Saturday, September 30, 2006

Basketball Hall of Fame--Who's In? (Recent Retirees)

I have been thinking about putting a Hall article out since early summer, but got sidetracked with the World Championships. I felt like this was good time since this is the last days of the slow period for basketball. What follows is a list of players of recent vintage who have retired in the last few years and are debatable candidates in my mind.

Don't forget were dealing with the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall-o-Fame. People tend to overlook this when they talk about candidates. There are many college coaches, women coaches (Summit), contributors (Dave Gavitt), women players (Cheryl Miller, Ann Meyers) and foreign players & coaches inducted in Springfield.

This can open up a whole can of worms for the committee with evaluating NBA players. What do you do with guys who had legendary college careers but had solid NBA careers at best? (see Laettner) What do you do with foreign players who come over to play in the NBA? Alot of the time these foreign players have had solid NBA careers, but if they stayed over in Europe they would have been legendary & possible Hall candidates like Kresmir Cosic or Dino Meneghin (see Divac). An even tougher case is what to do with a guy like Detlef Schrempf (who played his whole college career & some of high school in the US) ? See these are some of the problems that crop up when you don't just have an NBA-only Hall of Fame.

So, a guy like Bill Walton can get in on the combination of his college & pro days, so why can't Laettner? And college coaches seemingly can get in if they just coach long enough. You can see the issues that can cause some inconsistency with Hall of Fame inductions. Hopefully, someday we can establish a separate NBA Hall-o-Fame and hopefully they will find anywhere but Springfield to put it in. Here's the list of recent retirees soon to be Hall eligible:

NO-BRAINERS: Ewing, Jordan, Malone, Olajuwon, Pippen, Robinson, & Stockton.

BORDERLINE CASES (American players who had great NBA careers, but not quite legendary):

Reggie Miller
-- Although there seems to be a consensus that Reg is no doubt in the Hall, I say not so fast. To me, he is a borderline case. Probably the best outside shooter of his era (but does being the best at a specific skill put you in the Hall?). Great playoff performer--6 East. Conf. finals apperance, 1 finals appearance--always clutch in the playoffs (see Knick game). But his stats are not amazing--18.2 ppg, 3rpg, 3apg--puts him on the same line as Hardaway, Richmond, K. Johnson, and Mullin. Was one of the better 2-guards of his era, but was he any better than Richmond? Miller did not do much more than shoot & score. There has to be debate with Reg's case, he just can't have his ticket automatically punched like Jordan or Stockton. His resume is solid but not amazing: 5 all-star selections; 3 all-nba (3-3rd); Olympic gold & World Champ. Gold. His 18 seasons (1389 games) with one team will be looked highly upon by Hall voters. Although, it does not mean quite as much to me. And his career shooting % of 47% & a super 39.5% from 3pt. are helpful to his case.
Should he get in: Like I said before, I am on the fence with Reg and right now I am dangling to "yes side" of the fence. I think guys like Mullin & Richmond are just as worthy and were both better overall players than Reg. But his post season play is an enticing factor.
Will he get in: Right now I would say yes. 18 years with the same team, the state of Indiana loves him, good all-around guy. And his playoff performances are very memorable (Those Knick games clips will be played forever). Don't underrate the fact that he has a national TV gig either, that helps keep his face out there--Reg definitely has the best PR of any of these candidates.

Mitch Richmond--Had the unfortunate luck of being stuck in Sacto when they constantly stunk. Was not on TV very much and to most people outside of Arco Arena, Richmond was an afterthought. 6 all-star selections; 5 all-nba (3-2nd, 2-3rd); '89 rookie of year; 21ppg, 4 rpg., 3.5apg. 1 NBA ring (token on Lakers). Olympic gold & bronze. 10 straight years of averaging at least 22 ppg. Only 23 playoff games. Was always considered underrated during his playing days & is still to this day. Was one of the top 2-guards of his era. To me, he was a better all-around 2-guard than Miller, he just does not have the post-season success.
Should he get in: I think if you put Reg in, you have to put Mitch in.
Will he get in: I am not really sure, I think his lack of exposure could really hurt him. Does not have the PR that Reg has built over the years.

Tim Hardaway-- One of the top PGs of his era. Super-strong point who used his compact build well to be a post-up threat. He also was the owner of one the sickest dribble-crossovers of all-time. Not much separated him from GP in the 90s. Known for hitting big time shots. Resume: 5 all-star selections.; 5 all-nba (1-1st, 3-2nd, 1-3rd); 17.7ppg, 8.2apg, & 3.3 rpg. His scoring & even rebounding numbers are very close to Reg's, although the shooting % tilt in Reg's favor. Also, the post-season success gives Reg an advantage. But Tim Bug made a few more all-nba teams and a few 2nd teams, while Reg only got 3 3rd teams.
Should he get in: He's definitely on the fence with me, I waver back-n-forth.
Will he get in: Not sure. Although, I think if you put Reg or Kevin Johnson in, you should put Tim Bug in.

Chris Mullin--Another highly underrated player. Some might say he was the poor man's version of Larry Bird. Had one of the sweetest strokes of all-time, great passer. One of the top college players of the 80s, which is a plus for his case. '85 NCAA Co-player-o-year with Ewing. 2 gold medals. 5 years of averaging at least 25 ppg. 5-time all-star, 4 all-nba (1-1st; 2-2nd, 1-3rd). Tailed off quickly when he hit his 30s. Career numbers--18.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 apg (51%, 38.4% from deep). I think he has to be in for his combined college & pro performance. Could he get in a NBA-only Hall? Borderline. But with his college performance he's in the overall Basketball Hall.
Should he get in: Yes, his college play & 2 gold medals put him over the top in my mind.
Will he get in: Matters how much the committee takes into effect his college & int'l play.

Kevin Johnson-- Some of you probably forgot about KJ, I know I did when making a cursory list of hall-o-fame prospects. I totally forgot about him, and this could possibly hurt his chances. Not because I overlooked him, it's just he was a player that you have to be reminded how good he really was outside the Valley of the Sun. Maybe it's an subconscious East Coast bias that I have, who knows, but Johnson never really made a huge impression on me during the 90s. 3 all-star selections; 5 all-nba (4-2nd, 1 3rd); 17.9ppg, 9.1rpg, 3.3apg. (49%, 30.5%)--numbers nearly identical to Hardaway, besides the shooting %. But did he play long enough-- only 735 games. 1 finals appearance. 105 playoff games (19.3, 9 apg, 3.3 rpg)
Should he get in: After looking at the numbers, whatever way Hardaway goes, so goes Kevin Johnson--they are pretty equal to me.
Will he get in: I have a feeling he will get in before Hardaway because the Hall voters will be enamoured with his great guy rep & his community work, any type of Hall-o-Fame loves that, but if you put him in you better put Tim Bug in or you lose validity as a Hall.

