Thursday, July 23, 2009

USA Basketball: Musings on 2010-12

USA Basketball began the long road to London with the opening of the Men's National Team mini-camp in Las Vegas on Thursday. The first stop will be the 2010 World Championships in Turkey - an event the U.S. hopes to win for the first time since 1994 - before Team USA arrives in England for the 2012 Olympics to attempt to defend its gold medal (we're going to go out on a limb and assume they'll qualify...).

Here are some of our thoughts as a new USA Basketball quadrennium commences.

RULES CHANGES
First off, FIBA has made some key rules changes which will go into effect after the World Championships, such as these:

- Three-point line moved back from 6.25m (20' 6.25") to 6.75m (22' 1.75").
- Free-throw lane changed from trapezoid to rectangle of NBA dimensions.
- "No-charge" semicircle in front of the basket, as in the NBA.

All of these changes should be advantageous to the Americans:
1. Moving the arc back reduces the odds of a team having a "shooter's chance" of pulling off an upset with a barrage of threes. It's an exceedingly welcome change to us - 20' 6" is way too much of a chip shot for adults.
2. The trapezoidal lane pushes big men out from the basket, and thus puts a premium on skill over sheer size and athleticism - the Team USA bigs often have an edge in the latter and a deficit in the former. It's also been a disadvantage to U.S. players simply because they have not been used to operating from the trapezoid. We're a little bummed to see the trapezoid go - we've always liked it exactly because it does favor skill - but standardization is probably a good thing.
3. The no-charge semi-circle offers a very small advantage, as less athletic players are more likely to take charges than block shots, and I have seen several teams profit by taking charges vs. Team USA right at the goal over the years. And again, it's always better for the guys to play with something close to NBA rules, since they are more instinctively used to that game. I've always thought this was a good rule for basketball - defenses should not be rewarded for allowing the offense to penetrate all the way to the basket, and then just stand there and take the hit.

A TOUGH TEAM TO MAKE
My first thought about the potential Team USA rosters for 2010-12 is this: man, this is going to be one tough team to make. The core of the stellar 2008 team was young enough that as many as 8 players may be back for another go-around: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, and Carmelo Anthony all seem open to giving it another go following their exceedingly positive experience with the National Team program from 2006-08, a testament to the work done by Jerry Colangelo and Coach K.

The only problem is that there is a richly talented generation of even-younger players emerging, already nipping at the heels of the Redeem Team. There's going to be a huge amount of competition if there are only 4 spots available, as there is a surplus of worthy players. Of course, things happen - injuries and other unforeseen events may well drop a couple guys from the ranks of the "Great Eight". If the number were to hold, though, it would easily be the largest roster carryover for Team USA from one Olympics to another in the NBA era. Take a look:

1992 --> 1996: 5 players (Barkley, Stockton, Malone, Pippen, Robinson)
1996 --> 2000: 1 player (Payton)
2000 --> 2004: 0 players
2004 --> 2008: 3 players (James, Wade, Anthony)
2008 --> 2012: 8 players???

I wonder if Jerry Colangelo could have dreamed that his concept of bringing continuity to the national team would become so wildly successful. Again, you absolutely cannot give that man enough credit for how he rebuilt the USA Basketball Senior Men's National Team program.

WHO WILL BE THE NEW FOUR?
Here are the four players who will be replaced, according to the consensus, and the roles they played:
- Third Point Guard/Team Leader (along with James/Bryant): Jason Kidd
- Designated Shooter: Michael Redd
- 12th Man/Defensive Stopper: Tayshaun Prince
- Backup Big Man: Carlos Boozer

We're going to look into the crystal ball here a little bit and suggest the four players who we think should be top contenders to fill these roles (roughly, that is - the roles won't be exact matches) in 2010. The first two are no-brainers:

1. Third Point Guard/Team Leader: Brandon Roy
First of all, the need for another team leader will not be necessary from 2010-12, given that the "Great Eight" will all be solid veterans; Kidd's leadership was deemed to be necessary in 2007-08 because of the team's youth.

And no, Brandon Roy's not a point guard, either. But the team certainly has enough players who can initiate offense (including Roy, if added) that it won't be necessary to add a true point guard, so you just can't ignore a guy who is this damn good.

