m not sure the second one will turn out any differently.

• News flash: Kobe likes big games.

He scored the first eight USA points in classic Kobe fashion — if you are not right up on him he thinks he’s open and hits the shot. He drained his first couple shots that way theen, two trips later (after Carmello’s three), Kobe gets the outlet pass but chooses not to get the ball ahead to Kidd who is pushing the pace, brings it up himself and takes a heat-check three from NBA distance — something else very Kobe but not something he needs to do with this team.

Still, Kobe was relentless against a defender that could not begin to handle him. He drove right past his man one trip down in the first quarter for a nice layup, then in the next half-court set he got a high pick from Howard, Kobe’s man remembered what happened the time before and went under the pick to prevent the drive, so Kobe stepped back and burried he three. He can be an instoppable offensive machine.

• Defensively, the USA seemed to step up the physicality throughout the tournament, really adjusting to the international game and banging a little.

They also changed up their looks on Argentina’s vaunted pick and roll — they switched at times and showed hard at other times (with the defending big stepping out on the ball handler until the defending guard can recover), and they did a pretty good job rotating behind the two defenders to pick up the guy rolling to the basket (the atheticism of the USA bigs also allows them to recover quickly). That said, I thought Argentina was a little sloppy in the first half setting the picks.

• Argentina has read the book on the USA, and early on they were getting back in transition and being patient on offense. When you play a team that can score like the USA, fewer possessions is better. But they didn’t take advantage of it. In the first half they were just missing some open looks from three and finished the half 1 of 12 from downtown (for the game 5 of 21). Think they miss Ginobli?

All those missess allowed the USA plenty of the fast break chances, where the USA thrives.

• The USA was having no such trouble hitting from three — 8 of 17 in the first half.That’s part of the reason the second half was a laugher.

• Sometimes when you’re on the one coast you don’t see as much of some players on the other coast, and when you do get to see then you remember how special they are. Jason Kidd has been that for me — man is he is fun to watch.

• I like Luis Scola. He showed a nice handle and hustle for first basket. Later he shows good footwork with a couple moves in the post, one time recognizing Tayshaun Prince was on him so he posted Prince up and abused him. He also drained some nice shots from the midrange. He is going to fit in great with Houston.

• Next up is the only game that really matters — if the USA beats Peurto Rico again they get their ticket punched to Bejing. If you want to read more on what the first meeting of these two teams was like, you should check out The Painted Area.

• Great trip in the Way-Back Machine to when the Lakers and Bulls met in the 1991 NBA Finals.

• Man, we all miss Chick. Things have not been the same without him. (Via Henry at True Hoop, who I swear reads every word written on the Web.)

Forgive the corny Hope/Crosby headline, but the USA looks like a lock to go to the 2008 Olympics — and first and foremost this is what had to happen in this Tournament of Americas we’ve all been glued to. (Well, maybe glued isn’t the right word….) After watching all four USA games plus a little here and there from other games, and I think we can safely say the USA is the class of this tournament.

The numbers back that up. Look at some key stats from the top four teams in the tournament.

Team eFG% Pace Off. Rating Def. Rating
USA 66.4% 80.2 138 82.3
Brazil 50.2% 75.9 113.9 110.6
Argentina 57.2% 78.5 119.6 96.6
Uruguay 50.2% 77.2 107.1 107


(A quick key for those of you new here: eFG%: Shooting percentage combining two and three pointers; Pace, possessions per game; Off. Rating, points scored per 100 possessions; Def. Rating, points given up per 100 possessions.)

The USA not only has its expected best offense (although they still revert to the one-on-one game too quickly), it has been playing the best defense as well. Now, what they have done has not totally eliminated my defensive concerns from last year in Japan — there has been no change in philosophy, they have just put out better defenders and upped the pressure (great story by Eric Neel about the new USA attitude). That’s been more than good enough here, will it be good enough next summer is the question.

The numbers suggest that even without all their best players, Argentina is the second best team, although I think Brazil is pretty close. (Remember, those stats are from just four games, and one of Brazil’s games was against the USA while Argentina has yet to play them.) My guess is that these two teams could meet in one of the semi-final games next Saturday, with an Olympic berth on the line, and that will be quite a game.

After that, the talent drops off pretty far. Uruguay is 3-1 and in second place in their division, but look at their numbers and they should be a .500 team (one of their wins was in overtime against Panama, a team that also took Argentina to overtime). They are a one man crew — Estiban Batista is leading the entire tournament in points and rebounds, averaging 23 and 15. Curious to see him against the USA front line.