FOREIGN FACTORS (Foreign players who played a significant chunk of their career in the NBA):

Vlade Divac
--One of the 1st Euros to enter the league & one of the early handful of the first wave (late 80s) Euro invasion players to have an impact in the NBA. 2 World Champ golds, 2 Olympic silvers. One of the best passing big men of all-time. Played most of his pro career in the states, but does have an accomplished resume of int'l competitions' success, which definitely helps. He was also somewhat of a goodwill ambassador for the game.
Should he get in: I think so, with his trailblazing status, solid NBA career & many int'l tourney accomplishments, he's in line with a guy like Petrovic.
Will he get in: Not sure. Because most of his professional career was played in the NBA, which was solid but not Hall worthy by itself. But since Petrovic is in, I have to believe Vlade will get in.

Toni Kukoc--Will just consider him retired for this piece. Similar to Divac. But with 3 NBA champs. under his belt & was a key cog on all those great Bulls' teams. World Champ. gold, 2 Olympic silvers, 1 World Champ. bronze. Also, 3 Euro club championships, & 3-time Euro player of the year. NBA 6th-man of year in 1994. Great outside shooter who combined that with great passing skills.
Should he get in: Yes
Will he get in: Pretty confident he will. All his titles around the world & individual awards should seal the deal.

Arvydas Sabonis--Personally, one of my favorite players of all-time & one of the best centers of all-time anywhere. Devastating ankle & knee injuries slowed him down in the early 90s. 4-time Euro player of the year, 1 Euro club champ. 1 Olympic gold, 2 Olympic bronze, 1 World Champ silver. 12ppg, 7.3rpg , & 2.1apg in only 24 mins per in NBA. One of the bigger "What-ifs" in sports history--if he came here in his prime & was not crippled below the waist--he could have been a Hall-o-Famer straight-up with his play in the NBA, no foreign factor needed. Was the best passing big man of all-time, sorry Bill. Please do yourself a favor and watch his old clips on YouTube.
Should he get in: You know how I feel on this. Absolutely.
Will he get in: If he does not in the next 15 years, I will personally go to Springfield to start a riot. And that says alot, because no one should be forced to enter the city limits of Springfield any longer than necessary.

Sarunas Marciulionis-- Another "foreign factor" possibility. 7 NBA seasons--12.8 ppg, 2rpg , & 2apg. 50.5% overall, 37% from deep. Definitely underrated NBA career. With Divac & Drazen, one of the few successful players from the 1st wave of Euros in the late 80s. 1 Olympic gold, 2 Olympic bronze, 1 World Champ silver. Was a precursor to Manu's aggressive driving style. Very good NBA bench player--2-time runner-up for the 6th-man award.
Should he get in: Not sure about him--was not as dominant as Sabonis or Kukoc oversees.
Will he get in: No idea. But could be helped by his trailblazing ways (like Divac & Petrovic) & his off-court work.

Detlef Schrempf--Longshot, but could have the whole "foreign factor" working. 2-time 6th-man of the year. 3-time all-star, 1 all-nba 3rd team. 14 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1 finals appearance. Nevertheless, highly underrated player. Little different Euro--played college & some high school in US, so maybe interpreted differently. Does not have much in the way of int'l awards like the other listed Euros, so that could hurt his case.
Should he get in: I just don't know. He is a very tricky case for making the Hall.
Will he get in: Don't think so, even though I think he is vastly underrated. But he's definitely in a very grey area. How do categorize him? He was in many ways an American player who happened to be born in Germany, you know what I mean. This is where the Hall has made it hard on itself by inducting foreign players & coaches. Maybe I need to think about Rik Smits now as well.

BIG GUYS WHEN ON CAMPUS (Guys with sterling college careers, but without Hall-o-Fame level NBA careers):

Christian Laettner
-- Some people might be surprised with this choice-but could be a similar case to Bill Walton. One of the best college players of all-time & the best of the 90s, & the best player in college the last 20 years. Solid pro career. 1 token Olympic gold, 1 World Champ. bronze. '92 NCAA player of the year. 4 Final Fours, 3 NCAA Finals appearances, 2 crowns. Played huge every year in the NCAA tourney. Walton's overall pro career numbers were not much better than Laettner's (the rebounds & block shots were definitely in Bill's favor). To me, Walton's overall NBA career was not Hall-o-Fame caliber by itself--I would not put Bill into a NBA-only Hall if one existed. Walton did not even play 500 career games, to me, that's not long enough of a sample size--you should play at least around 520 games to even qualify as having a long enough NBA career to evaluate for the Hall. What definitely helps Walton was his '78 MVP & his 2 rings, '77 finals MVP & 86 6th-man award, but 76-77 & 77-78 were his only great years. Laettner had one all-star selection to 2 for Bill. Was Walton a better college player than Christian? Yeah, few were better. But Laettner is not far behind.
Should he get in: A very hard case, but I think he should get in because his college career was just too good, and his pro career pretty solid. As I noted before, he's not that far behind Walton in my mind. I guess if you put all those college coaches in, some who don't have as many titles as Laettner, why not him. Also, the American women are only getting put in on mostly their college play, why can't Laettner.
Will he get in: I don't think so. Right now, Walton is the only player in the Hall who you can compare his situation with, but Bill has the slight advantage of two NBA rings & a MVP trophy.

Danny Manning--Probably another easily forgotten Hall prospect. Somewhat similar to Laettner. One of the better college players of all-time. '88 MVP & NCAA title. Literally, one-man gang in '88. I think his leading of Kansas to an upset of conference foe Oklahoma was on par with Nova over G'town. Maybe even more impressive considering he had nothing besides current Portland GM Kevin Pritchard around him, but this game gets nowhere near the attention of the '85 title. Also, one of the top 3 players in the land in 86-87 with D. Robinson & S. Alford. Was one of the top 5 players in the 80s of college b-ball with Isiah, R. Sampson, Jordan, & Ewing. as far as I am concerned. Injuries stymied his NBA effectiveness, similar to Walton. His NBA numbers are solid--14 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.3 apg in 883 games over 15 seasons. One 6th-man of the year award. Laettner probably has a small advantage because of his extra NCAA title & 3 NCAA finals appearances.
Should he get in: I put Laettner in, so maybe Manning should get in, but not ready right now to put him in. The extra title & '90 finals appearance puts Laettner higher in the pecking order.
Will he get in: Can't see it happening.

