Monday, September 06, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Look Ahead to What Team USA Should Expect from Russia

Not going to waste time rehashing Team USA's bashing of Angola. Not sure there is much to glean from the game as Angola is on the level of Iran. So let's look ahead to Thursday's quarterfinal matchup between Russia and Team USA.

This game should be a good litmus test for Team USA since Russia has one of the best defensive units in FIBA. Russia also likes to feature plenty of zone--matchup variations--which might throw off Team USA's offensive flow. I could see Russia's defense frustrating Team USA for stretches of the game. Also, Russia has good athletes and good size at every position.

Below we take a deeper look at Russia:

It all starts with defense for Russia. Russia has been one of the best defensive teams for a couple years under the leadership of Coach David Blatt. He's a great bench coach adept at in-game adjustments and a master at mixing up his defensive looks.

Expect Blatt to implement different types of zones, and even have looks where it's hard to decipher what the hell they're in--amoeba-type matchup zones. You might even see players freelance in zone, kind of like free safetys. Good activity in the zone.

So far at the Worlds, Russia has held its opponents to 40.8% shooting overall and 28% from 3-point range. This is typical Russian defense under Blatt. They shut down the 3-point line and they protect the painted area very well.

They were one of the best defenses at EuroBasket last year and they won the '07 EuroBasket on the strength of their defense. Their help & recovery is always tight and they tend to be physical.

What holds this team back from being truly special is the lack of pure scoring threats. Not really sure who to consider as their #1 offensive option. I guess SF Sergey Monya is their #1 option, but he's basically just a shooter.

Russia will likely be without their best player, Vik Khryapa, vs. Team USA as his status is fuzzy due to injury. Even if Vik were available, he would not add much potency on offense as he's nothing special of a scorer.

Russia's perennial offensive woes have continued this year--shooting 44% overall and 32.8% from 3-point range. Even against middling defenses, the Russian offense struggles. So I imagine Team USA will make things worse.

To their credit, they run nice offensive sets with nice ball movement--some Princeton-style stuff--presumably influenced from Blatt's college days at the school. Spacing is usually good and they sometimes keep the basket area open. Their sets do help open up some easy looks, but it can only do so much with this talent.

It's a kind of offense that could give Team USA some difficulties in spots with all the off-ball action. Expect plenty of cuts, back screens, backdoor cuts, and baseline cuts/screens. Might see the ball-handler dribble toward a teammate and that teammate will make a back cut (classic Princeton play). Could see Russia gets some easy scores this way.

If Team USA decides to bring the pressure not sure how well Russia will handle it. Team USA could easily fluster PG/SG Sergey Bykov, who will throw bad passes even when not under duress.

If I were Blatt I would keep the ball in Anton Ponkrashov's hands as much as possible. Ponkrashov is not the athlete that Bykov is, but he's steady and big (6-6). Ponkrashov does not shoot jumpers well, but he's a great passer.

6-9 Sergey Monya is Russia's best all-around player in Khryapa's absence. Monya can shoot, pass, rebound and defend. Monya is one of the best defenders in this tourney, great help defender. Monya has been solid in six games with 11 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3 apg & 47% on 3PA.

If you had to pick someone in this tourney who could best guard Kevin Durant, Monya might be your first choice (Khryapa if healthy). Not saying Monya will have any effect on Durant, just saying he's the best choice.

6-9 Andrey Vorontsevich is another athlete who can play both forward slots. Andrey's forte is to crash the offensive glass and post-up on occasion for Russia. Andrey was huge on Monday vs. NZ with 18 pts (7-for-8), 11 rebs (3 off), 2 stls, 2 blks & three 3pts. He has played well so far--averaging 9.3 ppg & 6.8 rpg (2 off). Andrey has shot the ball well in the first six games--51% overall, 9-for-18 from 3pt.--but is generally an erratic shooter. Andrey might see some minutes on Durant as well.

Though SG Vitali Fridzon is only shooting 28% from 3pt. range so far, he is generally a good shooter and Russia likes to curl him off of down screens.

The Russians have gotten nice production from their athletic center duo, Timo Mozgov and Sasha Kaun. In 22 mins. per game, Sasha is averaging 11.5 ppg (64%) & 6.5 rpg.

NY Knicks reserve center Timofey Mozgov is having a solid tourney, leading the Russians in scoring, 12.5 ppg in only 18 mins per. Timo is a finishing machine as a roll man. Team USA will need to get a body on Timo when the shot goes up because he's adept at put-backs.

Otherwise, Timo is limited on the offensive end and he does not have a great feel for the game. Over-aggressiveness makes Timo extremely foul prone--averaging 3 fouls per in his limited playing time (led EuroBasket in fouls with 4 per game). Timo had a strong game vs. the undersized Kiwis with 16 pts (6-of-9 FG) & 7 rebs (3 off). (Here's our analysis of Timo from July)

They will post-up Kaun and Mozgov somewhat. But neither center can do much with his back-to-basket. Though the Russian bigs are good athletes, neither of them are particularly skilled. So I don't think Russia will have an advantage over USA's thin frontcourt rotation.

Can Russia win this game? Nah. Just don't know how Russia will consistently generate points to make this game close. Their defense could keep the margin from getting out of hand. But Team USA had little difficulty dispatching Slovenia, who is probably slightly better than Russia. Still should be interesting to see how Team USA responds to Russia's defensive game plan.


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, that is quite an extensive rundown, jay. fantastic work!! this is the kind of information american fans have been lacking so far when trying to learn about who it is, exactly, that we're facing.

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Babacar said...

I think Russia has a chance to win it if they shoot well. Rebounds are going to be a problem for team USA because of Kaun and Mozgov. Lamar Odm should go to work on Mozgov and make him foul

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Gary in FH said...

If Russia's size causes the US rebounding problems, one remedy is to play Kevin Love -- a particularly keen rebounder -- at PF, and move Iguodala to the 2/SG position. (Nothing against Billups, who played well at the 2 against Angola, but the US is going to need more size inside in this game.)

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