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The best way to get into what the USA is doing right is to get into a breakdown of the plays that helped them pull away last night against Brazil.

As we pick up the action it was a two-point USA lead with 8:10 left in the second after Barbosa outran the entire USA team down the court, caught the long-heave and laid it in.

USA up 2: After trying a couple other things the USA goes with the pick and roll out on the wing with LeBron handling the ball and Howard throwing a nice elbow into the LeBrons man to slow him, but Nene switches well and handles LeBron, who kicks it back out top of the key to Billups. Chauncey surveys the situation and whips it back into the corner to LeBron, but this time Nene has laid off him, so LeBron drains the three from the corner.

USA up 5: Brazil runs Barbosa off two screens (much like UCLA used Afflalo last year) but Kobe does a good job fighting through them and stays with him. Barbosa is the heart of the Brazilian offensive machine and Kobe put the lockdown on him in this game — Brazil’s other players picked it up for a while but they couldn’t sustain it. Anyway, Barbosa gets the ball as he curls by the free throw line but Kobe is there and Kidd sags down on him, so Barbosa kicks out to Marcelo Machado for a good look three, and while he’s shooting 35% from distance for the tourney he misses this one.

Kidd gets the outlet and pushes the ball up, draws three defenders in the key so he passes to LeBron baseline, who gets trapped by two defenders but makes a nifty bounce pass to Carmelo under the basket. Carmelo misses the first reverse layup but fights to get the ball back, and hits a five-foot fade away using the glass.

USA up 7: After working the ball around a little bit and finding nothing, USA draft legend Tiago Splitter gets the ball out by the three point line just left of the top of the key, and proceeds to blow by Carmelo Anthony and get the layup. Splitter impressed me in this game, he can play. And, not shockingly, he is a good international player who is the property of the San Antonio Spurs.

USA up 5: Off an out of bounds pass (Billups drew a foul from Nene), Kobe comes out on the side to set a pick for Carmelo, but Carmelo goes away from the pick and right at Splitter, and draws the foul while shooting. He hits both free throws.

USA up 7: Brazil’s Joa Paulo Batista gets the ball out by the three point line and shows scouts why he should not get the ball out by the three point line, looking confused and almost making a turnover. Brazil’s Garcia (who is trying to pick up the Barbosa slack as creator) runs up to bail Batista out, gets handed the ball and then blows right past Mike Miller for the layup. (Redd has been great in this tournament, Miller should plan his family vacation next summer in Europe, he’ll have the free time). That would be the last field goal of the half for Brazil.

USA up 5: Kobe quickly gets the ball on the wing and does something very Kobe — destroys his man driving past him baseline, draws two defenders near the basket, and still nearly makes the reverse layup while drawing the foul. He hits one of two.

USA up 6: Batista gets the ball down on the right block and shows scouts why he should gets the ball down on the block, making a neat little bounce pass in the lane to the cutting Garcia, who is fouled while shooting. He hits one of two.

USA up 5: Good recognition of the match up by team USA, Garcia is tasked with covering Kobe, and even the slimmed down version of Kobe is way too much for Garcia on the block, so the USA gets him the ball in the low post (Carmelo steps out on the wing to allow Kobe to post up, then makes the entry pass). Kobe backs Garcia down and scores with a finger roll.

USA up 7: After Amare almost steals the ball from Bastista out by the three point line (what did we say about him away from the block?), Brazil gets a second chance but this time Kidd does get a steal, knocking the ball free from a driving Garcia. This leads to a fast break the other way, where Kidd draws the foul but only hits one of two from the line.

USA up 8 (5:09 left): Brazil calls a timeout, then runs a nice out of bounds play that has Kobe trailing Garcia behind a pick, but while Garcia gets a good look at the three he’s only shooting 20% from distance in the tourney, and true to form he misses. So Kidd pushes the ball up again, but Brazil is back and picks up everyone. Well, everyone but the trailer LeBron, who gets in deep then hits a high archer over the closing defender.

USA up 10: Still not enough shots of the hot Brazilian women you know are in the crowd for this, instead (after a ball knocked out of bounds) we get to watch Valter Da Silva made a nice drive from the top of the key and draw a foul on Kidd. Don’t know much about this guy, but nice free throw stroke.

USA up 8: Brazil decided to press full court and tries to trap Billups, something they tried a few times during the game — trapping the USA guards. It failed just about every time because the USA guards were taller and just passed over the top of it. In this case Billups’ pass out is tipped but still gets to LeBron, who drives from half court into the lane and once every defender is on him he kicks to Kobe for a wide open three from the wing.

