Friday, September 17, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: All-Tournament Teams + Rubio/Yi Thoughts

Though the 2010 FIBA World Championship featured plenty of compelling competition, the quality of play overall was undeniably hampered by the many top players around the world who declined to play, plus the several injuries which knocked key players out of the tournament - the 2010 Worlds were certainly not as well-played as the 2006 version, overall.

It's a tough issue going forward. As much as we'd love to see a World Championship with full participation, it's understandable that NBA players from around the world would decline to play, simply because the NBA season is so grueling. It's especially tough because tournaments like the EuroBasket and FIBA Americas qualifying in the odd years put pressure on players to play for their national teams every year. At some point, something's gotta give.

Liam Canny, who became something of a cult star for his spirited calls of the Group D games in Izmir, appeared on the Sept. 5 version of the Daily Dime Live on, and wrote something which caught my eye:
    I want to give the DDL fans a window into the minds of the players that I gathered in a conversation with one of the technical directors of one of the national teams in the tourney .

    I asked why so many NBA players (Parker, Noah, Gasol...) had withdrawn from this tourney. The technical director told me that this is the order of preference for players from European teams:
    1. Olympic games
    2. EuroBasket in the year in which Olympic berths are won
    3. World Championships
    4. EuroBasket tourneys in non-Olympic qualifying years

    I was surprised by that answer but FIBA have a problem because they ask pro basketball players to play international tournaments every summer. Soccer doesn't do that. FIBA need to give the issue some thought.
In the U.S., we often hear that the World Championships are more important than the Olympics around the world, but I've been skeptical that that is still the case. I think there's mounting evidence, mainly in terms of player defections - let's see how many guys who skipped this year choose to play in London - and also anecdotally, such as above.

As such, I think the Olympic basketball field is overdue to expand from 12 to 16 nations. There are too many quality European squads to have such a limited field. Some have suggested that 24 is too big of a field for the World Championships. I have no problem with it, though I might add one extra bid each for Europe/Americas while removing same for Africa/Asia. There is talk of expanding to 32, however, and I think that that is too much.

Despite all that, there were still several impressive individual showings at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Here are our top choices:

First Team
Kevin Durant, USA [MVP] (28 min, 22.8 pts, 6.1 reb, 1.8 ast)
Duh. This was simply one of the greatest individual performances in FIBA history, and it was certainly the best by an American player in the NBA era. Durant's scoring average was the best by a U.S. player in that time, and he was the only American player in double figures - Team USA has never had fewer than three in double figures in the NBA era.

KD averaged 33 per game in the final three games in the knockout round, and his shooting numbers throughout the tourney were off the charts: 56% FG, 46% 3PT, 91% FT, for an eFG% of .654 and a True Shooting Percentage of .693.

To put the cherry on top, Durant's two 3's to start the second half of the gold-medal game essentially put Turkey away for good. As no-brainer of a choice as there's ever been.

Luis Scola, Argentina (36 min, 27.1 pts, 7.9 reb, 1.2 ast)
Luis was a magician of a scorer in the tournament, largely unstoppable with his array of moves in the post plus a reliable mid-range J. Scola's 37-point game in Argentina's 93-89 win over Brazil in the Round of 16 was his highlight. For the tournament, Scola shot 57% from the floor and 80% from the line in an iron-man performance for the thin Argentina squad (Rockets management must have been thrilled that Luis logged 40 minutes in the 5th-place game vs. Spain).

Linas Kleiza, Lithuania (31 min, 19.0 pts, 7.1 reb, 1.4 ast)
Linas was a flat-out beast at the 2010 FIBA Worlds, much as he was during the 2009-10 Euroleague season, using his combo of explosiveness and skill to lead the surprise bronze-medal winners. Kleiza's best performance came in the bronze-medal game vs. Serbia, when he tallied 33 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals on 12-18 FG, including 5-7 3PT, leading Lithuania to a 99-88 win and setting the stage for a hero's welcome back in Vilnius.

Nenad Krstic, Serbia (24 min, 13.5 pts, 7.5 reb, 0.8 ast)
The second OKC Thunder on the all-tourney team, Krstic narrowly gets the first-team nod over teammate Milos Teodosic with more consistent play over the course of the tournament. After missing the first three games due to suspension from the pre-tournament Serbia-Greece brawl, Krstic anchored the young Serbian team with strong play on both ends down low. With a fourth-place finish following a 2009 EuroBasket silver, the Serbian national team seems back on track.

Andre Iguodala, USA (19 min, 5.7 pts, 4.6 reb, 1.9 ast)
No, those numbers aren't anything to write home about, but the story of the dominant U.S. showing (24.6 margin of victory) was "Durant + defense", and there was no better defensive player in the tournament than Iguodala, who was a disruptive force every single game, with steals, deflections, strips in the low post, plus sound defensive play that was a function of both smarts and superior athleticism. Andre also averaged 1.8 steals per game, and his best game came in the semifinals, when he completely took Kleiza out of the game, holding him to 4 points and 4 turnovers on 1-11 FG.

Second Team
Hedo Turkoglu, Turkey (26 min, 12.3 pts, 4.2 reb, 3.4 ast)
It's fairly tough to single out individuals in Turkey's run to a silver medal in Istanbul - they seemed to have different stars every night. Hedo was horrendous in the early going, shooting just 8-34 FG (23.5%) in Turkey's first three games, but he picked it up as the tournament went on, averaging 15.5 points in Turkey's four knockout games. He shot 42% from three-point range for the tournament, including 55% (11-20) in the knockout round.

Milos Teodosic, Serbia (28 min, 11.3 pts, 3.4 reb, 5.6 ast)
The Serbian floor leader was one of the top assist men in the tournament, and hit Serbia's biggest shot, the last-second, game-winning, 28-foot three-pointer vs. Spain. Teodosic's best all-around game came in the semifinals, when he had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 11 assists against just 1 TO in Serbia's 83-82 loss to Turkey. Milos did make some sloppy, untimely miscues, but it was an impressive showing for the Euroleague MVP overall. Wish we could have seen him against Team USA, to better gauge his NBA potential - there are still questions about his athleticism, though his size, shooting ability and floor smarts are undeniable.

