Archives For International/Team USA

Eurobasket preview

Xavier Sánchez —  August 25, 2009

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

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

CONTENDERS

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

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

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

UNDERDOGS

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

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

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

OTHER TEAMS THAT MAY BE WORTH SEEING

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

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

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

THE REST


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

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

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

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

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

Pete Newell: Basketball Royalty

Gatinho —  November 17, 2008

The Guru, The Godfather, The Teacher…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Gatinho

Gold Medal Game Time

Kurt —  August 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USA vs. Argentina, and the Semis

Kurt —  August 21, 2008

I think my premise here is pretty simple:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

————————————————

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.