USA up 11: Brazil tries the USA’s no-motion offense, apparently just intimidated by the USA pressure defense. When forced to do something with the shot clock winding down they throw the ball out of bounds.

At the other end Brazil chooses do double-team/trap Billups again and with some quick passing around the perimeter Michael Redd gets a good look at a three. He’s shooting 51.6% from downtown for the tourney, but this was part of the other 48.4%.

Brazil comes down with the intention of getting the ball to Nene on the block, but Amare overplays him so the guard moves his entry pass away from Nene a little — out of bounds “a little.”

Back at the USA’s end, LeBron and Amare Stoudemire run a highlight pick and roll — both defenders go to LeBron so he passes for an impressive Amare slam.

USA up 13 (2:53 to go): Brazil wants to go to Nene but Amare is just way too much for him and playing intense defense (and, Nene just looks tired and a little heavy). After Amare knocks one ball out of bounds he eventually forces Nene to take an ugly runner that hits the side of the backboard.

The USA pushes the other way and Redd ends up with the ball in the left corner for a three, but the defender is closing, so he puts it on the floor baseline and as he draws defenders near the basket kicks out to LeBron, who holds it for a second then passes back to Redd, who just continued running through to the opposite corner. His defender did not, Redd gets an open look and buries the three.

USA up 16: Out of a timeout, Brazil is still not coming up with anything good offensively against the USA pressure, the result is a horribly wild three, however Da Silva is under the basket and catches the air ball, then gets fouled trying to shoot. De Silva still has a pretty stroke from the line, I bet that guy could hit 50 in a row.

USA up 14: LeBron draws every Brazilian this side of the Wynn, so a quick pass and Billups gets an open look at a three but misses. At the other end it looks like Brazil is waiting for their playmaker, Barbosa, to shake free of Kobe but he can’t, so De Silva drives, passes near the basket to Nene, who moving toward the rim shoots up into the bottom of the rim (did I mention Nene looks tired?). Ball bounces to the USA, and at the other end it’s LeBron’s turn to play one-on-one NBA-style ball, both inside and out, but Nene plays him well, so LeBron ends up missing the three.

Barbosa looks like he’s got the rebound but before he can take two steps Kobe knocks it free and the USA sets up another possession. They work it around to Redd who shows he can drive the lane too, and scores the layup.

USA up 16: After a foul by Redd that led to an out of bounds play, Marcelo Marchado makes a horrible pass in a crowded lane that LeBron picks off, launches ahead to Kobe, who wants to make the fancy no-look, behind the back pass but misses badly. Fortunately he gets bailed out by the foul. Kobe hits two.

USA up 18… and I could go on, but why bother. Well, there was LeBrons running three to end the half, that was pretty fun. But by that point the game was over.

And pretty much the tournament as well.

What Kobe Wants….

Kurt —  August 22, 2007

Just as I went on a few days of vacation a new rash of “What Does Kobe Want?” and “What Will Kobe Do?” stories and speculation hit the media. The LA Times, ESPN, just about everywhere.

I’m already sick of it, and as a Laker fan I guess I’m going to have to get used to a season full of it. Because everytime the Lakers head to a new city for a road game, that story will resurface. Let alone the constant drumbeat this issue is going to get in the local media (talk radio will beat it into the ground alone).

Personally, I think Kobe has been pretty clear about what he wants:

He wants to win. That’s it. He’d prefer to do it as a Laker but if the front office can’t pull it together he’ll look elsewhere.

Where the issue gets complex is how to make that a reality — issues of trades for other players to the Lakers or Kobe out of town are fraught with player quality and luxury tax issues. But from where I sit Kobe’s core message has always been very simple.

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I’m not going to blame the coming wave of Kobecentric speculative stores on the “mainstream media monster” because we asked for it.

Not us personally, I could live without it, but the fact of the matter is these Kobe stories draw readers/viewers. To use an example, you and I may mock “Around the Horn” but it wouldn’t be on the air if it didn’t get decent ratings. Say what you will about the media, but it is now a corporate-owned beast driven by the bottom line — which means if you are not reading or watching something, it goes away. Fast.

In a world where the goal is to generate “eyeballs” the “what does Kobe want/say?” stories are going to be a staple of the coming season.

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RIP, Eddie Griffin.

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Team USA gets going tonight against what-do-you-mean-we’re-not-hosts Venezuela. I’m going to be watching, although I’m not sure we learn much about the team from this game.