Lamar Odom, USA (22 min, 7.1 pts, 7.7 reb, 0.4 ast)
As is his wont, Lamar did a little bit of everything as Team USA's undersized center, not the least of which being solid team defense on the interior. Odom really stepped up his game in the knockout round, averaging 11.3 points and 11 rebounds on 58% FG in Team USA's last three games. Still amazing that Team USA's starting center was a guy who is a reserve forward on his club team.

Carlos Delfino, Argentina (36 min, 20.6 pts, 4.7 reb, 2.8 ast)
C-los once again provided consistent scoring punch for Argentina. He also shot 39% from three-point land, and averaged 2 steals per game.

Rudy Fernandez, Spain (26 min, 15.6 pts, 6.1 reb, 0.7 ast)
Tough call here for the last spot, in terms of whether to go with Rudy, teammate Juan Carlos Navarro, or a fourth American (and third OKC Thunder) in Russell Westbrook. We go with Rudy, who had the best all-around production for a disappointing Spain team which was knocked out in the final seconds of the quarterfinals. Rudy nearly led Spain in rebounding from the small-forward slot, and his shooting numbers were impressive: 62% FG, 46% 3PT, 92% FT, though his outside shot betrayed him (0-5 3PT) in Spain's quarterfinal loss. He also led Spain with 16 steals.

Was it enough to make NBA teams want to give up a first-round pick for Rudy? Hard to say. Rudy was definitely more active than the player seen in Portland last season, and we think a team like Chicago, desperate for more outside shooting, could use him. We hope Rudy's NBA career is not over, as we still think he can be an effective player.

Other Player Thoughts
Ricky Rubio, Spain (25 min, 4.4 pts, 3.1 reb, 5.1 ast)
It was not a good tournament for Ricky Rubio, there's no way around it. His shooting numbers were horrific, with just 2-17 threes made (11.8%) and just a .277 FG% overall. Yikes. More troubling is that Ricky's worst games came in Spain's three losses, in which he averaged just 4 points and 2.7 assists on 4-15 FG (26.7%) in those games.

All that said, our opinion of Ricky Rubio as an NBA prospect didn't really change that much this summer. His per-minute passing and rebounding numbers still project him to be elite in those skills for a point guard (note as always that assists are awarded much less frequently in FIBA games). His poor outside shooting is actually somewhat of an aberration at this point, as he's proven that he can knock down the FIBA 3 at a decent clip over the course of a season (Ricky was 42% in Spanish League play, 36% in the Euroleague in 09-10).

His biggest weakness, by far, remains his complete inability to be an effective shotmaker in the lane, and his truly horrendous finishing at the rim. There is no doubt Rubio needs to drastically improve in both areas to be a top-tier NBA point guard. But these were known issues.

We'd note the following caveats:
- We've noted in the past that we think Rubio is especially effective in the pick-and-roll, where his ability to see the entire court is truly Nash-like (even if his shotmaking ability truly is not). It was one of many curious decisions by Spain Coach Sergio Scariolo to play very little pick-and-roll basketball with Rubio over the course of the tournament. Further, Rubio was rarely even on the court with Barcelona teammate Fran Vazquez, whom we've found to be an especially effective PnR partner with Ricky.

So often, Ricky's role consisted of initiating the offense by merely passing to the wing and cutting to the weak side, where he often just stood there, apparently as a spot-up shooter. It was an extremely poor use of Rubio's abilities overall by Coach Scariolo, who also oversaw a team which often failed to get touches inside for Marc Gasol. Scariolo's poor coaching hurt the Spanish national team, and did not allow Rubio to fully showcase his strengths.

- Rubio's most important game of the summer from an NBA prospect perspective was still the friendly vs. Team USA prior to the tournament, and I thought he was impressive in that game, with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals in 21 minutes, though he did commit 5 turnovers. Ricky's outstanding court vision was on display, though he was overly flashy at times, and he played solid D against the likes of Derrick Rose and Steph Curry. Considering again his production in per-minute terms and FIBA terms, his stat line was deceptively good.

- As always, the most underrated statistic when it comes to Ricky Rubio is his age. Even if he has already been a known player for a while, he is still just 19 years old (he turns 20 in October), and was one of the youngest players in the entire tournament. Yes, we know that Kevin Durant is just 21, but we're not suggesting that Rubio will be anywhere near as great as KD. Yes, Rubio desperately needs to improve his shotmaking - desperately - to reach his expectations as an NBA player, but all in all, he is still well ahead of the game for the age of 19.

Yi Jianlian, China (35 min, 20.2 pts, 10.2 reb, 1.0 ast)
We've never been big fans of Yi, finding him to be too passive, but he looked like a different player in this tournament - so assertive, so smart and versatile with the ability to either work his varied post moves or face up. Especially impressive was his 26-14 in the tournament's opening game vs. Greece, as Yi was able to hold his post position well even against Greece's big brutes inside. Jay Aych was surprised by Yi's tournament showing, as he had not been particularly impressive in pre-tournament friendlies. Now, the challenge is for Yi to do it consistently, but for the first time, we saw signs that Yi actually has the chance to be a quality rotation player on a good NBA team.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Night at the WNBA Finals

With the FIBA World Championship concluding on Sunday, I decided to keep the September basketball overload going by attending Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Tuesday night. The Seattle Storm defeated the Atlanta Dream 87-84 in an electric atmosphere at KeyArena with 13,898 in attendance. Seattle took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, and ran its overall season record to 34-6, including a perfect 21-0 at home.

I had a great time, but I'm not here to implore you to become a WNBA fan. That's your choice. The WNBA can be so polarizing that supporters and detractors alike seem to end up staking out extreme positions either for or against the league.

There can be a school of thought - a political argument, really - made by supporters that women's basketball is better than the men's version because it is a purer form of the game, with a patterned, fundamentally sound teamwork which harkens back to some indeterminate nostalgic days of yore in the men's game.