He is just 25 years old (as of Thursday - happy b'day, B), yet he has already become arguably the 7th-best player in basketball. Seemingly a 10-year vet when he walked into the league, Roy plays within himself to an extent that there's very little ego that will need to be left at the door, and he would represent the program with class off the court.

Roy has withdrawn from the mini-camp, however, apparently because of the strange delay in the negotiation of his contract extension with the Blazers. He will be the most prominent of several players with legitimate designs on a roster spot to skip the camp - it'll be interesting to see how that affects the standing of these players in the eyes of Mssrs. Colangelo and K.

Other Contenders
The addition of Roy seems like it would make it difficult for Derrick Rose to make the team, just because of positional needs (see below). However, Rose is attending the mini-camp, and Colangelo was brilliant in 2006 in having a sharp eye for emerging guys like CP3 and Dwight Howard who would be superstars by 2008. It'll be interesting to how Rose is handled with the national team, given that he seems like he'll be elite by 2012, if he isn't already, and it'd seem they'd want to get a point guard groomed for 2014-16 - it's just hard to find room.

Rajon Rondo is missing the camp because he is in Kendrick Perkins's wedding, which can't help his cause for a spot. Rondo and Rose could both stand to improve their shooting to help their causes, of course, although the venerable Sam Smith tweeted today that "Drose didnt miss a j in drills. said taking 700 a day."

We'll also throw John Wall into the mix, as we think he has the potential to be better than Rose or Rondo. He should enter the league for 2010-11, though, so he'd be pretty green for London, and still needs to prove his mental game over the long haul.

Devin Harris will likely be on the outside looking in, and Monta Ellis will not be at mini-camp (I cannot find any information about whether he declined an invite, or was not invited).

2. Designated Shooter: Kevin Durant
Designated shooter, designated scorer, designated baller. Whatever you want, this guy is it. Given the way Durant played in the Team USA intrasquad scrimmage back in 2007, we thought he should have made the team over Redd then.

But c'mon - dude averaged 25 ppg with .422 3PT% at age 20. He's only going to get better, perhaps scarily so, and seems to have a good head on his shoulders. If it's his role to sit the bench and wait his turn 2010-12, I believe Durant will accept it... and then be ready to help run the show from 2014-16.

Kevin Durant figures to challenge for championships and MVP awards in the latter part of the 2010s. Nothing more to discuss here. Next.

Other Contenders
None, really. Do you see any other young rising superstar swingmen on Durant's level? Didn't think so. And don't say O.J. Mayo - I said "superstar." Same sentiments for his Grizz teammate Rudy Gay. Quite frankly, I think Mike Beasley's pure scoring ability (25th in points-per-minute as a rook) makes him a more impressive candidate than either of the Grizz, but of course, B-Easy needs to prove he's got the right stuff mentally, and he was not even invited to the mini-camp. Also surprised that Kevin Martin didn't get a courtesy call to mini-camp ahead of the likes of Kyle Korver.

3. 12th Man/Defensive Stopper: Danny Granger
So, you see, with B-Roy and KD, we're really down to just two open spots, with loads of candidates, and this one is an excruciatingly tough choice. It basically comes down to two guys for us: Danny Granger (26) and Andre Iguodala (25). They have different strengths and weaknesses, and we have gone back and forth, and back and forth again, before settling on Granger, for now.

Granger is the better scorer and a much better shooter (40%-31% edge over AI), and while he's not really a defensive stopper, he's solid on D. The decisive factor in Granger's favor may be that he has better size and can guard 3s and 4s, which fills a need (more on this later) more than AI, who guards 2s and 3s.

Iguodala is pretty close to the most underrated player in basketball, in no small part because he is emerging as a true lockdown defender. He's also a much better assist man than Granger (5.3 vs. 2.7). AI also has an advantage in that he played for the USA Select Team which scrimmaged against the National Team in both 2007 and 2008.

Tough, tough choice and I could really go either way. Let's see how 2009-10 plays out. Granger says he wants to become a defensive stopper, so we'll see. Both players are at mini-camp, though Granger is not playing, in order to rest his knee.