If you want to read more smart blogging about Team USA and the tournament as a whole, start with the good work at The Painted Area.

UPDATE: Quick thoughts on the game last night: It didn’t really tell us much. Yes, Kobe played good pressure defense and as a whole the USA forced 19 turnovers. Yes, Jason Kidd’s passing got players the ball in positions to succeed, something that became infectious. Yes, the USA as a team shot a reasonable 38.5% from three. Yes, the USA also showed some adjustment to the international game is still needed. But to my eyes this game looked a lot like an early game at the Worlds last year — this team is just way too talented for the competition it faced. The USA overwhelmed Venezuela. Until they play Brazil or Argentina I’m not sure how much we can tell. The coming destruction of the Virgin Islands tonight will look a lot like last night’s game.

My other thought — the mascot for this tournament may be the worst I’ve ever seen. One of the more creative bloggers out there needs to go after this one.

It’s the Defense, Stupid

Kurt —  August 15, 2007

Up over at Ballhype is my first post for them, a discussion of Team USA and it’s defense. The numbers will look familiar to regular readers of this blog, but this new post (made after further review of my notes and other thoughts at the time of the Team USA on the international stage, I think you’ll find it interesting.

As for me, posting may be light for a few days as the family and I head off to see the in-laws in Vegas. (Because summer is such a great time to go to the desert….) You may see some posts from other familiar names in the next few days.

Getting Team USA Right

Kurt —  July 20, 2007

Today, Team USA is taking part in part of its “grueling” tryout camp in Las Vegas leading up to its participation in the FIBA Americas Championship next month, an event conveniently also taking place in Vegas (only because the president of Venezuela can be a little nuts).

This upcoming tournament matters because the USA has to earn a 2008 Olympics berth by finishing in the top two in the event. The thing is, the talent of the other teams in this tournament is horrid — the only other team of note is Argentina (who will be without Nocioni and other key players). Brazil has had a decent team, but they will likely be without Anderson Varejao and others, so they shouldn’t be a threat. After that it’s the Canadas and Puerto Ricos of the world. Well, maybe I shouldn’t dis Puerto Rico.

The point is Team USA should roll to one of the two automatic Olympic berths. But this mini summer season needs to be about more than that, it needs to be about laying the groundwork for Beijing 2008. Team USA’s results in the World Championships last year in Indianapolis showed some improvement over previous outings — particularly in terms of team makeup geared toward international style basketball — but also showed some key weaknesses.

It is those weaknesses that need to be addressed. Let’s look at three big problems from last summer and how to deal with them.

Defense. This was Team USA’s biggest weakness last summer, and it may be the most difficult to address. Of the final four teams in last summer’s tournament (USA, Greece, Spain and Argentina) the USA had the best offensive rating (of points per 100 possessions) by a whopping 9.1 points. (And that was despite the offensive concerns.) But Team USA’s defensive rating was 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse than the next worst among the big four, which happened to be Greece. And we remember what happened when those two met.

This time around the USA has individual athletes on the wing who can defend — Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier, Kobe Bryant — but the challenge will come on defensive rotations. That starts in the paint, last summer the USA team seemed to count on Carmelo Anthony to provide the inside presence, and he’s not a defensive powerhouse. I think a combination of Howard/Bosh/Amare improves that somewhat, just in terms of athleticism, but inside presence could still be an issue.

On the whole, international teams (particularly the better ones) move well without the ball and all the players — even the bigs — can shoot the three. American players coming out of the NBA aren’t used to seeing that.

Building team trust in defensive rotations is something that does not happen overnight, it takes time. And that’s one thing the USA and its schedule do not have. It’s a challenge for Coach K and his team, but in part he may need to count on an overwhelming offense and decent defense. If they can start playing that.

Outside shooting. Team USA’s overall shooting percentage was the best at the World championships last summer, but nobody that watched them play thought their outside shooting was consistent. For the tournament they shot 36.8% from beyond the arc (not what you’d hope for a 20-foot line), and they shot just 32% against Greece and 25% against Germany the their second to last game.

Here is one area where this summer’s personnel could help. Last summer we dreamed of a Michael Redd like player on the squad, this year Redd is there. So is Kobe, who can shoot 40% from the international three point line with a couple hands in his face. Plus Mike Miller is in Vegas and if he makes the squad that’s another shooter. This is an area I expect we should see improvement this summer, although that may be dependent of factor number three.

Movement without the ball. Last summer, if the USA could not get into transition (they played at the fastest pace of the tournament, averaging 98.4 possessions per game), it looked like they wanted to go with the Phoenix “set the high pick and let the ball handler create” offense. Except that the USA didn’t have anyone with the experience and savvy of Steve Nash. And that meant guys stood out at the three-point line and let Paul/Wade/LeBron/Anthony drive, and they watched from a nice vantage point.

This summer, movement without the ball and better spacing will be the keys to an improved offense. The USA should keep the pace up and try to take advantage of their athletic superiority. But when forced into the halfcourt there needs to be more than the individualistic drive-and-kick we see in the NBA regular season. There needs to be guys moving without the ball, guys making the extra pass within the offense. I think if Billups is running the offense that is a plus, he will be more the facilitator and director rather than a scorer.

The USA has the talent, the question is execution.

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Maybe that’s the key to everything, executing a game plan that fits with the International style of game. Certainly the USA puts forth the most talented team, even if there are weaknesses, but the lack of playing time together and a certain casualness (at times) has derailed talented teams in the past.

I do have some concerns about the makeup of this team inside, in terms of getting rebounds and providing a strong defensive presence. There is no question about the athleticism of the guys up front, but Amare and Bosh are really fours masquerading as fives. Howard is the one true center on the team, but he is green and his game doesn’t seem suited for the international style (working from the high post, hitting the midrange jumper and longer consistently).

But that is a problem the USA can overcome. It’s one they need to overcome by next summer. And they need to lay the groundwork for that in the next six weeks.

Lessons Learned

Kurt —  September 1, 2006

Because as a nation we can often be both arrogant and impatient, sometimes it’s hard for us to admit things. Like that, playing the international game and rules, parts of the world have caught up to us in basketball. It’s hard to accept that the USA made strides toward being the best basketball team on the planet in the FIBA tournament despite the loss to Greece. Good steps were taken, but maybe we need to face up to the fact we had a long way to go and it couldn’t be done overnight.

But there is a deadline, at least in my mind, and it’s two years away. The real question is what steps do we take? How do we get there? I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’ll throw out some ideas for discussion.

1) Getting many of these guys back for next summer’ Olympic qualifying tournament. The problem was never really the USA’s offense — sure, there are some gearing weaknesses, but even in the loss to Greece the USA scored a fair amount of points. But defense takes a team. A team that has seen the pick and roll enough as a team to know their roles in stopping it. Learning defensive schemes and rotations do not happen overnight. Up until they faced Greece, team USA’s defense had gotten better over the course of the tournament. Playing together next summer makes these guys more familiar with each other and the team’s defense.

2) Outside shooting. While Team USA’s overall shooting percentage was the best in the FIBA tournament, nobody that watched them play thought their outside shooting was consistent. For the tournament they shot 36.8% from beyond the arc (not what you’d hope for a 20-foot line), and they shot just 32% against Greece and 25% against Germany the game before. I don’t have the stats from the midrange (sorry I didn’t get up at 3 to chart games) but it didn’t feel impressive either. This can be solved with personnel — Redd and Kobe are places to start, but more outside shooters are needed.

3) Movement within the halfcourt offense. If the USA could not get into transition, it looked like the USA wanted to go with the Phoenix “set the high pick and let the ball handler create” offense. Except that we don’t have anyone with the experience and savvy of Nash. And that meant guys stood out at the three-point line and let Paul/Wade/LeBron/Anthony drive, and they watched from a nice vantage point. I’m not saying run the Princeton offense, but there needs to be some movement, particularly against the zone.

4) Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream. Believe it or not, this USA team looked better than the one I remember from two years ago. It starts with a process that was better for selecting players and getting them in synch. The up-tempo, aggressive style was an improvement. They’ve got two years to build on that.

The Final Four

Kurt —  August 30, 2006

There are just four left, the world’s Final Four. The USA deserves to be there. But after looking stats and watching the first half of the USA/Germany game live this morning (thanks to an unhappy baby who apparently wanted to be up for the game at 3:30 on the West Coast), I still have concerns about what happens when the USA reaches the finals.

I’ve discussed the stats for Team USA before, but compared them to NBA numbers, which is not the best context — a better one is how they compare to the other 22 teams in the FIBA tournament. So, thanks to deepak_e at the APBR board, here are some updated stats for the four remaining teams, with their ranking among the 22 teams next to it).

Team eFG% Pace Off. Rating Def. Rating
USA 56.9% (2) 98.4 (1) 129.2 (1) 98.4 (7)
Spain 57.9% (1) 92.6 (8) 120.1 (T-2) 89.0 (2)
Argentina 56.2% (3) 89.7 (12) 120.1 (T-2) 87.3 (1)
Greece 53.9% (5) 86.6 (19) 111.5 (6) 89.2 (4)


(A quick key for those of you new here: eFG%: Shooting percentage combining two and three pointers; Pace, possessions per game; Off. Rating, points scored per 100 possessions; Def. Rating, points given up per 100 possessions.)

Yes, the USA has been the best-shooting team in the tournament, but after watching them against Germany I still am not comfortable. The Germans did not turn the ball over, so the USA had to rely on its half-court offense and in the first half they missed a lot of open jumpers. And they led by one (40-39) at the break. For the game they shot a weak 43.5% (eFG%) and just 25% from three.

That likely will be good enough against Greece. Looking more closely at the stats (I have yet to watch a Greece game), they can’t stop a team from shooting well, allowing opponents to shoot 53.5% (eFG%) against them in the tournament (that’s 18th out of the 22, for comparison the USA allows 49.8%, 10th best).

What Greece counts on is creating turnovers —30.6% of opponent possessions end in a turnover (for comparison, the gambling USA defense has led to 29.1% of opponent possessions becoming turnovers).

Except that is a bad mix against the USA — Paul, Wade, LeBron, Hinrich, really none of the USA primary ball handlers are going to give up many turnovers. And, if you don’t stop them from shooting well… let’s just say it should be a long night for the Greeks. Look for the Greeks to try to slow the tempo way down, and I’m curious how the USA will adapt.

But both Spain and Argentina play a better, more traditional defense. And they are not going to turn the ball over much. For that game, the USA will need its half-court offense to click. But let’s worry about that hurdle once we’re past the Greeks.

5-0, and now it gets serious

Kurt —  August 25, 2006

Superior athleticism funneled into a pressure defense has netted Team USA four impressive wins at the World Championships — it’s the Italy game that is the outlier. That’s also the game gave a blueprint to teams like Spain and Argentina, and it’s going to be harder to come from behind against those teams than the physically-outmatched Italians (who should have gotten away from man-to-man in the second half).

Just how impressive has Team USA been? Here are a few stats through five games:

They are averaging 82 possessions per game — actually not far behind the number of possessions a game as the NBA’s slowest-paced team last season, the Memphis Grizzlies (85.9), who played 8 more minutes a game. The fastest college team in the nation last season was Campbell University at 77 possessions per game (Long Beach State was second at 75.8) in 40 minutes (although the shot clock is 35 seconds in college, 24 in International ball.

Team USA has an amazing offensive rating of 133.9 (points per 100 possessions), compare that to the best team in the NBA last year, the Phoenix Suns, at 113.9. Team USA’s defensive rating is 100.3 (points per 100 opponent possessions), which would have been the best in the NBA last year (the Spurs were at 100.9).

Team USA is averaging 14.8 more free throws per game than their opponents.

As a team the USA is now hitting a decent 39.5% on threes, although our opponents are shooting 43.4%. Overall, the US has an eFG% of 58.7%, compared to 51.9% for their opponents. Individually, Carmelo Anthony is shooting 66.9% (eFG%), LeBron James is at 64%, Chris Paul at 68%, and both Elton Brand and Dwayne Wade at 60%, all incredible numbers.

It goes on and on with impressive stats for Team USA, although to be fair blowouts like the Senegal game skew the numbers. But that should not take away from how good the USA has looked or how important it was to win the group and get the easier path to the finals (I’m not worried about Australia).

But the USA has some flaws, which Italy exploited. Italy got the ball inside on penetration then kicked out for open-look threes — the best international team do that well, as Team USA advances they will see more of it and needs to defend it better. Italy didn’t turn the ball over as much and slowed the pace. The good news about the USA defense is they showed they can get away from the full court pressure defense against the Slovenians, which was smart against a team that can handle the ball so well. Fortunately, Slovenia wanted to run with more athletic USA squad, a foolish error.

What worries me is that team USA’s half court offense often reverts to the kind of isolation basketball that cam be a death sentence in international ball. Team USA does not move well without the ball, particularly when there is a pass inside to a big. They can become stagnant, and the better teams can defend that, leaving team USA to hope Carmelo gets hot (like he did against Italy) or someone else can step up and carry them. There needs to be more movement in the USA’s offense.

Team USA has impressed, they are amazingly skilled and, and I like how they fought back against Italy. But right now they are just one of the favorites and their best games had better be in front of them if they are going to win the gold.