Ralph Sampson--Again, injuries ripped short a promising career. Somewhat similar to Walton--Ralph played 456 total games, Bill played 468. Ralph had about 2-3 hall-of-fame caliber years like Bill, then was seriously derailed by injuries. '84 rookie of the year, 4 all-star selections, 1 all-nba, 1 finals appearance. Similar career stats to Bill--15.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, & 2.3 apg. One of the most dominant college players of all-time, one of the best players of the 80s. But what hurts Ralph is he has no titles in the pros or college. Also, has had some rough times off the court and just recently ran into some legal troubles, which could hurt the slim chance he previously had.
Should he get in: The lack of titles put him below Laettner, but maybe closer to Manning.
Will he get in: I can't see it, especially with the off-court issues.

Dennis Rodman
--If some people make the case for Ben Wallace, Rodman has to be considered. Look at his resume: 5 rings; 7.3 ppg & 13.1 rpg; 2-time all-star; 2-time Def. player of the year; All-defensive team--7-time 1st team, 1 2nd team; 7-time reb. leader; 2-time 3rd all-nba. Pretty impressive. Also, an underrated passer. One of the best role players of all-time. But not much in the way of offense. Obviously his personality is a big knock against him.
Should he get in: His resume is very impressive, although I wish he was more varied on offense. I don't care about his off-court issues, I am leaning toward putting him in--his resume is excellent in my opinion.
Will he get in: I doubt anytime soon. I really think the committee will try to avoid Dennis for as long as they can. But if they ever decide to put Ben Wallace in, Rodman must go in as well.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

College Rant

I was reading Peter Boyer's story "Big Men on Campus" from the Sept. 4 issue of The New Yorker on the Duke lacrosse case, which also widens out into a general discussion on the uneasy marriage of academics and big-time athletics at an institution such as Duke, which aspires to be a world-class university.

It starts with a brief profile of Duke President Richard Brodhead, talking about how he had spent his entire life at Yale from age 17 in 1964 until taking the Duke job in 2004. And here's how he was welcomed:

    On June 28, 2004, Duke’s ninth president moved into his new office, in the Allen Building, near the university’s main quad. As Brodhead was getting settled, Joe Alleva, Duke’s athletic director, rushed in with urgent news: the Los Angeles Lakers had offered Coach K the job of head coach, and Krzyzewski was thinking of leaving Duke.

    After forty years in the academy, Brodhead, on his first day in the new job, was facing a crisis wholly foreign to him. But he understood that losing the star coach would be a disastrous beginning, and he took Krzyzewski to dinner and desperately sought common ground. There was no way that any school, even Duke, could compete monetarily with the N.B.A. (the Lakers had reportedly offered Krzyzewski forty million dollars), but Brodhead did have one edge: his status as an academic heavyweight. He told the coach how highly valued he was at Duke, not just for his winning but for his talents as a teacher, and if Krzyzewski stayed he would retain his auxiliary position as a "special assistant" to the president. As the days passed, Brodhead found himself joining the crowds of students chanting "Coach K, please stay!" and helping to fill a human chain forming the letter "K" outside Cameron Indoor Stadium. On July 4th, Krzyzewski made his decision: he would stay. But he waited until the next day to relieve the president of his agonies.

    "What you saw there was the lay of the land," Orin Starn, a Duke professor who specializes in the anthropology of sports, recalls. "The fact is that it’s the basketball coach, Coach K, who’s the most powerful person at Duke, and in Durham, and maybe in North Carolina -- much more powerful than the college president himself. So Brodhead -- I mean, there was almost this kind of ritual humiliation, this ritual obeisance, or fealty, that was required of him."

I watch just a modest amount of college basketball and almost zero college football, mainly because I think the quality of play is so poor compared to the pro levels of both sports. I went to a small school, and I often have friends who went to bigger schools tell me that I "just don't get" big-time college sports because I didn't experience it first-hand as an undergrad. And I think to myself, "Hmmm, the football and basketball coaches are better-paid and more powerful than not just the faculty, but also the administration and president of the school? Yeah, I guess you're right, I just don't get it."

It's so ridiculous that players took so much criticism for jumping from high school to the pros, rather than contributing to the enrichment and empowerment of college coaches. (Malcolm Gladwell notes in his eloquent blog posts about the NCAA that the amateur ideal originally applied to coaches and athletics departments as well as athletes.)

It's so ridiculous that Chris Webber took so much criticism for accepting money while at Michigan, when the NCAA made a gazillion dollars off of the sale of Michigan merchandise.

It's so ridiculous that Oklahoma President David Boren doesn't have better things to do than protest the results of a football game.

Reggie Bush, Rhett Bomar... it's all ridiculous that these stories are even news, considering the vast sums of money made off the backs of these players.

I can only hope that the NBDL grows into a legitimate minor-league system, so that 18-year-old basketball prospects can truly have the same choice as 18-year-old baseball prospects or hockey prospects: go to college, or turn pro and go to the minors. (Yes, that choice is available now, but it's not currently seen as a viable option, nor is the NBDL used as a true farm system -- currently it's about veteran retreads moreso than developing young players, though the fact that several top draft picks were sent down for seasoning last year is a step in the right direction.)

I am in agreement with Brian McCormick -- who has written extensively about his ideas for changing the American player development system -- in the sentiment that kids who are not interested in nor qualified for college should not be there.

Beyond having moral qualms about schools and college coaches making so much money off of their players, I also think that the NCAA system often hampers the development of young American players.

Why should the best young U.S. basketball players be subjected to the NCAA's practice-time limitations? Are the best young musicians limited in how much they can practice?

Of course there's the cess pool that is everything to do with the NCAA's recruiting system, which ultimately results in players spending their summer trying to make names for themselves more than developing as players.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but "Godspeed, Sonny Vaccaro" - may your proposal for a prep basketball academy improve the player-development system for high-school kids, and hopefully lead down the line to another alternative for top players who don't want to spend their March building up the coffers of the NCAA, CBS, and college coaches.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kloster F*cked; Jay's Apologia

OK, please forgive me, I've been on vacation, so I'm way behind on these stories, but I just can't let the Chuck Klosterman and Jay Bilas stories on Team USA go without comment. Humor me, and I'll try not to write about Team USA again until next summer.

I'm confident that this will be my last comment because, with Klosterman's piece, we've truly reached the nadir, in terms of two cents coming from people who don't actually watch international basketball, but think they have all the answers.

In short, his solution to Team USA's inability to win gold medals on the world stage is to create a national team of college players not interested in school, yet too young to go to the NBA.

It is, incredibly, an idea even more ridiculous than the standard folly that the U.S. should send college players to international competitions.

