Wednesday, July 19, 2006

2006 FIBA World Champs.--Team USA Tryouts (Part II)-the Final Roster

In Part I, I gave a brief, recent history of international FIBA competitions and how the landscape has changed, particularly from the Team USA's point of view. I still see around the 'Net that some folks think that if the US squad just has guys like Kobe, Wade, & Bron on the team that the US is unstoppable or will just cruise to victory. Sorry, but those days are long gone. Even if Kobe was coming this year, the US team would have had a couple of close calls. It will not surprise me if the US squad went undefeated on their way to a gold medal, there is just no way they would be crushing all comers by 18 points a game. The new era of int'l basketball started in 2000, and every summer since, the US has had a close call every summer.

Below is the group of 12 players who I feel should be on the team, not who I think Colangelo & Co. will pick. I wish that Mr. Colangelo would have added more static shooters to the initial pool of players-- guys like Kyle Korver, Mike Miller, Ben Gordon, & Wally are missing from this mix. Why? Zones. Full-on, no-restriction, packed-in zones is what Team USA should be seeing. It's a no-brainer. If I was playing against the US, I'm always sitting in either a 2-3 or 2-1-2 zone with the "One-Foot-in-the-Paint" rule for all my defenders. If Team USA is going to beat me, they are going to do it with outside jumpers.

Call it the lesser of two evils theorem: Would you rather man-up the US & have them shred you apart, or would you rather have them prove themselves from the perimeter? I think the answer is pretty simple. Especially if you have guys like Wade, LeBron, or Paul on the floor together. Wade & Bron can be given a huge cushion outside as far as I'm concerned, and if they get hot, so be it, I'm still sticking in the zone or loose man2man. As well, you're keeping them off the foul line more, which is nice since Wade, Arenas, & Bron get a nice chunk of their offense from the stripe. Zones also cause problems for post-up options, either by just having multiple defenders around (ask Duncan) or by making the entry passing angles somewhat difficult.

If JJ Redick was still available, he should have definitely been on the roster, because he's the best catch/shoot option that the US had. You need guys like him that not only hit their jumpers, but who also are just a threat once they step on the court. Just having a guy like JJ on the floor forces your defense to make tougher decisions. Do they leave JJ open because he's guy who much more dangerous vs. a zone as opposed to a tough man2man. While guys like Wade, Bron, & Arenas are guys you would much rather sag off all day & prefer they would not drive the ball & possibly draw fouls. With JJ just on the floor, he hopefully opens up lanes for Bron & Wade; as of now I see very few guys in the US camp who make me want to consider for a second to come out of a zone.

The US team really needs to capitalize on their superior speed by fast breaking at every chance. It could be rough going in the half-court offensively, so they are going to need to push the tempo and try to get easy points in transition. I assume with D'Antoni next to Coach K, this will be part of the gameplan-- push the pace, increase the amount of possessions so to not keep inferior talented teams close on the scoreboard. Also, Coach K has to think about using this athletic advantage on defense as well, by throwing some full-court presses & traps into the playbook. This was something that I felt Larry Brown missed the boat on in '04 (with a myriad of other things he screwed up). Who wouldn't love to see LeBron & Wade let loose, flying around on the defensive end, creating a helter-skelter atmosphere. Also on the defensive end, Coach K & D'Antoni have to get their players accustomed to all the constant movement on offense that Team USA is likely to defend against. This is something that NBA players are not use to seeing, and it killed them in '02, & was a problem still in '04. This sort of ties in with their problems defending the 3pt. line in '04 as well. The bigs have to also be to prepared to defend on the perimeter more than they are accustomed to as well.

I do commend Colangelo on finding some pure points on the roster, something that was severely lacking in '04. Also, adding role players like Battier, Bowen, & Miller is a huge step forward in the right direction. Another thing that is an underrated factor for the US, is adding players who can hit the offensive glass. With the likelihood of facing zones, the offensive boards open up and this was something the US did well in '04 (they were one of the best in the tourney).
Here's my final 12:

Kirk Hinrich -- Glad to see him reconsider, and now Ridnour can be left in Seattle. Solid shooter (37% from 3pt. for career), emerging playmaker who displayed shades of Nash-like probing & passing in the playoffs. Maybe most importantly, his defense is superb (Ask D. Wade).

Chris Paul -- The other pure point on the roster. Gives the US a small, quick guard who create havoc similar to ones that usually provide problems to the US. Could be useful if Coach K chooses to run a lot. But might not be quite as effective as people think because the US should be seeing a steady diet of zones, so those driving lanes should be cramped. Also, Paul is nothing special of a marksman from the perimeter.

