Checking in with Team USA
- Was going to devote a full post to who I thought should be on this year's Team USA, but with the departures of Bosh, Hinrich, & Battier, Colangelo & Co. have their roster pretty much set up for them.
The only minor complaint I have with Colangelo & Co. is I would have had both Hinrich & Battier on the squad; let's say I'm not buying the "personal reasons" announcement. Battier was a key cog on last year's team, and would have preferred Hinrich over Billups or Deron--he's a better combination of shooting & defense than either guy. Don't really like the idea of 2 PGs over 30 on the national team, and think that you either take Kidd or Billups, not both.
Looks like the roster is pretty much set: Kidd, Billups, Deron, Bron, Kobe, Melo, Redd, Miller, Prince, Howard, Amare, & Chandler. A little thin upfront, but shouldn't be too much of a concern, especially since Brazil's frontcourt depth should be depleted because Varejao & Araujo are sans contract at this time. So with the roster squared away let's turn our attention to more pressing issues with Team USA.....
Team USA's Defensive Issues: Much more than the pick-n-roll
- It's seems that some folks think that Team USA's problems will be solved by just fixing pick/roll defense, when in fact it's just one factor in the defensive puzzle. Obviously, Theo Papaloukas' shredding of Team USA is still fresh in everyone's mind from last year, and the bad pick/roll defense has been brought up ad nauseum.
Defending pick-n-rolls is not strictly a two-man affair--it's an entire team defensive scheme--have to have good backline rotations & just good rotations in general (think Spurs). And this takes time to develop, and a week or even 3 weeks is not a lot of time to develop this type of defensive synergy, so expect to still see some issues on the defensive end.
But if you look past just last year, it's really the off-the-ball movement that has consistently stymied Team USA since 2000. Constant offensive motion is a staple of int'l basketball. Think Argentina, Italy, & Lithuania--all have given the US fits during this decade. Back cuts, back picks, moving picks, big guys squirting out to the 3pt line, players getting lost in space (think Oberto), these things have been a constant nuisance for Team USA in the last few int'l tourneys.
Also, a lot of int'l squads have multiple options on each play, and seemingly counterplays for their counterplays. So just improving on high screen/roll defense will by no means cover all of Team USA's bases.
Basically, defenders have to be ready to concentrate for all 24 seconds on each def. possession, have to keep their heads on a swivel (because picks will come from anywhere & opposing players will constantly make cuts to open spots). And communication on defense is a must vs. teams who run motion-type sets.
Team USA will also have to do a better job of keeping opposing points out of the lane, which has been another recurring bugaboo since 2000. This is why I think Hinrich should be on this team--he's one of the best defensive PGs in the NBA.
It's not just standard drive-n-kick where shooters are planted on the perimeter (prevalent in American ball) that gives Team USA issues. It's drive-n-kick where players spray out to the 3pt line at the same time the dribbler is probing/driving--Both Italy & Lithuania do this a lot & did it very effectively vs. Team USA in the past. This is very hard for US players to deal with because you don't see this type of offense in the NBA, and it's very hard to get used to in the span of the few weeks that Team USA has to prepare together.
It's nice to see that Coach K seems to have loosened his strident stance against zones. Think it's a must to mix up your defensive looks in FIBA play (think Spain), and to have a quality zone at your disposal, which might have come in handy vs. Greece last year. Zones are a nice antidote vs. motion offense, not just clogging passing & cutting lanes, but messing up the rhythm of an offense. Even motion squads that have good shooters should see some zone to keep them off-balance & screw up their offensive rhythm.
I think Coach K has the luxury of experimenting more this year since Team USA has a wide margin for error. The thing is, Team USA can still can be mediocre on both ends of the floor this year, and it should not really matter since the overall breadth of competition in the Tourney of Americas is a significant falloff from either the Worlds or Olympics.