I think this is both insulting to the amount of team play and mastery of fundamentals actually seen in the men's game, and ultimately a disservice to the women's game. I view men's basketball as clearly superior to women's basketball, mainly because of the far superior athleticism in the men's game. I appreciate the WNBA for what it is, without either overstating its quality or taking cheap shots at it.

Regular readers of this space will know that I believe in respecting the game in all its forms. I can enjoy and respect that the WNBA features the best female players in the world - players who love the game as much and work as hard at it as their male counterparts - while still fully understanding that these players are far inferior to male professionals.

WNBA basketball helps fill the hoops void in my life in the offseason months of the men's game. I find myself increasingly enjoying the league, not because of some vague echo to Hickory High, but rather, because the style of play increasingly resembles the NBA game.

OK, chill for a second. I'm not talking about the pure aesthetic style of the game in terms of mid-air acrobatics or explosive speed and quickness - that's not comparable in any way - I'm talking about the approach to the game. I see the WNBA game - rather than relying on some 1950s-style offense, as the perception may be - being put in the hands of players who are asked to be playmakers, and who increasingly have the skill to do so.

Kevin Pelton works his analytical magic for the women's game as well as the men's, and I found a couple things striking about his review of advanced stats for the 2010 WNBA regular season.

One is that WNBA scoring has climbed to 80.3 points per game (compared to 69.2 ppg in the inaugural 1997 season), just a little bit below the NBA number of 83.7 points per game, pro-rated to 40 minutes.

Two is that the WNBA actually exceeded the NBA in pace of game this season, with 77.2 possessions per team in a WNBA game, vs. a pro-rated NBA number of 76.1.

Perhaps my view is skewed because the games I've attended have featured the two fastest-paced teams in the league, the Atlanta Dream and the Phoenix Mercury, but the final scores of the games I've attended have been 91-85, 82-74, and 87-84 - again, all in 40-minute games. These women get up and down the floor, and they put the ball in the basket.

Phoenix plays the Paul Westhead style of organized non-stop running basketball. The point guard of Westhead's famous Loyola Marymount teams, Corey Gaines, is the current head coach, and Diana Taurasi is the maestro. Taurasi plays with an undeniable style and swagger - she'd like nothing more than to drain a pull-up three in your eye, with her quick release and picture-perfect shooting form, and then strut around and smile about it and enjoy it with her teammates.

While Atlanta plays at the same pace, it was striking last night how its game was a much different approach than Phoenix's, significantly more chaotic - the Dream are more of a force of nature, who try to overwhelm their opponent with the athleticism and sheer relentlessness of their running game. A couple times, Atlanta's star player Angel McCoughtry grabbed a defensive rebound and simply turned and went like a bat out of hell down the court. On the one hand, Atlanta's style made for a bit more ragged game, their aggressive play leading to more turnovers created and forced. On the other, I often marveled at just how quickly Atlanta could score.

Again, don't get me wrong, it wasn't NBA athleticism or anything close to it. But it was players using their athleticism - beating other players through the force of superior athleticism - which I find to be a striking improvement in the quality of the game.

I didn't even get the Finals matchup I was hoping for - I wanted to see the New York Liberty and their star Cappie Pondexter, she of the killer crossover, who plays with the most NBA style in the league, so much so that she is the unquestioned consensus favorite female player of NBA players on Twitter.

However, the Liberty were knocked out by the Dream in the Eastern Conference Finals, the clinching game a 105-93 affair in which McCoughtry's playoff-record 42 points outdueled Cappie's 36 and 9.

I'm not trying to force-feed WNBA basketball to you, or telling you that it's equal to the NBA, or that you need to watch it out of the goodness of your heart, as a political gesture to support the women. Do what you want.

I enjoy men's basketball significantly more than I enjoy women's basketball. The level of athleticism in the men's game is far superior to that of the women's. But women are, in my view, increasingly applying their athleticism as part of their games - increasingly imprinting the game with their individual styles - and that's made the WNBA increasingly enjoyable for me to watch. I can only tell you that I've attended three WNBA games this summer, and I've enjoyed the hell out of all of them.

And, oh yeah: Storm basketball, baby. The Storm flag flew proudly above Seattle last night after Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Tanisha Wright led the home side to a 2-0 series lead. One more to go for a second WNBA Championship!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Team USA 2010 Gold More Impressive Than 2008

• More FIBA Worlds analysis: Durant + Defense = USA Gold

Heading into the 2008 Olympics, there was certainly more pressure on Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball to win than there was at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Before winning gold in Beijing, the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program was still an unproven model. Even though vast improvements in the way the National Team conducted its business were plainly obvious, USA Basketball needed that gold for final validation.

That said, in 2008, everything was pointing in the right direction for Team USA. They were loaded, with four 2007-08 All-NBA First Team members, among others, and 11 of the 12 players on the roster had played on the 2006 and/or 2007 teams, to help build team continuity and get used to the differences in FIBA rules and their interpretations.

In 2010, meanwhile, these indicators were trending the wrong way. With the entire 2008 Olympic team declining to play in 2010, this version of Team USA was left without most of the top tier of proven American NBA players, and with only two players who had represented USA Basketball in the Colangelo-Coach K era (Chauncey Billups and Tyson Chandler in 2007; Lamar Odom also played for the 2004 Olympic team).

Based on the results of the past decade for Team USA, that level of talent and continuity had been a recipe for falling short of a gold medal. In our minds, winning gold in 2010 in the face of these obstacles - and with a team that just hadn't played together for more than a few weeks - was a more impressive feat than winning gold in 2008.


First off, we think Mike Krzyzewski did his finest work in his run as USA Basketball head coach in steering this ship to gold. Coach K is a true master of the big picture of team building, of creating a sense of shared purpose, and of defining a team's style and players' roles.