As Klosterman says:
    "Here is the thing: THEY WOULD ALWAYS BE PLAYING TOGETHER. Always. And then -- after they unexpectedly win the gold (or after they valiantly lose) -- they could declare themselves eligible for the NBA (or the CBA) draft. And unlike most of their peers, they'd actually understand why basketball is a team game.

Here are the problems with the thing:
First, this team would not unexpectedly win gold NOR COME ANYWHERE CLOSE. Never. Out of the 24-team field at this year's Worlds, a Klosterman team would have been lucky to beat the three winless teams -- Panama and Senegal (both of whom, it should be noted, had several former NCAA players), and Qatar -- and that's it. Lebanon would have beaten them. Anyone who actually watched Angola play knows that that club would have CRUSHED this KlosterTeam.

If you want to send a team like this, fine, but just be prepared to accept that they would be a world bottom-feeder. They would not only finish dead last at the Olympics, when the field narrows down to 12, but I highly doubt they would be able to beat out Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico or Canada to so much as qualify for the Games out of this hemisphere.

Here, Klosterman makes two competing faulty assumptions that most casual fans make these days: not realizing that i) the quality of international players and teams have gotten much better and ii) that the quality of American college basketball has gotten much worse.

I suspect that the casual fan doesn't fully understand that the quality of the EuroLeague is much better than that of the NCAA - it's much closer to the NBA than the NCAA. Even though Greece didn't have any NBA players last year, players like Papaloukas, Spanoulis and Diamantidis have been studs in Europe, and that's not irrelevant just b/c Klosterman can't tell one player with the funny name from the other.

American players a year out of high school are simply not ready to compete on this level. Sure, a guy like O.J. Mayo has the talent, but he'd need to be surrounded by experienced veterans... not a bunch of other 18-year-olds.

I agree with Klosterman’s point that lack of team cohesion has been a major problem for Team USA in recent years, but his faultiest logic is the sense that his post-high school studs would play with superior cohesion.

I disagree with the implicit sense that the NBA is the source of American basketball’s decline in team play. I think that the quality of play on the NCAA level has become atrocious overall (with exceptions, of course), and it’s a rot which traces, in my belief, to the summer-league system which feeds the NCAA recruiting system.

As such, I don’t believe that a group of kids fresh out of high school, even it were O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love and Bill Walker, would be able to play with cohesion sufficient to match international teams, esp. considering they will be at huge disadvantages of experience and strength to start with.

Also, Klosterman makes a MAJOR factual mistake in believing that the revised NBA age limit is 20. It’s actually 19, and it takes a major chunk out of his assumption that these players would build cohesion by playing together for 2 years. They’d only have one.

I find it really amusing that people often suggest that we should send some form of college players – a clear loser – instead of pros, when there’s a logical alternative: send Americans who play in the EuroLeague. Players like Anthony Parker, Maceo Baston, Trajan Langdon, Drew Nicholas, Scoonie Penn, Tyus Edney and many recognizable ex-NCAA names have been vital contributors on the EuroLeague scene in the past few years.

These guys have some big advantages:
1) They are thoroughly familiar with the international game, in terms of the rules and such;
2) They are familiar with, and respectful of, the skills of the best international players (a major problem in the Greece loss);
3) They are simply much better players, much more experienced in general, than kids in college.

I’m in favor of continuing to send NBA players, but if we’re going to send a team of non-NBA players, it should be these guys. And I really do believe that we should reserve at least one roster spot for one of these guys, just to have on the bench to say, “Hey, Papaloukas can’t shoot, but he loves to drive left and he’s always looking to dish – go under the screen against him, for god’s sake!”

Second, again, I do agree that team cohesion has been a major problem for Team USA.
I would merely point you to this post from last month:
showing how Argentina and Spain have had similar teams together each summer, while the U.S. has changed everyone.
If I were to do a similar chart for Greece, I suspect it would look similar.

I think that Team USA is on the right path, in terms of getting three-year commitments out of guys, and I think this team will be right there in ’08, prob. playing for gold against a Spain team that shouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon – unless the Grizz refuse to allow Pau to play, of course!

On to Bilas… Underlying his opus of truths and myths about USA Basketball is a sense that his college coach, Coach K, should not be blamed for any of Team USA shortcomings.

In my mind, the Worlds displayed Krzyzewski’s greatest strengths and weaknesses as a coach. He is an outstanding practice coach, who does a wonderful job of getting players to buy into the team concept and their roles, as well as a big-picture concept of how he wants to play. He’s never been better than in 2001, when he won a championship after losing Carlos Boozer, by instituting a free-flowing perimeter-based offense, or in 1991-92, when the basic philosophy of exploiting Christian Laettner on the perimeter vs. bigs, and inside vs. smalls maximized that team’s potential. And I think, by and large, he has done a very good job of setting a team identity and player roles for Team USA.

That said, I think his biggest weakness is in the area of game coaching, esp. because he doesn’t have experience with the adjust-on-the-fly style of pro basketball. This was, of course, most notably illustrated in the 1999 NCAA Championship game, when Coach K sent Trajan Langdon, a terrible one-on-one player, up against Ricky Moore, UConn’s top perimeter defender, in the game’s decisive play. This on top of giving minimal time to explosive freshman Corey Maggette. Of course, game-coaching is much more than this, but still, it was an indicative moment.

And I thought that Coach K had an atrocious game against Greece. The fecklessness against the pick-and-roll was painful to watch for a Team USA supporter. Most notably, there was absolutely no sense of defending based on players’ strengths and weaknesses. Honestly, it was as if no one had ever seen these guys play, even though Papaloukas, Spanoulis, and Diamantidis have been major players in Europe, Fotsis has played in the NBA, albeit briefly, and Schortsanitis has been on draft radars for years. Knowing the strengths of the opposition is the backbone of pick-and-roll defense on the pro level. And if we can’t figure out who to go under against, and who to go over against, then we need to have a matchup zone in our arsenal to change up the rhythm (we probably need one anyway).

The shift of LeBron to the top of the key on offense came far too late, even though it was clear that no matter what defense Greece played, they couldn’t keep him out of the middle. More should have been done to establish Brand’s low-to-mid post game, too.

And I’m sorry, Jay, but the fact that Coach K was identifying the Greek players by number rather than name in the postgame press conference was disrespectful. The names really aren’t that hard to pronounce, and they are prominent players to anyone who watches Euroleague (as he should have been doing all spring). But my biggest problem with it was that it reflected how his team played defense on the court: they looked like guys covering a bunch of interchangeable players with different numbers rather than players with identifiable strengths and weaknesses.

OK, enough. It's only two weeks until guards and forwards report.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds--Young Studs

This is a little rundown of the young non-USA prospects who impressed me in the '06 FIBA Worlds. I also threw in a couple young guys who are currently in the NBA (Delfino, Darko & Ilyasova), all who had increased roles with their national team.

