Monday, July 23, 2007

USA Basketball Scrimmage Analysis: Kidd Runs The Show; Kobe v LeBron; Can Durant Make It?

After the absolute bodyblow to NBA fans that was the Donaghy bombshell on Friday, it sure was a welcome treat to get back to the game itself on Sunday with essentially a midsummer mini-All-Star Game (played with greater defensive intensity than the midseason game) in the USA Basketball intrasquad scrimmage.

As an overview, there were 17 players who participated in the team's minicamp over the past few days, competing for 12 roster spots on the Team USA squad which will compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament for the Americas from Aug. 22-Sept. 2.

These 17 players were split into two teams -- Blue and White -- who competed on Sunday, with Blue fighting back from a 99-89 deficit late to win 105-104 on a jumper by Kobe Bryant.
Box score

All in all, it was a really fun game - here are our observations:
- Jason Kidd's numbers (2 pts., 6 reb., 7 asts., 1 TO) hardly stand out in the box score, but he was clearly one of the standout players of the night, as the catalyst for the White team. He ran the show and pushed the pace beautifully.

Kidd worked especially well with LeBron in the open floor - the two combined for some spectacular fast breaks (once again prompting me to ask myself what the Cavs can be possibly be thinking in building a team that plays at such a slow pace when they have the best fast-break finisher in the league).

- Kobe vs. LeBron battles were an interesting subplot of the night. LeBron blocked a Kobe reverse dunk attempt in the third quarter, but then Kobe took the game by the throat down the stretch:
• Kobe hit a step-back three over LeBron to tie it at 101
• LeBron made a poor TO in the halfcourt
• Kobe hit a fadeaway J over LeBron's contest to make it 103-102
• A LeBron-Bosh PnR went nowhere - it was well-defended, but it seemed odd that Kidd wasn't the decision-maker on the play
• After a Durant floater missed, Kidd took it all the way (his only shot of the night) to put White back on top 104-103
• Then Kobe knocked down a jumper over Prince after a pump fake (it was a 1-4 iso play on top) that proved to be the game-winner with 6.6 left
• White ran a similar 1-4 iso with LeBron on top, defended by Kobe. Bron got into the lane, but Kobe defended him well (there was a little contact) and LeBron's shot wasn't close.

- There were a couple of times I began to wonder if Kobe's brand of one-on-one play was the wrong fit for such a star-studded national team, but each time I had the thought, Kobe convinced me. In the first half, he knocked down a couple of long threes and other baskets to keep Blue afloat after White had built up a good lead.
And then he absolutely took the game over down the stretch as described above. I am convinced; he will fit. Kobe ended up with 26 pts and 6 stl on an efficient shooting night of 10-22 FG and 4-9 3PT. He looked very slim, too, as he's apparently dropped 15-20 pounds since the end of the season.

- Kevin Durant looked GREAT. Forget about those summer league numbers, tonight Durant went up against some of the best players in the world, and more than anything, he looked like he belonged. His numbers were 22 pts., 5 reb. 4 stl. on 9-14 FG and 2-5 3PT in 24 mins., but that doesn't even tell the whole story as he was getting his points every which way - threes, follows, a gorgeous spinning move over Battier - just like he did at Texas. Also had a nice strip of Michael Redd in the open floor. I had assumed that Durant would clearly be one of the cuts, but now I'm not so sure - he really looked like he deserved a spot based on tonight's performance (more on that below).

- One problem from last year's team that reared its head again was that these guys were taking WAY too many 3's (White went 11-40, Blue went 8-27). What's worse was that so many of the 3's were just pull-ups or 1-on-1 shots, rather than drive-and-dish kick-outs which are much higher-percentage shots. Team USA is just playing into the opposition's hands when they jack up those quick threes. International teams cannot keep these guys out of the lane - they should be penetrating at will, and kicking out to open shooters if they can't get to the rim. Tonight's percentages were so low not b/c they don't have shooters who can make these chip-shot 20-ft threes, but b/c they were taking such poor-percentage shots from downtown.

- It was great to see both White and Blue get out and run. Team USA has two huge advantages in international competition - athleticism and depth of talent - so they should be running and pressing and trapping all night. The 2006 team started off playing this way in its exhibitions, but didn't sustain it during the World Championships. Hopefully this team will - I'd love to see them throw some traps and presses on other teams as well. They clearly have the personnel for that style.