John Schuhmann of wrote an excellent piece from Istanbul on Coach K's "Six-Week Challenge" of pulling this team together, and we especially liked this excerpt on Coach K's general philosophy with this group:
    This is a much different group than the one Krzyzewski led to an Olympic gold medal in 2008. This roster, with six of the players either 21 or 22 years old, needs more instruction. Krzyzewski will point out that he has players at Duke that are the same age. But he admits there's only so much coaching you can do in six weeks.

    "What you want to do is put enough in that doesn't make them non-instinctive," he says. "We put in enough and allow some slippage, where it's not completely right, just so that we don't become basically anal in making something perfect. And hopefully attitude and speed can make up for it. It's just very unusual and it's unlike the other [international] teams, because they have that continuity [of returning players]."
No, they did not have the most flowing half-court offense, but this version of Team USA always knew who they were: they played hard to parlay their athleticism into a ferocious half-court defense and a punishing transition game. And, when in doubt, they put the ball in the hands of number 5.

Mike Krzyzewski's crowning achievement was becoming the first coach to repeat as NCAA champions in the post-Wooden era, with Duke in 1991-92.

Still, we would say that 2010 has the been the best year of Coach K's illustrious career, for winning the most improbable of his four national championships in March, followed up by winning USA Basketball's most challenging gold medal of the NBA era on Sunday.

It's easy to discount Coach K's work given that he had so much NBA talent, but hey, Spain was a team which should have challenged Team USA for gold, but they badly underachieved, and coaching was a significant part of the problem. Coach K got it done.


2010 was the ultimate test of the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program: could they win despite factors which had sunk previous USA Basketball teams? Obviously, they passed with flying colors. We'd single out a few other factors in this further validation of the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program:

- Integrating players such as Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Derrick Rose into the USA Basketball program in previous years as members of the Select Team, which practiced against the National Team, has clearly helped indoctrinate guys into the way business is done in the new era, and helped mitigate issues of team cohesion despite massive roster turnover.

- Team USA respects its opponent every game. It sounds simple, but a lack of respect cost the U.S. games unnecessarily in the pre-Colangelo/Coach K era. Also, placing the scouting department in the hands of respected international scout Tony Ronzone has ensured that the coaching staff is prepared for the opposing personnel.

- Setting up road games against Spain in Madrid and Greece in Athens during the pre-tournament phase turned out to be shrewd moves, considering the gold-medal game turned into a road game in Istanbul. Credit Colangelo and Coach K for knowing they had to get this team battle-tested. Much like Krzyzewski schedules Duke to simulate NCAA Tournament conditions, he had Team USA scheduled to be prepared for the FIBA World Championship.

With the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program in place, and Kevin Durant expected to be joined by a few 2008 Olympians, it's fairly safe to already install Team USA as overwhelming favorites for gold at London 2012.

• More FIBA Worlds analysis: Durant + Defense = USA Gold

Sunday, September 12, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: USA Defeats Turkey 81-64 To Win Gold

by Jay Aych and M. Haubs

Team USA rode its equation of Durant + Defense one more time, defeating Turkey 81-64 in Istanbul on Sunday to win its first FIBA World Championship gold medal since 1994.

Kevin Durant was a one-man wrecking crew with 28 points, mostly coming on 3-pointers (7-13 3PA). Turkey was hanging around at the half, down by 10, but Durant immediately crushed its hopes by hitting back-to-back threes to begin the 3rd. A few of his seven 3-pointers were absolute bombs and he buried some step-back 3's for good measure. KD also harassed Ersan Ilyasova into missed shots all game.

All told, Durant did nothing short of put on one of the finest individual performances in FIBA history, in averaging 33 points in the final three knockout games, while averaging 22.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in just 28 minutes per game for the tournament as a whole.

KD's shooting numbers were off the charts: 56% FG, 46% 3PT, 91% FT, for an eFG% of .654 and a True Shooting Percentage of .693.

Perhaps most remarkably, Durant was the only player who averaged double figures in points for Team USA. In the NBA era, there's never been another U.S. team with fewer than three players in double figures; the 2008 Olympic team had five players who averaged 10 or more.

The oft-asked question with this group was "How will they score points if Kevin Durant has an off night?" Fortunately, they never had to find out. What a player.

In retrospect, perhaps the perceived struggles for Team USA in early pre-tournament competition were entirely Durant's struggles. Amazingly, KD shot just 14-38, including 0-7 on threes, in the scrimmage vs. China and friendlies vs. France and Lithuania in early August, before turning it on and never looking back.


No doubt, Team USA also came out on top because of a superb defensive effort vs. Turkey's half-court offense. Team USA did not allow Turkey to get into its offense and forced the Turks up against the shot clock, or into shot clock violations, multiple times. USA's denial, constant switching, and contesting disrupted Turkey's flow.

Turkey never could build any type of consistency on the offensive end. Team USA held a Turkish team that had been shooting 51% coming into this game to 36.4% on Sunday. Turkey did not help its cause by shooting 17-for-27 (63%) at the FT line. We mentioned Turkey's FT woes in our preview--they were the worst FT shooting team in field at 59%.

It looked like many of the Turks were tentative on offense vs. the US, often hesitating on their moves. Hedo Turkoglu and Ender Arslan seemed like the only Turks who were not flustered.

For the tournament, Team USA allowed its opponents to shoot just 38.1% from the floor, and just 30.1% behind the arc. Time and again, the Americans were able to disrupt otherwise successful offenses with a combination of length, athleticism and intensity; Andre Iguodala was the primary perimeter stopper, while Lamar Odom anchored the backline as an undersized center.

On the flip side, Turkey's zone was actually effective for the most part, with the major exception of covering one man. Unfortunately for Turkey, there's not much you can do about Kevin Durant in man or zone. Team USA only shot 44% from the floor and 33% from 3-point land overall in the gold-medal game. If you take out Durant's numbers, Team USA shot 39% overall and 4-for-20 from 3pt. range.

A downside of a zone is the possibility of easier offensive rebounding opportunities and Team USA burned Turkey today with 16 offensive boards, to 23 defensive rebounds for Turkey. Team USA did a terrific job chasing down o-boards and they led to some vital second-chance points.

