Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Basketball Notes:
Spain's Wacky Lineups & More

Before we get going on this post, let's clean up a little unfinished business from yesterday's post on Ricky Rubio. We made a comparison between Rubio and Brandon Jennings, who could both be top 5 picks in the 2009 Draft. After we posted, we realized that Rubio's DKV Joventut and Jennings' Lottomatica Roma teams are in the same Group C in the Euroleague, so they will match up twice in the regular season. Circle your calendar for October 29 and December 11 as dates to fire up the for matchups of these top PG prospects.


OK, on we go. When the Olympic basketball tournament started, there were two teams - USA and Spain - who looked like clear favorites on paper. Heading into the USA-Spain matchup on Saturday at 10:15 a.m. ET, both teams are 3-0 yet they seem to be on divergent paths so far.

The Americans, as we saw in their complete dismantling of a very good Greek team on Thursday, are really starting to fully realize Jerry Colangelo's vision as they are coming together beautifully as a team. The cohesion is there after three years of the national team program, the respect for the opponents is there, the knowledge of opposition personnel is there, and they're even starting to look comfortable with FIBA rules, as they slapped a couple shots off the rim.

The Team USA performance on Thursday was nothing short of a glorious display of basketball - a reminder of why this game we love is the greatest sport in the world when it's played on such a high level as Mssrs. Wade, James, Bosh, Bryant and friends played it yesterday.

We've been tough on Coach K for the 2006 loss to Greece, but he has been outstanding so far in 2008. The U.S. was utterly well-prepared for the Greece rematch, and we think Coach K has done a very good job of creating a consistent rotation of 9 players with well-defined roles (if only he'd demote J-Kidd, we'd say he's been flawless).


Meanwhile, Spain has been inconsistent en route to its 3-0 record. They were impressive in their opener, an 81-66 win over Greece, but never should have been a position to nearly lose to China. Spain had to rally from 14 down in the 4th Q for an OT win against a team they should have beaten by 20.

Even Spain's 13-point win over Germany was deceptive - they looked sluggish and unimpressive for most of the first half, scoring just 12 points in the 1st Q, and trailing by as much as 8 in the 2nd Q, before turning things around and taking control in the second half.

I've watched all three Spain games - the team just seems unable to get into a flow, and I don't think it's a coincidence that Spain coach Aito Garcia Reneses has taken a completely different approach with his lineups. I can't even call it a "rotation" because there's been absolutely no consistency to it.

I mean that literally: Aito has started a different group of five players in each of the six halves Spain has played so far. Take a look:

Greece 1st Half
M. Gasol

Greece 2nd Half
P Gasol

China 1st Half
R. Lopez
P Gasol

China 2nd Half
B Rodriguez
M Gasol
P Gasol

Germany 1st Half
R Lopez
B Rodriguez
P Gasol

Germany 2nd Half
P Gasol

Aito is also playing all 12 players on his roster. Even though Spain hasn't blown anyone out, all 12 players are averaging more than 5 mpg, and 11 players are averaging more than 10 mpg. (Veterans Juan Carlos Navarro and Jorge Garbajosa have been odd men out so far, averaging just 17 mpg, though both made key plays down the stretch vs. China.) On top of that, the one guy who's averaging just 5 minutes - Raul Lopez - started the last two games.

Against Germany, Berni Rodriguez also started, meaning Spain started arguably the 11th and 12th men on its roster, which probably helps explain why they scored just 3 points in the first 5 minutes. I really don't think it's a coincidence that Spain got off to very slow starts against both China and Germany.

I can only imagine that this is Aito's strategy to conserve the minutes of his top players in the preliminary round, but the 12-man "rotation" with absolutely no lineup consistency seems extreme - there's no sense that roles are developing and they don't seem to be developing cohesion and flow as the tournament goes on.

It'll be interesting to see if Team Spain can turn it on in the medal round, and to see if Aito goes more with his top players and a more traditional rotation against the U.S. on Saturday, and as we get into the medal round.

Argentina coach Sergio Rodriguez has taken the opposite approach to coach Aito. With limited depth, Rodriguez has stuck mainly to a 6-man rotation. Only 12 players in the tournament are logging 30+ mpg, and Argentina has three of them, even after a much-needed blowout win vs. Croatia allowed for some rest. Coach Pop can't be happy with that 30.3 mpg that Manu is logging.