- One other thing... Steve Jones made the call tonight on NBA TV, along with Joel Meyers - with so many of ESPN's TV analysts offering little more than inane jibber-jabber, how is it that Snapper doesn't have a national job? He's still the consummate pro - concise and articulate in making sound points, and great at understanding how to work with his play-by-play man - just a solid hoop analyst in every way. The only problem I had was when Snapper called Kobe "the best player on the planet" at the end of the game. I'm sorry, but that would be Tim Duncan.

- OK, let's talk about cuts a little bit:
D. Williams

- Kidd is the no-brainer starter, esp. with the way he looked tonight. D-Williams looked very good, too, with 6 pts/13 ast (though 5 TOs).

- Billups also had 9 ast in 18 mins. You'd have to think that Hinrich is the odd man out here. I might rather have him as an alternative to Billups as a 3rd PG b/c Hinrich is more of a stopper, but I think Chauncey is the man in the end.

D. Howard
T. Chandler

- Quite a night for D-12, as he went for 21 and 9 on 9-9 FG and 3-3 FT. Bosh looked great with several gorgeous moves en route to a 13-12 night, while Amare complemented that with a 12-13 game.

- All three of those guys should be locks - I'd think the main question here is whether Tyson Chandler will make the team. Even though Chandler looked brutal on offense at times, put me in the camp of those who think Tyson deserves a spot because of his presence on D and the boards - and b/c I think that carrying three big men would leave Team USA perilously thin. I thought that Chandler (5 pts., 13 reb.) really played nice team D tonight - he was consistently showing well on PnR D.

- Nick Collison and Greg Oden will be joining the team for its training camp on Aug. 14, but I don't think either of those players will deserve a spot over Chandler.

M. Miller

- So, if we think Hinrich is the only guy from the 8 players in the first two pools who deserves to be cut, then that means 4 of these guys need to go. Redick is a no-brainer cut, so that gets it down to 3 cuts needed. Kobe/LeBron/Carmelo (who had an efficient 28 pts on 24 shots) are locks, so that leaves us with the other 5 guys for two spots.

- STOPPER: Prince or Battier? Tay played 26 mins to Battier's 17 tonight, and Chris Sheridan also suggested on that Battier might be an odd man out. But I still wouldn't be surprised if Shane makes the club, not just b/c he's pretty much Coach K's all-time favorite player, but also b/c he really did play exceptionally well in last year's Worlds as a glue guy taking charges and getting loose balls all over the place. I would take Battier over Prince.

- SHOOTER: Redd, Miller, or Durant? Miller had a somewhat ridiculous 22 pts tonight, as he attempted 15(!) threes (making 5), with many of those attempts being the product of horrendous shot selection. Redd was not much better, as he scored 17 pts on 4-11 3PTers, including two bad airball misses.

I dunno, I think that "lack of shooters" has been overrated as a reason for why Team USA hasn't won a major international competition since 2000. It hasn't been borne out by my observations of the many international games I've watched, or by the statistics overall. I think Team USA has plenty of guys who can hit the 20 ft. three if they get good shots, and I don't think they need a designated shooter on the roster.

Frankly, I'd take Durant over Redd and Miller b/c I think he is a better player right now, I think he brings a wider variety of skills to the table, and oh by the way, he can hit the 20-ft three as well. That said, I think they'll go with the veteran Redd.

Stick with The Painted Area as we'll be covering Olympic qualifying throughout the summer.


At 8:12 AM, Blogger Darb said...

thanks for that - nice to see Bosh making a step forward on this team. I would love to see Durant make the squad. Are you going to break down Canada's team for us up north? I am kidding.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very thorough analysis. Thanks!

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Humility Is Good For Ya said...

Never mind the recent shock that USA brand of basketball is not quite the most dominant, the BEST talents are the boys on that team. Always had been...

It may be more effective to put together a team of tolerant and cooperative players (in the end, that has been beating USA nats), refocus on skilled and hungry defender who are accompanied by a savvy O.

I've always contended that since the advent of Dream Team, none that came later ever meshed. Not because DT had no huge egos, but due to every legend's parallel ability to respect one another's enormous piece...

Furthermore, Kobe ain't never gonna be a man (at least he has always been a punk), if not, then proof me wrong. And Billups ain't that clutch...

I'd take 3 pgs (Kidd, D. Williams and Hinrich), all 4 of the bigs, and cut the less athletic, defense-challenged perimeter players along with Mr. I-can-and-will-take-80%-of-my-team's-FGs. (Honestly, how much better of a player on the floor is Kobe than Lebron, Melo and whomever else you want to name?) That, ah, oddly enough leave a group of hard-nose defenders who also happen to have savvy bball IQ... and a hybrid soon-to-be monster. Curious, if not completely dominant in all aspect of the international game.

Since the US DOES have the best scorers, their poor shooting (despite decent %) of the last decade just outright embarrass Charles Barkley's swollen face. Call it mildly retarded shot selection, or whatever. Bottomline, the US just needs fewer perimeter ballhogs and take naturally-higher percentage shots. In so doing, forcing the US into difficult shots or long bombs would be tougher.

If the trio of Battier, Prince and Durant can equal 2 Pippens, then THAT team along with the most athletic big men on earth, 2 ambiguously brown PGs and 2 continents of top-flight bball shoes will simply... Well you get the idea.

Seriously, pound the ball into the cluster of towers and run fastbreaks with 4-or-5 tool wingmen who can defend would get the faith and excitement back in the Dream Team... Oh, I forget, somewhere sometime, that name had been conveniently tucked away like a gimp.

At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe is a better shooter than Melo and Lebron, he is also a better defender. And 22 shots attempted is nowhere near 80% of his teams FG attempts... You obviously just have something against him and have clouded judgement because he may be a selfish player, but there is nothing in basketball offensively that he can't do.

At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

breakdown team canaada. is devoe joseph on the team? what about denham brown

At 11:52 PM, Anonymous Humility Is Good For Ya said...

Yes, Kobe Bryant IS a punk, and deserves the perpetual disappointment of knowing that he can't ever do it as the man of his team.

He would have been much more respected had he some humanity outside of his own universe, and we all know he's a ballhog beyond reason, whatever the numbers say...

You really want that crybaby representing your country? I suppose the rest of the world is fine with it.

At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I drove out from San Diego to see the game and agree with almost everything in this excellent analysis. My main extra observation, though, is that The Painted Area didn't give nearly enough props to Kobe for his defensive intensity. I thought Kobe overhandled the ball and still seemed to think he had Smush to pass to instead of fellow all-stars, but on defense he was way better than any other perimeter player. He had fourth-quarter posessions in which he hounded Jason Kidd and threw him off, then switched and hounded LBJ and threw him off. I'm a Shaq guy, not a Kobe guy, but Sunday he showed that -- like MJ -- he is a complete player. That doesn't hold at all for LeBron, Carmelo, Iverson, Yao, McGrady, Arenas, Redd and a lot of other supposed "superstars."

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Chris said...

let's not discuss cutting kobe any longer - he's excellent. i think the team shored up some of it's biggest deficiencies with the additions of kidd/billups/williams at the pg. the only thing this team lacks is greg oden 4 years from now. shame on you TD and KG

At 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


you know who else was "selfish" and a "ballhog" during the beginning of his prime?


you are a terrible writer

At 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would keep both Miller and Redd as they are excellent shooters. Some people will say that all of the SGs are good shooters. My answer is no. With the way that international team will play the US by packing in the paint, you will need shooters. Shooters means shooting the long ball (although the 3pt line is different) at approx 40%. The others will be happy to shoot 33% on 3s. Kobe, a good shooter is 34% career. Lebron is worse. I don't think that you need 3 PGs with so many capable SGs. Billips and Hinrich can go. I think that you lose Prince, Reddick and Durant. I personally do not like Carmelo either for the international game and he is not a good defender to boot but like the blog said, he is a lock.

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Humility Is Good For Ya said...

Alright, Kobe is damn good at scoring, and with his god-given talent and training, he can be dominant on D when willing. Cutting him would be like calling a [non-Shelby] Mustang crappy, but there are more than just a few more sleeker and better cars. No disputing the power and muscle, however... Can't discuss what drives other folks to hate on him, but I dislike him because of the digression through his career.

Look, many young promising stars were ballhogs at the onset of their prime. I don't know enough about any of this stuff, but Jordan seemed to have vindicated himself as he lead his pack to dominance. Kobe was so articulate, so savvy, and best of all, kick the high-schooler entering NBA gates wide open. He was supposedly the next great figure whom everyone could love. Then the whining just never stopped, he got more childish and unbearable by the season. If there is no serious flaw with this man, how come he doesn't win now?