Turkey made a little push in the middle of 1st and looked to be building some momentum. But then Hedo kind of derailed it with an unnecessary dust-up with Tyson Chandler, and a few moments later he had go the bench with an injury. It seemed Turkey lost its mojo when Hedo had to sit.

Team USA really did not do that much damage in transition on Sunday, though they did string together back-to-back fast break buckets early in the 4th to essentially secure the win.


Indeed, Andre Iguodala and Lamar Odom once again fulfilled their roles of taut defending and relentless rebounding. Iggy (4 pts, 5 rebs, 3 assts) was a help defender deluxe as always and both Iggy (3 off. rebs) & Odom (5 off. rebs) were so good at chasing down offensive rebounds out of their area.

Defensively, Odom was stout in pick/roll and held up well in switches. Second game in a row that Lamar also gave his team an offensive jolt. Odom helped Team USA pull away early in the 4th by scoring 9 of his 15 points in a three-minute stretch. In that early-4th stretch, Odom's scores came in every variety: tip-in on missed FT, 3-pointer to beat the shot clock, mid-ranger, and a lay-in in transition. We're happy to see Odom get some FIBA redemption for the 2004 Olympic disaster--Lamar was one of the good guys on that deeply flawed squad.

Russell Westbrook's athleticism caused problems for the opposition. Russ had a sweet drive right through the zone and even knocked down two rare 3's on his way to 13 points. Also, Westbrook (3 off. rebs) joined Iggy & Odom in their assault of the offensive glass, often flying in from out of his area to get boards.

Chauncey Billups had another off-shooting day (0-for-5) and had only 2 points & 2 assists. But we thought Billups did give good effort on the defensive end relentlessly fighting through picks and picking up two steals.


Have to wonder about some of Turkey Coach Bogdan Tanjevic's coaching decisions. First off, why were there not more touches for Hedo Turkoglu? When Hedo (16 pts, 4-for-4 from 3pt. range) had the ball in his hands, good things were happening for Turkey. When Hedo came back in the 2nd quarter, the touches were inconsistent and it was no coincidence that the Turkish offense bogged down.

Obviously, Hedo in pick/roll is dangerous, but we didn't think we saw enough of it. Team USA was having some trouble with pick/rolls when Turkey would spread. Also, Turkoglu was very effective in isos today, drilling a few 3-pointers in triple-threat position. But Hedo attempted only eight shots on Sunday. Not sure why Turkey did not make a habit of milking Hedo. Ball.

Was it just a coaching decision to leave him on the bench for most of the 3rd? Or was Turkoglu resting because his knee was bothering him? Either way, it hurt Turkey's comeback chances. And to not have Hedo on the floor at the start of the 4th made little sense. Team USA went on a key 7-2 run to put the game away before Turkey could insert Hedo.

To go along with more touches for Hedo, a few more post-ups for center Semih Erden would have been nice, as opposed to post-up calls for Omer Asik or Kerem Gonlum. Semih Erden (9 pts on 4-of-5) scored around the hoop on a few drop-steps but he did mishandle a few passes. Erden passes well out of the post as well, but Tanjevic failed to utilize Erden enough.

Reserve PG Ender Arslan gave Turkey a nice lift in the 3rd and kept the 12 Giant Men hanging until the start of the 4th. Arslan knocked down two 3-pointers and set up a couple other hoops.

Ersan Ilyasova (7 pts, 9 rebs) had another rough night offensively and never looked comfortable on the floor. Part of his rough night can be blamed on Durant's defense--KD always had a hand in Ersan's face.

Still, it's a night of celebration in Turkey after a magical run to a silver medal in Istanbul. They also won silver at home at the 2001 EuroBasket, and now topped it by doing the same at the FIBA Worlds. Congratulations to the 12 Giant Men and their fans.


On the eve of the FIBA World Championship, we tabbed Spain and the U.S. as co-favorites, and we stand by the reasoning, as the two teams played an 86-85 game just one week prior to the tournament. From there, however, the two most talented teams went in opposite directions. Spain was the most underachieving team in the field, while Team USA went on a run of dominance.

Team USA silenced its doubters emphatically, winning by an average scoring margin of 24.6 points (92.8-68.2) while riding that equation of Durant + Defense to a 9-0 run through the tournament. After a scare vs. Brazil in the group stage, the U.S. was never seriously threatened in the entire knockout round.

All in all, Kevin Durant is the king of the FIBA world, and USA Basketball reigns supreme after an emphatic performance in Istanbul.


Other tournament notes:
- Hats off also to Lithuania, the best per-capita basketball country in the world, which defeated Serbia 99-88 behind 33 points from Linas Kleiza to claim the bronze medal. This nation of just 3.3 million people won a World bronze to add to its collection of three Olympic bronzes (1992, 1996, 2000) plus EuroBasket gold (2003) and bronze (2007). Since regaining independence in 1991, Lithuania has never finished lower than fourth in an Olympic men's basketball tournament. They are hosting the 2011 EuroBasket, and with their raucous fans, it should be a blast.

Lithuania's win over Spain - coming back from down 18 late in the third - really changed complexion of tournament. If that result had switched, Spain would have won Group D, and had an easier road to a semifinal matchup vs. the U.S. Spain has no one to blame but themselves - they blew it, and Lithuania seized the opportunity.

For those who would say, well, Spain didn't have Pau Gasol.... Sure. But consider that Lithuania was playing without six of its top eight players. They were the clear overachievers of the tournament, and it's a real credit to coach Kestutis Kezmura and his players.

- We're a little sad around these parts as we bid adieu to the trapezoid lane--FIBA will move to the NBA lane dimensions going forward. We agree with moving back the 3-point line (from 20.5 feet to 22.15 feet), which is also happening, but we're not liking the end of the trapezoid lane. We thought it opened up the floor for better cutting angles and forced players to have more refined post skills, as it was harder to just back your way to the rim via brute force. Also, we thought it was nice quirk to the FIBA game like the cylinder rule (note: M. Haubs hates the FIBA cylinder rule). You'll be missed, trapezoid, and let's call ourselves The Painted (Trapezoid) Area in your honor for the rest of the week. RIP, Trapezoid Lane, 1956-2010.