Young Studs:

Cenk Aykol (Turkey)- He did not overly impress me in group play but grew on me as the tourney went on. Great size for a PG & has good speed. The Hawks own his rights. Probably better than what Atlanta has now at PG with Speedy, so the Hawks maybe should try to bring him over as soon as possible.

Marco Belinelli (Italy)- This kid was as good as he was cracked up to be before tourney. Sure-fire lottery pick if he decides to place name in '07 draft class. World-class athlete with a sweet shooting stroke which is a potential deadly combo. Needs to tweak his shot selection (gets a little too happy with his outside shot) & needs to add some weight. Has a chance to be an all-star caliber talent in the NBA.

Carlos Delfino (Argentina)- Was great coming off the bench sharing minutes with the other great wings for Argentina (Arg. did not lose much of anything when they replaced Manu with 'Los). Shot the ball well, great ball-handler & passer off the dribble, great athlete, & hit the boards well combined with solid defense. I thought this guy has had starting caliber talent for a couple years & should have saw more burn last year in Detroit--he has to see more time this year. If not, Det needs to get him to a team where he can start.

Rudy Fernandez (Spain)- Similar to Belinelli: great athlete with a nice outside shot. Shot the ball very well in the tourney. Comes with great energy & loves to run the floor. Was a consensus 1st round pick before tourney, maybe solidified a mid-round selection with his play. But, he really needs to hit the Tapas bars hard the next couple years.

Mickeal Gelabale (France)- Brought great effort on the defensive end. Very good on-ball defender which is a godsend to Seattle. He should see some good minutes behind Rashard & Ray since there's not much wing depth on the Sonics. Shot the ball alright, but is not known as a good shooter, & his mechanics are nothing special. Could use some weight as well.

Ekenne Ibekwe (Nigeria)- The current U. of Maryland forward was very active on both ends of the floor. Crazy athlete who had some of the best finishes in the tourney. Also, hit the boards well. Was huge in the near upset Germany. Needs some weight. Not really sure the post skills or face-up skills are there & he could be caught between positions in the NBA, sort of like Hakim Warrick. But could be a nice hybrid forward off the bench in an uptempo system (a la the Suns). With the way the NBA seems to be headed toward undersized line-ups, he could have more opportunites nowadays at the 4 spot.

Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey)- This kid is legit. A little uneven play in the Worlds, but injuries had some to do with this. Showed glimpes of NBA-style game: step-back jumpers, pull-ups off the dribble, fadeaways to combine with good size & athleticism at the SF. Can easily see him being a starter in 2-3 years, probably supplanting Bobby Simmons who the Bucks can hopefully deal for a legit starting caliber point guard that they still need; sorry Steve Blake is not the answer. On top of that he's spitting image of Josh Harnett after being worked over by Antonio Tarver for a couple rounds.

Darko Milicic (Serbia)- Had a great tourney teaming with Igor to provide Serbia with a great combo. Was a force inside & out--was showing off his elbow jumper (probably a little too much) & showed off some of his sweet low-post moves. Also, a major presence in the paint on the defensive end. Still has a tendency of not finishing shots strongly & fades away too much on some of his shots; his body language at times can still be discouraging.

Sergio Rodriguez (Spain)- Portland draftee did not see a ton of time, but did show shades of his talent when given the chance, especially vs. Argentina. Great speed, wonderful handle & solid shot. Needs to reign in his flashy tendencies, but will have time to develop with Portland behind Jarrett Jack.

S. Schortianitis (Greece)- Highly efficient in the tourney--nearly 8 ppg in only 10 mins. per game on 19/22 shooting overall. Although, he had trouble with turnovers in his limited minutes. I knew this guy was big but did not really understand how huge he was until he was matched vs. Elton Brand and how much wider he was than Elton. Very nimble with nice hands & decent hops. Definitely could be a solid back-up in the NBA, not sure he can be a starter though. The Clippers need back-up bigs now, so you could see him in the next 1 or 2 years & he has a very cheap buyout which makes things easier.

Vasilieos Spanoulis (Greece)- Current Houston Rocket played out of his mind in the US game, so some people might be overrating him because that was the only game they saw of him. Not as good of a shooter as that game made him out to be. Very good at penetration & has legit speed that should translate to the NBA. Also, a very tenacious defender. Has good size for a PG. Although, he really never showed much in the way of passing or creating good looks for his teammates. Might just be a solid back-up combo guard in the NBA at best, but Van Gundy should love his toughness & defense.

Tiago Splitter (Brazil)- Outplayed his frontcourt partner, Varejao & was the MVP for Brazil. Has a similar rep to Varejao-- good defense & boards--but brought some offense to the table that was a bit of a surprise. Probable lottery pick if he can keep his name in draft (has buyout issues).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds--All-Stars

1st TEAM:

P. Gasol (Spain)-MVP- Simply the best player in the tourney. Consistent all the way thru. One of the top scorers & rebounders in the Worlds. Also was a presence on defense (2.5 bpg). Shot 63% from floor. Things look good for Spain in the int'l b-ball world for a long time.

C. Anthony (USA)- Best player on Team USA. Bailed them out vs. Italy. Shot the ball great & was probably the most consistent shooter. Surprised me with his urgency and activity overall; have not really seen this from him before.

T. Papaloukas (Greece)- Nothing spectacular, but just super efficient. Smart, savvy play on both ends of the floor. Great playmaking with his pinpoint passing, & sprinkled in strong drives throughout as well. Great defense with a propensity for getting hands on balls. Great floor game that is a joy to watch for any true b-ball fan. Would definitely offer him part of the mid-level exception for a few years to be a combo guard off the bench. Although, he supposedly has a pretty sweet deal over in Europe.

D. Diamantidis (Greece)-Basically same as Theo, but with a few more steals thrown in (3.3 spg) & better outside shooting. Although, he had a rough outing with foul trouble in the Gold Medal game, that can't take away his steady play in every other game. If I was a NBA GM, I would offer him a few million for a couple years. Not sure of his contract status. Don't think he can be a starter in NBA, but feel he could be a solid back-up combo guard--I like those long arms & underrated athleticism.

J. Garbajosa (Spain)- As I like to call him-the Euro Rob Horry. The ultimate role player. Does a little of everything & has for years. Have loved watching him play for a couple years. He brings outside shooting, rebounding, sneaky drives, drawn fouls, and tremendous defense (one of the best help defenders I've seen). Huge in Gold Medal game. Even with all that said, not sure how well he translates to the NBA. I think he can draw some 4s away from the basket with his shooting & can pick up some fouls with his deceptive drives, but he could have trouble as an individual defender. Although, I am confident he can figure out ways to contribute.