Argentina has looked better and better as the tournament has progressed - we'll see if their short rotation catches up with them in the medal round against the depth that the U.S., Spain, Lithuania can throw out there.

Obviously, we're still quite early in the proceedings, but is there any question that Dwyane Wade is the MVP so far? Look at these scoring leaders. Dude is leading the Olympics in scoring (18.3 ppg) even though he's only played 18.7 mpg! 76 FG%! 58.8% 3PT%! Plus 3 steals per and the play of the tournament so far:

Pretty much all of the so-called unsportsmanlike foul calls I've seen so far in the Olympics have been head-scratchers, such as the one called against Kobe early in the Greece game. These babies are penalized like NBA flagrant fouls - 2 shots and the ball - yet there doesn't seem any rhyme or reason to what constitutes the call. There's potential for a huge amount of controversy if one of these strange calls affects a close game in the medal round.

Overall, the officiating has been leaps and bounds better than it was in 2004, mainly thanks to FIBA going from two refs to three. Still get some oddly officiated games, though - I thought USA-Greece was pretty called inconsistently overall.

Alright - enjoy the games on Fri.-Sat.


At 6:04 AM, Blogger john marzan said...

"I can only imagine that this is Aito's strategy to conserve the minutes of his top players in the preliminary round, but the 12-man "rotation" with absolutely no lineup consistency seems extreme - there's no sense that roles are developing and they don't seem to be developing cohesion and flow as the tournament goes on."

i think you are wrong. i think spain is doing this (throw different looks) to confuse the opposition (especially your country). they can afford to jerk around in the earlier stages since they have depth, and that jerking around almost cost them the game against china. Almost...

At 6:06 AM, Blogger john marzan said...

the americans are doing some of what spain is doing by not playing boozer at all.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Fer y Mauro said...

I think you are not considering a lot of things about what makes an MVP. Yes Wade numbers are ridiculous, but two things come to my mind: he has superstars surrounding him, meaning the other team cant cover Wade properly, because all 5 players are top notch talent and can socre in bunches. I think any 2 guard from any country could average at least 12 points in 18 min playing alongside James and Bryant.
The other thing: pace, the Team Usa runs like their lives depended on it. In contrast, most of other nations slow down the tempo and the posessions, meaning less shots and less points to go around for each player.
Consider this: while Wade gets to break down his man one on one (and a lot of times the rival isnt the best perimeter defender on that team) Manu ginobili or Drik Nowitzki get triple teamed constantly each time they try to get to the basket.
You cut Wade from Usa and they're still winning by 30. You cut Manu from argentina or dirk from germany and those teams sit at 0-3 at the moment.
Numbers must be seen in context.

(sorry about my precarious english)

At 3:42 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

You certainly have a fair point. USA lead scout Tony Ronzone said pretty much what you did about Spain throwing out different looks to confuse the opponent.

However, it just seems like a risky proposition to assume that your team can rely on past years of playing together and pull things together immediately, rather than developing a sense of cohesion during the tournament.

I guess we'll see what happens.

I do disagree that the Americans are taking a similar approach as Spain. While they may tweak around the edges with more minutes for Booz in a given situation or (hopefully) have Kidd hand the keys over to CP3/D-Will, the U.S. has played a pretty consistent rotation throughout, and I expect they'll continue to do the same.

Thanks as always for your comments, John!

At 3:52 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Fer y Mauro:
You know, I was thinking after the fact that I should have spotlighted a few other early tournament MVP candidates, so let me do so here. It's the usual suspects:

* Manu: 2nd in scoring (18 ppg), 1st in assists (5.7 apg), 96% FT

* Pau: 4th in scoring (17.7 ppg), 3rd in FG% (62.9), 6th in rebounding (6.7 rpg)

Lots of other guys have been impressive. It's still early.

At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Spanish and I want to say that AITO always plays well in their teams do not have a starting five the change is not to mislead anyone ,he said the important thing is that those who play major minutes not the starting players

At 11:25 PM, Anonymous pablasso said...

Wade may be USA MVP, but overall i would give it to Manu any day.

He is being double and triple teamed every game and still managed to get awesome numbers for international play.

At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog is cool. I like the analysis. Good job!


At 8:42 PM, Blogger Ignarus said...

You cut Dirk from Germany and... they still don't make it out of pool play.

At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anyone hear the interview that KIIS FM's Ryan Seacrest did with Michael Phelps? It's amazing!

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