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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ESPN.com 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.