2nd TEAM:

D. Nowitzki (Germany)- Did everything he was supposed to do for Germany (besides the US game). Scored & hit the boards at a high rate and was willing to go down low to use his size advantage, although vs. the US he reverted back to fadeaway mode. Just does not have the requisite talent around him. Says the '08 Olympics will be his last go-round with Team Germany. Well, he better just hope he even makes it to Beijing because qualifying out of Europe will be a mighty big chore in itself. '07 could be his swan song, so Mark Cuban will hopefully stop his bitching about int'l competitions.

M. Ginobili (Argentina)- Could easily be a 1st-teamer. Led Argentina with 15 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 apg & 41% from 3pt. Thought he forced some things in a couple games & tried to go one-on-one a little too much.

L. Scola (Argentina)- One of the better post players in the tourney. Scored all over the paint with jumpers, putbacks, and refined post moves while doing it with his patented high shooting percentage (53.6%). Runs the floor well & hit the boards well (7 rpg). Is definitely ready for the NBA right now, but has a nasty buyout clause & the Spurs don't seem interested in paying. Not sure if he can be a starter (a little undersized), but can at least be a very good back-up.

D. Wade (USA)- Did damage with his slashing to either create shots for himself or teammates--19 ppg, 3 apg on 57.6% shooting. Got to free throw line more than I expected in int'l play. Although, still had issues with his outside shooting and missed a handful of shots badly.

J. Navarro (Spain)- Had a hard time leaving him off the 1st-team. Had a great tourney where he continued to display his improved outside shooting-41.3% from deep (this use to be a liablity). Used his patented dribble penetration effectively as well. The Wizards could really use his services right now as a combo guard paired with Arenas. Not sure he can start in the league since he's not really a point, but might start with the emphasis on downsized line-ups; has great speed that should translate well.

3rd TEAM:

Yao (China)- Like Dirk, did everything he was supposed to do--led tourney in scoring. Helped China slip into the playoffs, but his guards have to dramatically improve in the next few years if he even wants to sniff a medal in Beijing or at anytime in his int'l b-ball career.

I. Rakocevic (Serbia)- One part of Serbia's 2-man gang. Was a dynamic offensive force either with his unstoppable drives or his improved shot. I thought for the last couple years he should get another shot at the NBA--has great speed not just by Euro standards, but also for NBA & his outside shot is much better than it was when he with the T-Wolves. I feel he could be a solid combo guard off the bench.

A. Nocioni (Argentina)- Had a great tourney where he brought his hectic energy and continued to show off his improved outside shot--41% from 3pt. Not surprisingly, he rebounded well (5 rpg) & brought the defensive effort. Just an all-round spazz as usual, but in a good way.

P. Sanchez (Argentina)- I thought he had a great tourney commanding the Argentina offense. Probably best pure point in the tourney overall after C. Paul & Calderon tailed off some as the Worlds went on. Passing was impeccable as usual (5.8 assts per). Also, uncharacteristicly shot the ball extremely well (52.4% from 3pt.) & hit some big shots during the tourney.

L. James (USA)- Probably could have been a little bit more dominant but looked like he was willing to take a lesser role to Melo & Wade. Still was very good all-around--shot a sizzling 58.7% overall; although did not shoot the long-ball all that well. Created shots for others (4 assts per), & hit the boards (5 per) & was a factor on defense.

Honorable Mention: V. Spanoulis & A. Fotsis (Greece); C. Delfino & W. Herrmann (Arg.); D. Howard (USA); M. Belinelli (Italy); D. Milicic (Serbia); T. Splitter (Brazil); J. Calderon & R. Fernandez (Spain); J. Gomes, E. Mingas & O. Cipriano (Angola); C. Arroyo & L. Ayuso (P.R.); F. Pietrus (France); I. Udoka (Nigeria); A. Okulaja (Germany); A. Macijauskas, D. Songalia, & D. Lavrinovic (Lithuania); S. Erdogan & K. Gonlum (Turkey); P. Brezec, S. Becirovic & R. Nesterovic (Slovenia); A. Bogut (Aust.)

Co-Coaches of FIBA Worlds:

Panagiotis Yannakis (Greece)--Even though the Greeks got blasted in the final, that can't take away how well this team played all summer. He squeezed every ounce of effort & talent out of his squad each game. I mean he really does not have overwhelming scoring talent to work with--I'd say Fotsis has the most raw talent, but he's nothing amazing. He molded a team with a great collective mental toughness. If the game was tight in the 4th quarter, you just knew that Greece would find a way to grind out a win. His players really seemed to want to play hard for him. Although, Greece's defense prowess tailed off the last 2 games, they were still one of the best defensive units in the tourney behind Spain. His offensive adjustments in the US game alone might be good enough to secure him a Hall-of-Fame nod. He will living off that win for a lifetime.

Pepu Hernandez (Spain)--Had Spain playing at max effort for every game. Spain's defense was superb & the best in the tourney, and a great team defense is usually always a reflection on the coach. It was not just the play & effort of the defense, it was the way he changed up his defensive looks. Like I said in my Gold Medal Game recap, it looked like Spain was changing defenses during the same possession, almost like they were going back-n-forth between zone & man in the same half-court defensive possession. But maybe I was just seeing things because of no sleep. I love coaches who do this: he's not morally above using zones or junk defenses, he's willing to try anything--are you listening Coach K & Larry Brown. Sorry, but I've always had a major pet peeve with coaches who think zones or quirky defenses are beneath them. I think it's your job as a coach to exhaust every possible angle to help your team win within the rules.

I was going with Yannakis as my sole Coach-o-Worlds, but after Spain throttled Greece without Pau, I had to re-examine Hernandez, and realized his team pounded every team besides Argentina, and their defense was awesome every game. On top of that, he had his team prepared all summer--don't forget they went undefeated in the exhibition stage.

2006 FIBA Worlds-Gold Medal Game Recap


- I thought Spain had one of the best defenses for a few years and felt they had the most impressive defense throughout the tourney. Well, this game just cemented them as the clear-cut best defensive team in int'l play. This was one of the best defensive performances I've ever seen--just a great team defensive effort.

Spain's defense was stifling. They had great activity all game and their help & recovery was textbook. Spanish Coach Hernandez did a great job mixing up looks (it even seemed sometimes they were changing between man & zone in the same possession); he has been doing a great job all tourney with his defenses. Greece had a ton of trouble running any of their sets & when they did get looks, Spain always seemed to be contesting the shots. Literally, Spain seem to challenge every shot, I can't remember too many easy looks for Greece at all. Spain altered way too many shots to count. Also, Spain did a great job chasing down offenisve boards which led to some killer second chance points.