- P.S. Underrated winners of the day were Brazil and Argentina. Team USA's gold medal not only guaranteed a U.S. bid to the 2012 Olympics as the World Champions, but also opened up another spot for a team from the Americas - particularly coveted with the field of just 12 countries in the Olympic tournament.

On to London 2012 we go.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Finals Preview & Semifinals Analysis

Gold Medal Game Preview: Team USA (8-0) vs. Turkey (8-0)

A battle of two undefeated squads who happened to be the best teams in group play. Team USA has not been to the Worlds final since 1994, the last time they grabbed gold. This is Turkey's first time in the Gold Medal game and they will have the luxury of playing in front of their home crowd. You can watch the game on ESPN or at 2:30 EST.

Turkey might be the team that Team USA wanted to see least. Turkey is playing great ball on both ends of the floor, they have great size that's mobile and they will have a raucous crowd behind them. But Team USA does have the trump card in Kevin Durant.

Right now, Turkey is leading the tournament in FG pct. with 51%, slightly better than Team USA (50.4%). Also, no team stroked the long ball better--Turkey's shooting 43% from 3pt. range. Ersan Ilyasova, Hedo Turkgolu, Ender Arslan, Kerem Tunceri and Omer Onan need to be respected from deep.

Turkey's biggest weakness has to be at the FT line, where they were the worst in the tourney at 59.7%. Those numbers are definitely skewed by Omer Asik's atrocious 15-for-41 FT shooting. But even if you take Asik's numbers out of the mix, Turkey is shooting only 66% at the FT line. Only Tunceri is shooting over 75%.

A big part of Team USA's success has been because of turnovers forced from aggressive ball pressure. But can they do that against Turkey? Turkey takes very good care of the ball, averaging only 11.4 TOpg.

PG Kerem Tunceri is a very steady ball-handler who, in general, rarely makes mistakes (averaging only one TOpg in the Worlds). Also, you will see Hedo handle the ball a lot and he knows what to expect from NBA-level defenders.

Have to believe Turkey will go more zone vs. Team USA than they did vs. Serbia. Turkey's 2-1-2 zone has been impressive throughout the Worlds and might be the best zone in the tourney. Their length plus their overall activity makes for a rough day for the opposition.

What's great about the zone is that they can clog the painted area, but still contest on the perimeter because of their length and the shorter 3pt. line. Turkey gets great activity from its guards at the top of the zone, who funnel ball-handlers to the sides.

Turkey might consider condensing their zone vs. Team USA. Turkey usually likes to stretch their guards out, but might be better served bringing them closer to the painted area. Make Team USA beat you over the top of the zone, though the U.S. has been up to the task with 39.3% 3-point FG pct in the tourney. If they make their jumpers, that's how you go down.

When they go man, imagine they will give Ilyasova first crack at Durant. Ilyasova does have the physical dimensions to possibly bother Durant as well as you could ask. Hedo might get some time on Durant as well. I understand these guys aren't ideal, but at least these guys are 6-9 and mobile.

It will be interesting to see how Team USA matches up on Hedo & Ilyasova. I would go with Iggy on Hedo since they run him up high and put him in a lot of pick/roll. Durant will likely crowd Ilyasova and Kevin needs to keep a body on Ersan when the shot goes up.

Omer Asik and Semih Erden are a nice one-two punch at center that could give the U.S. some problems (Hopefully, Asik can recover from his head injury in time for the final). We'll see if Turkey goes twin towers to try to force Team USA's hand. You might see a little more Tyson Chandler in the final. Don't be surprised to see Turkey go with a super-sized lineup with Hedo at the 2.

Asik does most of his damage rolling to the rim or moving to open spots. He's a good all-around defender and dangerous on the offensive glass. Team USA might need to adopt the edict of hacking Asik anytime he looks like he has an easy score. Turkey might have to bench Asik in the 4th if the game is close.

Reserve center Erden gives Turkey more ammo on the frontline. Has good passing skills and a very good handle for a big. Likes to drive left and finish with his left hand. Has good footwork to get into good scoring opportunities, but doesn't finish his moves with any consistency.

You might see a few minutes of C Oguz Savas as well. Veteran forward Kerem Gonlum is an active athlete off the bench, who Turkey will post-up some.

Just hope Turkey decides less Gonlum in the post, and more Erden in the post. Turkey should run some offense thru Erden on the block, where he's a terrific passer. He's a pretty big dude who could give Lamar Odom issues.

Turkey has a tremendous opportunity to take home the Gold. And it would not be a major upset if they won. I just can't pick against Kevin Durant right now. But if Durant has a off-shooting night, Team USA could be in a world of hurt.


Turkey 83, Serbia 82

Now this game is a keeper on the DVR. Kerem Tunceri's broken play lay-in with 0.5 on the clock gave Turkey the win in a classic FIBA contest. Tunceri's game-winning lay-in was set into motion by a Hedo Turkoglu miscue.

Hedo appeared to mishandle the ball but it squirted to Tunceri and he drove past his defender for an uncontested lay-in. It looked like the Serbian defense was caught out of position after Hedo lost the ball. I would say Hedo had the most fortuitous fumble in Turkish basketball history.

Serbia got the ball at half-court with 0.5 left. Novica Velickovic got free near the basket on a precisely-executed lob play but Semih Erden got just a piece of Velickovic's shot to save the win (Velickovic's shot appeared short even if Erden had missed it).

This game had an intense atmosphere with great back-and-forth action. Turkey would make a little run to get within a few points and Serbia would always respond with a little run of its own to quell the momentum. But Turkey finally grabbed the lead late in the 4th after another big shot by Tunceri.

This game reminded me of the 2007 EuroBasket semifinal between Spain and Greece. That game had a similar level of intensity with two high-level teams playing in front of a raucous home crowd in Spain. Saturday's game was very physical, which was evident from the 52 fouls called (many more could have been called).

