Archives For International/Team USA

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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…


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


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


RIP, Eddie Griffin.


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.


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.