Back to the subject of Team USA selection -

It seems that pure talent somehow never really triumphs well-fitting teams. For my brief years of watching basketball, Jordan's Bulls were a well-oiled machine with distributed duties, as with the Rockets, Spurs, Lakers, Pistons after them. Never underestimate those who help pick up others' slack (i.e. hustle, help D, timely shooting and intangibles). Would the string of the aforementioned teams prefer Prince over Redd, Battier over Mike Miller? Or are those just Luck of draw and flukes? I am also throwing in Robert Horry for good measure, the man has 7 rings...

And I am serious about refocusing on interior players. I haven't really seen large corps of athletic centers anywhere else in the world. Should THAT not be a mismatch that the US exploit?

Shooting Guards as the primary scoring option is also becoming less impactful these days. It's great to have a couple of guys who can really shoot, but look at the available players competing for the roster. There are enough scoring options to leave out shoot first folks. (Unless their in a class with Jordan and so on.) Concurrently, the mental edge of possessing superior shooters can often times cause over-reliance. Ball movement and running well-honed offensive plays pave the roads for sustained excellence, and they will get a team over shooting slumps, too.

Well all this theorizing is full of bull, I genuinely think a paradigm shift could really help out. So I ask for your option in submitting forth a current team based on that concept. Due to my lack of proper understanding in player eligibility and availability, I probably would name a bunch of players that make me a fool. So, if somebody have a short list of well-qualified players pool (say 60 or so) from which selection can be made, we can see how the best 1-2-3-4-5 and 1-3-3-5-5 teams compare.

And anonymous name-undisclosed, I will try to write better.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Starting 5

Kidd - Leading us to the promised land once again.
Kobe - His game is so sound he'll dominate international teams on both sides of the ball just like he does in the L, only with better teammates.
Melo - Melo might get a lot of grief for not having a "complete" game, and his defense certainly isn't world-class. But in many ways I see Melo as the ultimate International player. He's big and athletic, but he plays like a shooting guard. He also is one of the rare american superstars of this era to still be able to consistently hit the mid-range jumper. The international 3 makes players like Wade or Bron less effective but it actually makes Melo a lot more dangerous. His offense also comes more from fallaways and a lot of short runners, as opposed to the wild slashing to the hoop style favored by his contemporaries. There's a reason Melo single-handily kept the US in many games at the Worlds last year, and i believe he's an invaluable part of this team.
Bron - Some might question putting him at starting PF, but its not like he's going to be asked to guard Tim Duncans or Garnetts anyways. Either way, there's no way the league's most famous player isn't starting. Playing with Kidd makes lebron roughly 100% more effective than he was when he had to take it to the rim by himself every time or risk passing it out to Andy Varejao/Sasha.
Amare - All of our big men seem flawed for international competition, but Amare seems to be the most suited. He developed a nice jumper while injured and hits his free throws consistently now too. The same could have always been said for Bosh, but im opting for Amare here because of his greater strength and athleticism. International Centers might not be Shaq-like behemoths, but many of them are still strong, tough veteran defenders who will not hesitate to play dirty.

Deron - Kidd 2.0 The playoffs opened a lot of eyes up. He's the complete package and I believe he'll step up and acquit himself well in competition.
Redd - Every year after we lose someone bemoans the lack of a pure shooter on the team, and calls out Redd to play. Well, I hope he proves himself worthy.
Battier - For some reason, whenever he plays the team just seems to play better overall. It's hard to put into words and i'll stray away from cliches such as "glue-guy", but i def. want this guy on the team. His D and shooting will certainly help the next guy on the list have a better time.
Durant - Kid can play! Much has been written about Durant lately, but let me just say if given the opportunity to perform KD just might come out of this tournament the breakout star of the team, announcing to the world his arrival.
Bosh - Can do everything Amare can, just isn't quite the beast.

Dwight - Speaking of beastly, Dwight will brick a horrible number of free throws and show a disturbing lack of accuracy on any shot he takes more than 5 feet from the basket. But hey, Shaq has always been the same way, and he won a few golds.
Billups - Tough call here over hinrich, who i thought played great last year, especially his perimeter D. I'm counting on mr big shot's , erm, famed testicular fortitude to lead to many a well-timed dagger three pointer.

At 2:35 AM, Anonymous latest sports news said...

With lebron on miami now it will be an awesome season.

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