Dwayne Wade-- We all know what he can do in the NBA, but how much of that ability will transfer over in FIBA. I remember some times in these playoffs where he struggled for stretches vs. zones, and he will not be able to live on the foul line in int'l play like he did in the playoffs. In '04, he was just not very good offensively, and he did not look comfortable at all, and he's guy who needs to get his rhythm flowing to get his jumpshot to go.

LeBron James -- With Wade, the main drawing card for USA Basketball, no way they leave him off. Can play the 1-4 positions in FIBA, and would be nice to see him play some 4. Like to see Coach K use him as a roving, free-safety type on defense, and hopefully utilize him in some full-court presses & traps. I assume LeBron is going to be given ample opportunities from the perimeter & he is going to have to consistently hit his looks. I just don't anticipate the lanes to be given to him very much, even if he's hitting from deep-- if Bron's gonna beat me, he gonna beat with jumpers.

Gilbert Arenas -- Believe me, this was the last guy from the candidate pool who I wanted on the list, but with Kobe dropping out, I felt the US needed another proven scorer. It came down to picking between him & Melo, and the only reason I went with Gil, is he's a pretty decent 3-point shooter. Melo loves to post-up in the mid-range area & loves to work on the baseline, and I don't see him having those opportunities too often vs. the zones. But Coach K just has to promise not to play Gil at the point at all, make sure he's playing the 2 spot exclusively.

Elton Brand -- Probably the best low-post scoring option in the pool of candidates. Although, its difficult to post vs. the zones, Brand has a unique ability where he's perfected a sort of mid-postup game, which is also conducive to the trapezoid lane. Brings boards & shot-blocking. Also, brings a great attitude & will work seamlessly with Coach K.

Brad Miller -- Should have been on the '04 team before Amare or Okafor. (Still is perplexing why Stu Jackson & Co. excluded him). He is a perfect fit for attacking 2-3 zones: He can sit or flash in that soft spot around the foul line and drill the 15 footer or pass to shooters or hit baseline cutters. Also, should be a good teammate.

Bruce Bowen -- The Manu-stopper. He's here for the main purpose of looking ahead to a possible matchup with the Argentines. Obviously, he fills the defensive stopper role, but he's also valuable because he has shot the 3-ball well the last 2 years. Another great teammate to have that does not need touches & who's minutes can be varied game-to-game. I also assume Colangelo would not have asked him to participate in training camp if he did not really want him on this year's team because Bruce probably will not be considered in '08.

Chris Bosh -- A good, young 4/5 who can float out & hit jumpers. Also, has the athleticism to defend away from the paint. A guy that should be hitting his peak around the time the Olympics roll around. Not a bad shot-blocker either. Solid offensive rebounder.

Dwight Howard -- Should be able to command the glass even better oversees. Young stud who should be developed alongside Bosh. Not going to bring much offensively, but someone is going to have to sacrifice touches, might as well begin with Howard.

Shane Battier -- Basically the same things that Bowen brings. Can defend the 2-4 positions in FIBA, & maybe even some 5s. An underrated 3-point shooter. Maybe most importantly, a player who can play 20 minutes one game, then 5 minutes and it will not change his effectiveness or attitude, especially with Coach K around. (Battier would fill water bottles & personally cut orange wedges for the team if Coach K told him to, and do it with that big goofy smile of his.)

Antawn Jamison -- 3/4 hybrid who can float out & has good-range on his jumper, which comes in handy for a guy who can play the 4 in FIBA. Rebounds well, underrated offensive rebounder which comes in handy vs. zones.

-Marion was tough to leave off the team, and could be easily substituted for Battier or Bowen. But I went with those guys because they simply shoot the ball better from the perimeter. Granted, Marion is a good rebounder, but I feel the rebounding is well taken care of, while the shooting can use all the help it can get. With all that said, I would bet that Marion gets put on the team for politics--D'Antoni is an assistant & he might not want to ruffle Marion's psyche. I could easily understand subbing Amare for Howard, but I think with his knee situation, I prefer Dwight. This could be another area for some politics to arise, but in this case I could see D'Antoni preferring Amare sit this summer out, so stay tuned for that decision. Also, I was thinking long & hard about putting Morrison on the team instead of Arenas or Jamison. As of now, he's probably the best pure shooter on the full roster list, and could really thrive in FIBA play. I could still easily waver on adding Morrison instead, but I'm going with the vets right now. Brand, Bosh, Howard, Battier, & Jamison are all good offensive rebounders so that should be an advantage vs. zones.


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