What would a superb FIBA game be without a little controversy? Omer Asik got fouled at the rim with 1:20 left and Turkey up 78-77. Asik had a delayed reaction after the whistle and fell to his knees. It did look like he took a shot to face, but it did not look severe. It was obvious what was going on right away, if you were aware of Asik's FT history. The refs allowed Turkey's Ender Arslan to take Asik FTs and Arslan hit one of two.

Another questionable call involving Asik getting fouled happened down the stretch. Asik was fouled on a made bucket with four minutes left that was ruled an intentional foul. The defender did wrap Asik up and according to the letter of the law, it was an intentional foul. But you wish the refs would show a little more discretion as they could have blown their whistles plenty of other times. I'm sure there are some bitter fans in Serbia today.

Turkey did not go with a heavy diet of zone like they have in previous games. Thought Serbia attacked the zone well when they faced it, particularly Teodosic. Serbia's ball movement was stellar throughout the game, not to mention their quality spacing was, too.

Both teams shot their long range attempts well--Serbia was 41% on 3pts., Turkey was 39%. Turkey committed four fewer TOs than Serbia but they hurt themselves by shooting 60.6% from the FT line.

PG Kerem Tunceri was Turkey's savior and MVP today. And he did most of his damage in the last five minutes of the 4th by scoring 10 of his 12 pts in that span. Tunceri drilled two isolation 3-pointers in the last half of the 4th, including an ONIONS!-worthy 3-pointer to give Turkey a 76-75 lead with 3:30 left.

Also, Tunceri added a blow-by drive past Teodosic to cut Serbia's lead to two points. Later, Tunceri drove past his defender (sans screen) to feed Erden for a dunk to put Turkey up 81-80 with 0:15 left. Tunceri's usual defensive tenacity was on display all game, leading to four steals.

Give Turkey credit for being able to pull this game out without much help from Ersan Ilyasova. Ersan (6 pts, 4 rebs, 5 fouls) could never get into the flow of the game and appeared to be drifting back on his jumpers all game.

Hedo had an alright day with some tough shots throughout the contest (16 pts, 3-for-7 3PA). Hedo started off well and also buried two big isolation 3-pointers in the 2nd half. But Hedo did throw up a couple bad shots late and his 1-for-4 FT shooting didn't help.

Besides the theatrics, Omer Asik had a decent showing with 5 pts, 7 rebs & 2 blks in 18 minutes. Asik missed a few chippies but was tough on the glass, especially the offensive glass, and made some nice defensive plays. Asik had a big put-back that drew an intentional foul that Turkey turned into two more points on the ensuing possession. But maybe his best work came when he accentuated the foul.

Turkey got good minutes from its other center, Semih Erden (9 pts, 2 assts in 21 mins). Erden's deft passing skills were on display with Semih finding guys out of the post. Erden also had the big dunk late and the big block at the buzzer.

SG Omer Onan pitched in with with 14 pts, 4 rebs and aggressive defense. Basically, reserve PG Ender Arslan (12 pts) was in the game strictly to hit clutch shots. All of Arslan's three 3-point makes came at crucial junctures that kept Serbia from pulling away.

The amount of points Milos Teodosic (13 pts, 11 assts, 6 rebs, 1 TOs) manufactured for Serbia was absurd. He was responsible for many more points than his recorded assists, as his playmaking led to many drawn fouls for his teammates, especially Krstic.

Showed off his quick release on a couple pull-up 3-pointers off of ball screens. Milos was a maestro running pick/rolls, often changing speeds to great effect and spraying perfect passes all over. He set up Velickovic's go-ahead basket with 4 secs left thanks to a great hesitation move that froze his defender (he had the hockey assist on that play).

Most of Nened Krstic's points (15 pts, 7 rebs) came via Teodosic's creativity. Nenad scored on three hooks coming off of rolls and he was adept at drawing fouls (7-for-10 FTA) once again. Most of these opportunities were set up by Teodosic, though Krstic drew some fouls on offensive rebounds (3) as well.

Anytime Serbia needed a big shot to stem a Turkish rally, SF Marko Keselj usually answered with a clutch 3-point jumper. The athletic Keselj came up with couple key offensive rebounds, including a soaring O-board with 30 secs remaining that drew a foul and allowed Marko to give Serbia a temporary lead of 80-79 at the FT line.

Serbian forward Dusan Savanovic displayed some of the creative shot-making he's known for with a few nifty runners and knocked down two 3-pointers on his way to 15 pts. His crafty mid-range game was a nice variation for Serbia's offense in the tourney.

Coach Dusan Ivkovic did another fantastic job getting his team to compete every game. They were tough defensively like they were last year and Ivkovic opened up the offense to great effect this summer. Serbia is back in the upper echelon of FIBA ball after a rough patch in the mid-2000s. This team is relatively young and the pool of talent they can choose from is deep. They should be in the medal hunt for years to come.

USA 89, Lithuania 74

Another game where Team USA wasn't dominant but set the tone with its chaotic defensive energy. And when the offense would bog down, it was Kevin Durant to the rescue. Durant poured in 38 pts on 14-for-25 FG overall, mostly on an array of jumpers.

Lithuania would often make mini-runs to get in the range of 10-12 pts and Team USA would always respond with a few plays to stave off the rallies. Lithuania stuck around in the 2nd half to make things sort of interesting, but Team USA was never seriously threatened.

Team USA forced 14 TOs, most coming on 10 steals. Lithuania was held to only 38.6% from the field, but Team USA did not shut down the opponent's 3-point line like they normally do--Lithuania shot 39% from 3pt. land.

Once again Lamar Odom and Andre Iguodala ably gave supplement support to Durant with rebounds, activity and all-around defense. Odom added a few nifty moves around the rim to score 13 points. Lamar was a bull on the boards again (10 rebs) and changed a bunch of shots (3 blks). Iggy (9 pts, 4 rebs, 4 stls) was a defensive menace thanks to his quick hands and he gave Linas Kleiza major issues.

While Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose were of little help today (combined for 3 points on 1-of-12 shooting), Russell Westbrook gave the US backcourt a lift with his activity. Westbrook flew at the basket for 12 points and he went way out of his area to snatch offensive rebounds (4).

Martynas Pocius continued his strong Worlds play with 13 pts, 7 rebs & 2 stls. Pocius banged home three 3-pointers, two off of quick-dribble pull-ups. If Pocius has another strong season with his club team (Zalgiris), he might garner a look from NBA squads.

This was not the game for Linas Kleiza to bring very little to the table. Kleiza was ineffective with 4 pts (1-for-11 FG), 4 TOs (had the ball stripped multiple times), and seemed to be anxious playing against NBAers, which is odd.

Veteran center Robertas Javtokas was tough for Team USA to stop on rolls and even added a few hooks shots to the mix. The shark-tatted bruiser led Lithuania with 15 pts & 9 rebs (4 off).

Lithuania has to feel great about its 2010 Worlds campaign. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year but they took advantage of a weak group and favorable playoff draw. Coach Kemzura did one of the finer jobs in the Worlds by taking a similar group of players to those who won one game at EuroBasket last summer and brought them to the semis. They are hosting next summer's EuroBasket, and it should be a fun time, considering it's being held in the best pound-for-pound country for basketball.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Team USA-Lithuania Semifinal Preview

The 2010 FIBA World Championship field has been whittled down to the final four and now medals are at stake this weekend. Team USA meets Lithuania in Saturday's first semifinal at noon EST (ESPN Classic, Turkey vs. Serbia follows at 2:30 p.m. EST, the winners of the semis meet on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. EST (ESPN Classic, to determine the World Champion.

Team USA will lean hard on Kevin Durant to generate points and create impossible matchup problems. Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose will split ball-handling duties and also add some auxiliary scoring support. Lamar Odom and Andre Iguodala fill in the gaps with rebounding and defense.

Most of you are familiar with what Team USA has to offer, so we'll spend more time breaking down Lithuania. Let's take a deeper look at Lithuania:

Lithuania comes into this game undefeated (7-0) and riding high after the destruction of Argentina. Lithuania has done a better job taking care of the ball than they did last year. Plus, Lithuania is a solid rebounding team that could neutralize Team USA on the boards.

Lithuania is not quite as big as Russia but they do have more natural scoring talent and are relatively deep. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian 35.7% 3pt. pct so far at the Worlds, this team is dangerous from long-range. Ask Argentina.

Linas Kleiza leads Lithuania with 19 ppg, 7.4 rpg and has been one of the top players in the tourney. Kleiza is the primary option who will look to iso and post-up. Kleiza will often get screens to set up his post-ups. Lithuania really likes to cut or screen players across the lane.

SF Jonas Maciulis could be considered a poor-man's version of Kleiza with his combo of strength and athleticism. Like Kleiza, Lithuania will isolate and post Jonas, often flashing him across the lane. Maciulis has been very active in this tourney and can really jump passing lanes. Maciulis is averaging 9.8 ppg, 2 spg, but has not shot the long ball (27%) like he did last summer or like he did during his club season.

Lithuania will turn to a point-guard-by-committee set-up once again. Mantas Kalnietis, Tomas Delininkaitis and Martynas Gecevicius will share ball-handling duties.

6-5 Mantas Kalnietis is a big, fast guard who likes to push & attack the rim. Kalnietis has done a solid job keeping his TOs down this year and getting Lithuania into its offense, something he struggled with last summer. Should give Kalnietis a cushion, since outside shooting is not a strength and he wants to barrel toward the rim.

Delininkaitis and Gecevicius are dangerous shooters off ball screens. Gecevicius possesses a textbook stroke and buries pull-ups from everywhere. SF Simas Jasaitis is another long-range sniper who sneaks to open spots.

Athletic veteran 7-footer Robertas Javtokas won't do much offensively but he is a defensive presence and he did a great job shutting down Scola in the quarterfinals. PF Paulius Jankunas likes to float out to the perimeter, where he likes to release his awkward, yet effective, jumper. The rugged Jankunas is tough on the boards and bodies up well on defense.

Former Dukie Martynas Pocius loves to aggressively attack the rim and can draw fouls. Pocius is another quality spot-shooter for Lith., but is not as good pulling up. Pocius has shot the ball great in the tourney--8.7 ppg on 57.5% overall, 43% from 3pt. range. Pocius might have extra incentive in the game to not only win, but to stick it to Coach K for not playing him at Duke.

Expect more zone vs. Team USA than Lithuania played vs. Argentina. If they go man, not sure who will get assigned Durant duty. Maybe Maciulis is the best bet as he's an active athlete, but he is only 6-6. Would avoid Kleiza on Durant as much as possible to keep him out of foul trouble and fresh for offense.

Kalnietis has to play under control and be able to set the offense up. Can he do that with consistently against Team USA's pressure? Not sure.

If Lithuania wants a chance vs. USA, they will need to stroke the ball like they did vs. Argentina. That's not out of the question, Lithuania is loaded with shooting threats as always. But can they replicate their quarterfinals' defensive performance? I just don't see it.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Quarterfinal Analysis (Lithuania-Argentina, USA-Russia)

Lithuania 104, Argentina 85

This game did not play out as expected. It was not so much that Lithuania beat Argentina, it was the way it unfolded. Lithuania thoroughly destroyed Argentina in every aspect of the game and controlled the game from start to finish.

Lithuania was 19-for-32 (59%) on FG in the 1st half and 8-for-10 from deep, while Argentina was 12-for-33 (36%) and missed all of their nine 3PA. This game was essentially over at halftime with Lithuania up 50-30. Thought maybe Argentina would respond in the 3rd but they had nothing to offer.

A Lithuania team shooting the snot out of the ball is nothing new. But I don't ever recall a Lithuanian team defending as well as they did today. Old-school Lithuanian teams would beat you by out-executing and out-shooting the opposition. Defense was an afterthought.

Lithuania took Argentina out of everything they wanted to run. The Lithuanian bigs did a good job when switched onto perimeter players. