Thursday, August 10, 2006

Team USA observations (so far)

Well, hopefully we can officially put to bed the misguided notion that Team USA was going to "dominate" the competition and be an unstoppable force. I warned before that there would be a couple tight games for the US, & Brazil- an outside contender for a medal- pushed Team USA to the brink. I would not be surprised if the US finished the tourney with an average margin of victory of about 15, but a couple of those 30-point blowouts in pool play will be tempered with a couple of competitive battles in the elimination rounds vs. the likes of Argentina, Spain, Greece, France, Germany, or maybe even Brazil.

A few cursory Team USA training camp/exhibition observations:

- I do like the concerted effort to push the pace. Athleticism is obviously Team USA's advantage over other countries, and they need to utilize it with presses on defense which have often led to easy points in transition. Just looking to push the pace at all times is advisable--create more possessions to create more points so to hopefully keep the games out of reach.

- Although this style worked wonderfully vs. Puerto Rico & China & created loads of turnovers, the US needs to be more selective with their presses & traps vs. better teams--especially Argentina, who will shred you apart if you overplay defensively with their great passing & cutting to open spaces. Spain & France also have guards who will not be phased that much by the US pressure. I am not saying do not use it at all vs. these teams, you just have to be more careful & selective when trying to create chaos defensively.

- Carmelo has consistently looked like the best player for the US. He has been hitting his outside shots & has looked somewhat surprisingly active overall. I left him off my original 12-man roster in favor of Arenas, my bad. I have no problem putting him on instead of Gil, who's shot selection has been his per usual--boneheaded. Also, I've been seeing a lot of clamour for dumping Brad Miller for awhile. When I see someone say Miller should be cut, I immediately realize that this person does not understand the nuances between FIBA & the NBA. Miller has been shooting the ball great, even from 3pt. range, & he's just a perfect fit to sit in the soft spot of a 2-3 zone. Still upsets me that he was left off the '04 team (supposedly it was Larry Brown who kept him off, to go along with the other poor decisions by Brown in '04).

- I feel the final 4 cuts should come down to Arenas, Jamison, Bowen, & Bosh. Its seems like Bowen is persona non grata with Coach K by not getting much burn at all. I am a little surprised since this is Bruce's only chance to play for Team USA & he is one of the better standstill shooters for the US. But it seems that Coach K has already decided to cut him. Personally, I would keep Jamison, who has shot the ball well from the perimeter & is an underrated offensive rebounder. To me the final cut would come down to Arenas or Bosh. Bosh has been a little uneven so far, but he does provide some size that the US needs. With Melo playing well, I don't think Team USA really needs Gil's scoring ability that much. Granted, he is a decent outside shooter, I just do not think Team USA needs to deal with his spotty shot selection & poor decision-making with the ball.

- I was a little surprised that the US got pounded on the boards by Brazil. This does not usually happen in int'l play: the US always dominates the board battle. Even in '04, the US crushed teams on the boards by an average of 11 per game, and they dominated the offensive glass 127-48. I don't see the US getting beat-up on the boards again, call it an aberration. The second chance opportunities should be there in an abundance, especially vs. all the zones the US should see.

- Not surprisingly, Team USA has struggled somewhat vs. the zone. Brazil really stymied the US in the 2nd half, and brought back to the surface Team USA's biggest bugaboo, which had been glossed over in their steamrolling of China & Puerto Rico. In the two first games, they produced a ton of offense off their aggressive defense, but vs. a better Brazil club they could not rely heavily on their defense producing easy transition points. The offensive burden fell heavily on their half-court execution, and the execution was ragged at best. Just like in the NBA playoff basketball when the competition starts getting tighter, you have to have the basic core of a good half-court offense & defense, the fast breaking & creating turnovers usually becomes less effective. And Team USA's lack of deadeye shooters makes their half-court offense somewhat of an question mark.


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