Other contenders
Anthony Randolph's freak-show set of gifts make him intriguing, and his superstar turn in the Vegas Summer League earned him a trip to Team USA mini-camp, but the Olympics are a long way from summer league. Prove it in Oakland this winter, kid, and then we'll give you a look.

Frankly, for other contenders, I might re-consider Tayshaun Prince and Shane Battier despite their relatively advanced ages (29 and 30) because they were so perfect for the national-team "glue-guy" role in 2008 and 2006, respectively.

4. Backup Big Man: Greg Oden
OK, this one's also really, really tough right now - a lot of candidates and a lot of variables. This is the one spot that's really up for grabs based on who emerges the most in 2009-10. We tend to think that USA Basketball would be wise to go with younger players who can gain experience in order to become team leaders in the 2014-16 period, which would give our inside track to 21-year-olds Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum, if they show development, which is really the one major "if" of the NBA's 2010s beyond "Where will LeBron go?," so it's far from a lock.

We're going to go out on a limb and say that Oden will finally begin emerge as a defensive force this season. The words of Raptors coach Jay Triano, who is running the mini-camp, after practice today had to warm the hearts of Blazermaniacs far and wide: "Oden was the surprise of the practice. He shut down everything inside."

That's why the Blazers drafted him, and we think that, if he indeed develops in '09-10, his combo of being younger and more defensively-oriented would give him an edge over the rest of the field.

Other contenders
There is no shortage. If Colangelo and Coach K want to go with defense, we'd say that Bynum, Tyson Chandler (26) and Kendrick Perkins (24) should all be in the mix. And I suppose you can't discount Emeka Okafor (26), he who did not score a point in Athens, due to his stalwart work at the back of an improved Bobcats D.

None of those players are at mini-camp, though (while Oden is there), with Bynum focused on getting his knee to 100% and Perk getting married.

If the brain trust is looking for a more offensive-minded player, there are probably two main options: Al Jefferson (24) and Amare Stoudemire (26). Jefferson is possibly the best low-post scorer in basketball right now, but he might be a better option for 2012, to work in the NBA lane he's used to. Stoudemire's ability to score in a variety of ways probably fits better in '10, but his detached retina is a scary injury; we're concerned about how long it's going to take him to get all the way back.

Both players are rehabbing injuries this summer. Jefferson was on the Select Team in '07 but not '08. Stoudemire was on the National Team in '07 but not '08.

Other bigs in the mix include camp attendees Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, and Paul Millsap, as well as guys who withdrew from camp for contract/injury issues in Blake Griffin, David Lee, and LaMarcus Aldridge. We should note that we see Griffin as an All-Star-type player, but not a Hall-of-Fame-type player, as J.A. Adande seemed to suggest recently. We certainly think he can contend for a spot in time, but don't think he's a shoo-in by any means.

One last name we'll throw in is Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors, who could be the no. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. Like Wall, he's probably too inexperienced for this go-around, but could contend sooner than you think.

**************************

All right, circling back, these are the four we've got:
- Third Point Guard: Brandon Roy
- Designated Shooter: Kevin Durant
- 12th Man/Defensive Stopper: Danny Granger
- Backup Big Man: Greg Oden

Of course, there is room for flexibility here - it's not as if these roles needed to be filled exactly the same way. In terms of roles, it seems like the main wild card is that 12th Man/Defensive Stopper.

Do you go with another point guard instead, to get a guy like Rose in there who can help form a nucleus for 2014-16?

Do you go with another big? Take a look at the "Great Eight" lineup again: just two bigs, Howard and Bosh, and CB4 is not exactly a bruiser. There was a little talk going into Beijing about whether having just 3 bigs would be a fatal flaw for Team USA, and whether a guy like Tyson Chandler would be better for the team than Prince.

Turns out Prince gave some huge minutes in the gold-medal game when Kobe and LeBron got in early foul trouble, but it still seems like a valid question, perhaps especially so in 2012 once the lane reduces to NBA dimensions?

Coach K seems to favor 3 bigs, though. The 2006 team had 5 bigs (if you include Brad Miller, who was largely a wasted roster spot), and then in 2007, the U.S. went with just 3 bigs like it did in Beijing.

A quote from Coach K on Thursday seemed to tip his hand in the direction of a 3/4 like Granger:
    "A big thing is versatility. In the international game what we’ve learned is the more versatile team you have, especially at the three and four, when they can do both, that adds a lot because so many fours in international ball play away from the basket and are really perimeter players so it’s a little different context that you deal in."
Still, it'll be interesting to see if the FIBA game changes with the lane, and if something like Jefferson's low-post game might be more effective in 2012, and more useful than another 3/4.

[July 26 update: Above, we wrote our early thoughts largely focused on who should make the team. The reporting from Vegas seems to indicate that the USA Basketball brass favors a third true point, which really puts Derrick Rose in the driver's seat. Kevin Durant appears to be a lock. Colangelo and Coach K also seem set to go with 3 bigs again.

So, the questions for the 2010 roster now seem to be:
- Who will emerge in '09-10 to take that last big-man spot?
- Who will grab the last spot, which seems reserved for a wing player, with Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger and Rudy Gay seeming to be contenders. Roy is the best player but has skipped 2 straight camps, Iggy is the best stopper and also has played with USA Basketball for three straight summers, Granger can knock down 3's and guard 4's, and Gay emerged with a 27-point performance in Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage.]

ON COACH K'S RETURN
Mike Krzyzewski did a superlative job of creating and building a sense of team for the USA Basketball National Team, which was an essential need in the 2006-08 period, and the culture he built along with Jerry Colangelo seems stronger than ever, poised to live on into the future. As we've said before, you can't give enough credit to both men for that.

With that culture in place, we'd have to say we would have preferred to see a pro coach get the USA nod this time around, because we think Coach K's in-game adjustment skills were just as shaky against Spain in '08 as they were against Greece in '06 - this time he happened to have better players.

Remember that the U.S. came very close to losing to a Spain team playing through a key injury, to Jose Calderon, with a 17-year-old manning the point in his stead, no less. And it was the manner in which the game was played that would have made it an unacceptable loss: Team USA gave up 107 points (the equivalent of 128 in an NBA game) while never trying to throw hard double-teams at Pau Gasol, who was potent but turnover-prone in the Games, and struggling to adjust to Juan Carlos Navarro as he repeatedly drove the lane for floaters.

In-game adjustments are an area of coaching which is just more advanced for pro coaches. His work at Duke is unassailable, but Coach K just makes us nervous on the sidelines of a pro game, and we'd rather see a top NBA guy over there.

12 Comments:

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Al Horford as a back-up big?

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Horford is ineligible, having played for the Dominican Republic recently.

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger Mohan said...

What do you think of Trevor Ariza in that role of glue guy like Tayshaun Prince or Battier??

 
At 9:36 AM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Mohan: I could certainly see Ariza developing into that role - I certainly like him better than Artest as a glue guy!

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Simeon K said...

Wasn't ariza also thinking about playing for the dominican republic?

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Ah yes, good point. Charlie Villaneuva and Francisco Garcia, too.

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger Shakers Jacobson said...

Great article, enjoyed it thoroughly. My pick for the next four would be Rose, Roy, KD, and Oden. That is, unless Blake Griffin comes out and destroys people this year. That is yet to be seen. I like the idea of a guy like Iguodala as a defensive stopper, but Kobe, Lebron, and Wade should provide enough defensive leadership that Iggy is not necessary to fill a roster spot. Hopefully Oden finally steps up and becomes a dominant shot blocker. Watching Howard and Bosh get abused by Pau and Marc Gasol in the gold medal game was not cool.

 
At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Jason said...

Great sports blog man. I'm going to visit here more often. I have a sports blog myself and I would like to exchange links with you. Let me know. Jason

 
At 3:32 PM, Anonymous r_erry_b said...

JOsh Smith is a monster on the D. Leading all NBA PLayers on Block/Games. And have enough agility for PF position. I agree with the rest: AI, KD & ROY

 
At 2:02 AM, Anonymous latest sports news said...

@r_erry_b JOsh Smith is truly a monster on the D. He is just epic.

 
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