Olympic Basketball All-Tournament Team
It is challenging to come up with an All-Tournament team for this year's Olympic basketball competition, especially as we get into the second team, mainly because there were so few players who produced consistently from the start of the tournament all the way through the medal round, whether due to 1) the fact that many teams seemed to distribute minutes widely with deep rotations, 2) injuries or 3) just general inconsistency. Still, we'll give it a go:
2008 Olympic Basketball All-Tournament Team
Dwyane Wade, USA (MVP)
Avgs: 18.8 min, 16 pts, 4 reb, 1.9 ast, 2.3 stl (4), 67.1 FG% (1), 47.1 3PT%
D-Wade seemed to not only change the game but completely disrupt it each time he came off the bench for Team USA. As one Painted Area co-conspirator noted, Wade was not just causing TOs at will, he seemed to be causing TOs which invariably led to an immediate 2 pts.
Insanely productive with 16 ppg in less than 19 min for the tournament, D-Wade capped things off with 27 points and 4 steals in 27 minutes in the gold-medal game, including a gigantic three which made the game 111-104 in the final minutes. Wade's stunning 21 points in 8+ minutes in the first half gave the U.S. a much-needed cushion at the half. D-Wade is back, hallelujah. Stay healthy, young fella.
LeBron James, USA
Avgs: 24.8 min, 15.5 pts, 5.3 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1 blk, 2.4 stl (3), 60.2 FG% (3), 46.4 3PT%
Played beautiful all-around team basketball from start to finish. For all of LeBron's brilliance in the league, a tournament like this makes you realize how much we still, sadly, *don't* get to see from him on a nightly basis b/c he has to carry so much of the scoring burden. His performance in the gold-medal game (14-6-3, 3 stl) was a microcosm of his work over the fortnight: a huge rebound here, touch pass in the lane there, timely three when needed.
James is forced into the Jordan role in Cleveland, so it was nice to see him sprinkle in a dash of Pip to his game in Beijing. I'm just saying, I hope LeBron someday gets a supporting cast which allows him to average 25-9-12 instead of 30-8-7 both b/c I think it suits him better and it would be hell of a lot of fun to watch. Best team defense we've seen from James overall, also.
Pau Gasol, Spain
Avgs: 27.5 min, 19.6 pts (1), 7 reb (5), 1.8 ast, 65.3 FG% (2)
As usual, Pau was a force on the block in international play for Team ESP, leading the tournament in scoring and finishing second in FG shooting. Averaged 20-7 in the three knockout games. Scored 21 in the gold-medal game, and it's borderline insane that he played just 28 mins, despite having just one foul, b/c Team USA couldn't handle him one-on-one and refused to throw a double-team at him.
Manu Ginobili, Argentina
Avgs: 25.6 mpg, 17.7 pts (4), 2 reb, 3.9 ast (5), 48.7 FG%, 93.9 FT% (2)
Manu makes the team despite the fact that he played just six minutes in the medal round b/c he was just that good in the action leading up to it. Numbers were even better - about 20 ppg and 4.5 apg - if you throw out the 6-minute stint in the semis. Manu's best performance was 24 pts on 6 threes in the ARGies nail-biter over Greece in the quarters. It was good to see him back as the dynamic all-around force we recognize - hopefully the aggravated injury will not linger throughout 2008-09.
Kobe Bryant, USA
Avgs: 23.5 mpg, 15 pts, 2.8 reb, 2.1 ast, 46.2 FG%
A tough call over Scola for the last slot on the 1st Team. Also tough to go with three U.S. players, but they did have a 29 ppg victory margin, after all.
Kobe was enigmatic in the Olympics - he probably took more bad shots than the rest of Team USA combined (he shot 16 more threes than anyone else, even though he hit just 32.1% from downtown) - but he basically makes it for two reasons: 1) for setting the tone defensively and 2) for his world-class closeout in the gold-medal game, with 13 points and 2 assists in the final 8 minutes. He had 20 points and 6 assists overall in the final.
I suppose that some of you will scream at us for not naming him MVP, and some of you will scream at us for putting him on the first team. That's just the way it rolls with this cat.
Luis Scola, Argentina
Avgs: 31.4 min, 18.9 pts (3), 6.6 reb, 1 ast, 58.9 FG%
As usual, Scola was crafty around the goal and characterized Argentina's physical, passionate, never-say-die style in FIBA play. Scored in double figures every game, and really stepped up after Manu went down. Led Argentina with a 28-11 in the semis, when the U.S. couldn't quite ever put them away until the 4th quarter. Followed up with 16 in the bronze-medal game.
Rudy Fernandez, Spain
Avgs: 22.1 min, 13.1 pts, 3.5 reb, 2.1 ast, 47.3 FG%, 40 3PT%
Rudy was inconsistent in group play, but he makes it mainly because he stepped up big in the medal round. Oh boy, did he ever, with 18 points vs. Lithuania in the semis, and then his tour-de-force 22 points in 18 minutes vs. Team USA. His five threes in the gold-medal game included one over a good contest by Tayshaun, and then, that sound you made have heard emanating from the greater Portland area late on Saturday night? Might have occurred the same time as this:
Yao Ming, China
Avgs: 29.7 min, 19 pts (2), 8.2 reb, 2 ast, 1.5 blk (3), 51.5 FG%, 80.8 FT%
Carrying the weight of the entire nation on his back, Yao delivered in leading China to a surprise appearance in the knockout round. The big fella was at his best with his 25-11 in the 59-55 win over Germany, which basically decided the last spot in the knockout round from Group B.