Basically no one from Greece did much of anything. Greece's outside shooting came back down to reality in this game--5/21 from 3pt. Theo Papaloukas (10 pts, 5 rbs, & 3 assts) made some things happen when he entered the game but he was no where near as effective in this game as he was vs. the US--although that had alot to do with the difference in defenses between Spain & Team USA. Michail Kakiouzis was the only other Greek of note with 17 pts & 9 rbs on 3/4 from 3pt.

Toronto Raptor Jorge Garbajosa was the most valuable player of the game with his play at both ends of the floor. From drilling outside looks, to grabbing offensive boards, great defense individually or especially in help situations, his overall hustle was spectacular. He's been playing this way for the entire tourney and has been playing this jack-of-all-trades role as well as anyone in the world for many years: he's basically a Euro Robert Horry. Check out this killer stat line--20 pts, 10 rbs (5 off.), 4 assts, 3 steals & 6/11 from 3pt.

Juan Navarro also sparked this Spanish club the entire game with his shooting & penetration--he finished off a great tourney with 20 pts, 4 rbs, 3 assts & 4/9 from 3pt. Spain just outhustled Greece all game on both ends and they really helped their cause with second chance opportunities. Reserves Felipe Reyes (10 pts) & Marc Gasol (7 rebs) did an admirable job holding down the painted area in Pau's absence on both ends of the floor. Wily vet Carlos Jimenez just reviled in the dirty work he loves & has been doing for years for Spain--11 boards & great all-around defense.

The scary thing about this game was not only that Spain won this game without Gasol, but this team is just coming into their prime. Pau, Calderon, & Navarro are in their mid-20s while youngsters Rudy Fernandez & Sergio Rodriguez show signs of star potential. You combine this with a good crop of under-20 talent led by one of the best teens on the planet, Ricky Rubio, Spain should be on top of the int'l b-ball world for a long time to come.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Gold Medal Game Preview

- Spain (B-1) vs. Greece (C-1): There is somewhat a damper put on this game since we will not see Spain at full strength. At this present time it looks like Pau Gasol will not suit up for tomorrow's FIBA Worlds Final, but from some of the reports i've seen that is not 100% official yet, so this game could be a little hard to truly gauge.

The loss of Gasol is obviously crucial but not the end of the world for Spain. Don't forget the Pau-less Spainiards made their way to the Euro '05 semis where they were only denied a finals appearance thanks to a last second jumper by Dirk, which gave Germany a 1-point victory. So, this Spain team is very capable of knocking off the Greeks.

Spain plays the best zone of any team in the world and I expect them to toss some zone looks at Greece to see if the Greeks can carryover their hot shooting from the US game. I think it's a good move considering Greece, in general, is not a great outside shooting team and they should be forced to prove themselves.

Although, Greece might return the favor with some zone or sagging man looks of their own because Spain's 3pt. shooting has really tailed off in the playoffs rounds--25.7% from 3pt.--after shooting at a blistering 44% in group play. Also, I think a zone could discourage the floaters & runners that Calderon & Navarro love to shoot off of penetration and will probably be a bigger part of the Spain offense with Gasol injured.

Two great int'l backcourts will face-off: Spain's speed vs. Greece's size. It's hard to say who has the upper hand in the backcourt: Spain with Jose Calderon, Juan Navarro, Sergio Rodriguez, & Rudy Fernandez or Greece with Dimis Diamantidis, Theo Papaloukas, & Vasilies Spanoulis. I think it's a wash. Right now, I have to give the Greeks the advantage on the frontline with their solid rotation of bigs going vs. the depleted Spain bigs, with only Jorge Garbajosa being the only significant factor.

How fitting the championship comes down to the two teams with the two best defenses in my estimation. I expect this game to resemble the Spain-Arg. semis tilt, where defense seems to overwhelm the opposing offense; hopefully it will not be as physical & foul-prone, but I would not be surprised if went that way. Greece's gameplan is definitely easier with the probable absence of Pau, but they might be better moving Antonios Fotsis to the 4 so as to handle Jorge Garbajosa, who likes to float out alot & will mix in his sneaky slashing game where he has a knack for drawing fouls. On the other side, I am not really sure how Spain will match-up with S. Schortsianitis--although no team really has a good match-up for Baby Shaq.

Spain has been commiting a few too many TOs lately, while the Greeks have kept their TOs way down in the playoffs--7 per game. And Greece loves to cause TOs and I expect them to be more aggressive defensively vs. Spain than they were vs. the US. Although, Calderon & Navarro will not be easily rattled.

Hate to say it again, but with alot of FIBA games, this game could come down who shoots the ball better. Greece has been shooting the ball better than usual lately, while Spain has really struggled in the playoffs. Even before Gasol was scratched from the lineup, I was going with Greece. I feel they are on a roll and playing even better now than they were in the group phase.

Friday, September 01, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Spain 75, Argentina 74

- Sorry if I gave the impression that this game was going to be a classic. You would not think a one-point game between these two squads who be a letdown, but it certainly was in my opinion. Quite an anti-climatic contest after the excitement of the previous game, and this game was suppose to be the one for the ages. The rough play ruined any type of rhythm that could possibly be squeezed out of this defensive clash.

And what was Arg. Coach Hernandez thinking with putting Calderon on the line with the score tied? I saw a similar strategy in the Germany-Angola game where both teams did it back2back & it perplexed me then & it certainly perplexed me in this game. Spain was without Gasol, make them prove they can score, don't give them freebies from 15 feet.

This game resembled a mid-90s Eastern Conf. playoff battle, maybe something in line with the Knicks being involved. Just an ugly affair in every way, especially the foul-plagued 3rd. It was physical, very physical. It was obvious to me that both teams knew each other's playbook inside & out. You anticipated a game that would showcase two of the top int'l teams and their aesthetically pleasing offenses, but each defense totally dictated the style of play.

Argentina started the game off red hot and were drilling their outside shots, but Spain readjusted their defense and began to reign in the Argentines. Argentina's classic ball movement was almost totally shutdown by Spain--Arg. only had 11 assists after averaging 20 per. Argentina decided to rely too much on one-on-one play, especially Manu.

Even though Manu's numbers were good--21 pts, 4 rebs, 4assts, & 3 steals--I thought he forced a ton of bad shots & plays in one-on-one situations; he was just out of control alot on offense. Andres Nocioni started off the game strong with some hot outside shooting but cooled off as the game went on & Spain made his looks more difficult (Andres had 15 on 4/12 overall).