Watching Yao for Team China, I'm reminded of Larry Brown (please forgive me for bringing up his name in an Olympic-related column) talking about Shaq in his prime, saying something to the effect of "I don't know why they don't throw it in to him every time down." I feel the same way about Yao on China. This team basically consists of Yao and a bunch of shooters - I think they should play like the Hakeem-era Rockets and go strictly with either Yao or 3s. I don't know how Yao averaged just 11 FGA for the tourney (though he did average a tournament-high 8.7 FTA as well).
29.7 mpg could not have been good for him. The great and glorious games are done; give Yao a break.
Carlos Delfino, Argentina
Avgs: 26.8 min, 14.1 pts, 5.1 reb, 2 ast, 1.5 stl, 44.2 3PT% (23-52)
Cool Daddy C-los was another Argentine who stepped up in Manu's absence. Delfino was hitting shots from everywhere, and was especially huge in knockout play, averaging 20 pts and 7.7 reb in the three games, while also draining 11-26 threes.
Chris Paul, USA
Avgs: 21.8 min, 8 pts, 3.6 reb, 4.1 ast, 2.3 stl (4), 50 FG%, 91.7 FT% (4)
I've gone back and forth and back again on this last spot, also considering Sarunas Jasikevicious, Vassilis Spanoulis and Chris Bosh, all of whom seem like pretty decent candidates. I decided to go with CP13 narrowly over Saras. Let's look at Jasikevicious's numbers for a comparison:
Avgs: 26.9 min, 13 pts, 2.5 reb, 5.3 ast (1), 1.3 stl, 48.6 FG%, 38.7 3PT%, 87 FT%
I went with Paul basically for these reasons:
1. The two were pretty similar in terms of assists per minute, but CP13 had a sparkling 33-9 A/TO ratio for the Olympics, while Saras was at 42-26 - his 3.3 TO/pg were among the highest in the tournament, and hurt his ballclub.
2. While still a fiery team leader, Saras is starting to slow down a little bit - he is less consistent and increasingly a liability on the defensive end. And I thought that Linas Kleiza, wildly inconsistent in this tournament, was actually Lithuania's key X-factor in this tournament.
In fact, it was a wildly inconsistent Olympics across the board for Lithuania, as different players seemed to appear and disappear each night. Saras himself had a strong 19 points and 6 assists vs. Spain in the semis, followed up with just 9 points, 3 assists, 4 TOs and 0-4 3pters vs. Argentina in the bronze-medal game.
Don't get me wrong, I'm splitting hairs here. If you think it should be Saras in this spot, I can live with that - he still had a good tournament overall, and I have nothing but respect for Lithuania's basketball achievements. LTU is the only country other than USA to make the semis in each Olympics of the NBA era (i.e., since 1992). That's an amazing accomplishment for a nation of ~3 million people, and I'm already looking forward to the 2011 Eurobasket, which will deservedly be hosted by the proud basketball nation of Lithuania. Should be a raucous affair.
Oh wait, back to Chris Paul before we go, just wanted to note that he had a good medal round, averaged 12.5 pts, 3 reb, 3.5 ast and 2.5 stl. Everything seemed to run better for Team USA when he and Deron Williams were on the floor. Would have liked to have seen CP13 be more aggressive on offense at times, but he ran the show well overall.
And I would also say that I'd have no beef if you went with Bosh here. Some days he contributed more, some days Paul. Here were Bosh's numbers overall:
Avgs: 17.3 mpg, 9.1 pts, 6.1 reb, 0.2 ast, 77.4 FG% (!), 86.4 FT%
Against Greece, Bosh was the man, with 18 pts on 7-8 FG, 5 reb, 2 blk, 2 stl and excellent pick-and-roll D, while Paul did little. Meanwhile, in the first Spain game, CP13 exploded for 14 pts, 5 reb, 8 ast and 5 stl, while Bosh was fairly quiet.
Bosh was good in the medal games as well, averaging 9.5. pts, 8.5 reb and nailing 11-11 FT. Po-ta-to, po-tat-o.
Some closing thoughts on Ricky Rubio after seeing him for a few more games. Quite clearly, he has some major deficiencies in terms of scoring - at the moment, he can't shoot and he is quite a poor finisher at the rim.
Still, I thought it was a staggering performance for the kid to hold up as well as he did in the pressure of the gold-medal game, with just 2 turnovers in 29 minutes, directing an attack which put up 107 points while competing and holding his own against some of the best guards in the world at just 17 years of age.
COACH K V. AITO
Now is the time to praise Coach K, not to bury him, I know. He did an outstanding job of creating a team - created a sense of camaraderie and cohesiveness, defined roles and rotations well, got players to accept their roles, had the team prepared each night - which was a huge key in why the USA ascending back to the top of the medal podium.
But I must say, I had a sense of "here we go again" in the Spain game. It felt like the Greece game all over, as the U.S. couldn't stop Spain, and worse, seemed to have no answers whatsoever. I don't understand why hard double-teams weren't being thrown at Pau, who averaged almost 3 TOs per game in the Olympics. The U.S. couldn't handle him one-on-one, and he still seems like a guy who needs to prove himself against physical play in a high-stakes setting.
Fortunately for Team USA, Spanish coach Aito Garcia decided to play Pau just 28 minutes b/c he had to get Alex Mumbru's 13 minutes in and Berni Rodriguez's 9, as well.
In any event, great job, Coach K, but let's get a coach with professional game-adjustment experience in there next time.
NBA V. FIBA REFS
Finally, can we get a little love for NBA refs after what we witnessed over the past two weeks? The USA-Spain game was a horribly officiated game for both sides, the last of several inconsistently reffed games in Beijing. Yeah, NBA refs don't get em all right, but it's impossible to do so in such a high-speed game. They are, while flawed, the best in the business. Be thankful we don't have to deal with FIBA refs throughout the winter.