Pepe Sanchez made some huge 3pt. shots (3/4) and kept up his surprising performance from the 3pt. line for the tourney--11/17 from deep. But a glaring fact that stood out was he only had one assist after averaging 6.5 per; this was a microcosm of how well Spain shut down Argentina's offense. Argentina could not get much from their bench corps who had fared so well so far. Luis Scola was also kept in check and did not control the paint as he has done previously in the Worlds (Luis had 8 & 8 rebs).

Spain's offense was not much prettier. But they did do a good job getting to the foul line. Pau definitely got good looks in the post & was a presence on both ends. He clogged the middle on defense much like Darko did, and really helped screw up Argentina's offensive flow & also was a deterrent when Argentina decided to drive the ball. Pau had 19, 11, & 3 blks on 7/10.

Spain got a huge boost from their nubile guards, Portland draftee Sergio "Spanish Chocolate" Rodriguez & 1st round prospect Rudy Fernandez. Both guys sparked the Spainish squad with instant energy & Sergio shot the ball surprisingly well (3/3 from 3pt. for 14 pts.). I thought those two young guys outplayed their veteran counterparts, Calderon & Navarro.

Can't forget about the ultimate glue guy, Jorge Garbajosa. I know I am repeating myself, but he just thrives doing all the little things every game. Jorge hit some jumpers 3/7 from 3pt, played great defense & did his usual clever job of drawing fouls (8/9 fts) which led to 19 pts overall.

Both teams' defenses were excellent, but I thought Spain's was just a little better--it was nearly flawless (Arg shot 35.8% overall & could only muster 11 assts). They were extremely aggressive and they help & recover as well as any team. They were superb. I have been impressed with their defense for the whole tourney, and they have been one of the best int'l defensive teams for the last few years. But this game might have been their finest hour defensively.

Gasol's injury definitely puts a damper on the Gold medal game, but don't forget Spain played very well last year without Pau -- getting all the way to the Euro semis, where they lost on a last second Dirk jumper. So, Spain has proven themselves very capable without the services of Pau before.

2006 FIBA Worlds-Greece 101, USA 95

- Man, some of those articles & internet posts stating that this US squad was "unstoppable" and how they were going to dominate every team like the original Dream Team look real good right now. Hopefully, these people realize now that the int'l b-ball landscape is a much different place than in the '90s & they should have realized this in 2000 & 2002.

The amazing thing is that the US got beat by a team that played a fair amount of man defense, sort of like Argentina did in '02 & '04. I stressed before one must disregard the def. fg % when talking about Greece, you truly have to watch them to appreciate them. The Greeks changed the complexion of the game when they switched to more high screen/roll action in the 2nd quarter after looking to milk L. Papadopoulus in the post, which really brought the Greek offense to a standstill. The US were burned beyond belief defensively for the final 2 & 1/2 quarters, most on high screen/rolls--the US let the Greeks shoot an unacceptable 62.5% overall for the game.

The US started off the game looking nasty on the defensive end--the Greeks barely could get into their offense--Greece was held to 14 points in the 1st quarter. I thought the game was already decided because I was certain Greece's offense was not dynamic enough to break through this intense pressure; well I guess I was kinda wrong on that prediction.

All of sudden the Greece offense became nearly unstoppable from the middle of the 2nd quarter on--they scored nearly 90 points after the 1st quarter. In 3rd quarter, they literally could not be stopped--they were 14/18--everything they tried worked. It helped that their big guys shot the ball much better than they ever have; actually the whole team shot the ball better from the perimeter than they are known for--8/18 from 3pt. The high/screen roll was the ultimate downfall of the US, and they were getting killed by the slipping big guy time & time again.

Current Houston Rocket Vasileios Spanoulis once again brought great activity on both ends--22 pts, 3/5 on 3pts., & 7/9 from ft line. He was a downright pest on defense & was dynamic on offense--unexpectedly hitting jumpers, drawing fouls, & not surprisingly causing problems with his dribble penetration.

Theo Papaloukas was huge. He was key to their dominance during the middle quarters of the game--his passing was impeccable & he was masterful in the pick/roll, usually finding S. Schortsianitis. Theo finished with 8 pts, 12 assts, & 5rbs. Dimis Diamantidis was his usual heady, steady self with 12, 5 assts, 2 steals & 2 big 3pts, one of which was a pull-back 3 in Bron's grill with the shot clock running down.

Right now, Diamantidis & Papaloukas are on my All-Worlds 1st team; I can't say enough about them. If you're a basketball junkie you love what these guys bring to the table.

The three PG alignment of Spanoulis, Diamantidis, & Papaloukas was spectacular & did a great job collectively running the Greek offense--great move by Greek Coach Yannakis playing them together. Hulking Sofoklis Schortsianitis did a great job finishing off passes in the paint & kept up his highly efficient play in modest minutes--14 pts (6/7 overall) in only 17 minutes--he was averaging about a point per minute played, but was only playing about 10 minutes a game. He also was shooting 12/13 overall for the tourney before the US game; talk about a John Hollinger dream.

The Greeks stuck in their patented man2man for a fair amount of the game, and somewhat surprisingly the US athleticism did not overwhelm them. They mixed in some zone in the 2nd half that was just as effective. They kept up their tremendous help rotations & continued to get their hands on alot of balls that disrupted the US offense.

Carmelo once again was the most consistent US player throughout the game--Melo & Dwight Howard were basically the only reason the US was close at halftime. Melo kept up his production in the 2nd half with some big shots that let the US stay within striking distance--he ended with 27 pts.

But one peculiar thing that was hard to understand, was why D. Howard barely played in the 2nd half & only 13 mins overall? He was huge in the 1st half commanding the boards, especially the offensive glass, and the Greeks had no answer for his paint presence. Something that Coach K needs to be questioned about.

Lebron started to get to the rim at will in the 4th, but it was a little too late. Bron did have 17 pts on 8/14, 5 rebs, 5 assts, but had 4 TOs & 0/4 from 3pt. Hinrich did help out with some clutch 3s & finished with 12 pts on 4/7 from deep. Foul shooting came back to haunt Team USA--(20/34)--something you could see signs of in prior games. Their 3pt. shooting also let them down at the worst time (32.1%), which is always the great equalizer playing vs. Team USA in a one-n-done FIBA game.

Greece definitely helped their case by shooting the ball better than they normally do. But I also thought they did not see themselves as physically overwhelmed by the US, and proved it by defensively holding their own. They showed their great mental toughness that they displayed in every game in the merciless Group C. I picked the US to win this game, but I thought Greece would keep the game close because of their savvy guards, style of play, & defense. But I did not think that the Greek offense would have that much success, which possibly outshined their vaunted defense.

Greece goes for gold. The US battles for....bronze. Yeah, not that much better than '04--somewhere, I truly think Larry Brown is enjoying this. Especially knowing a Duke guy could not do any better than he did.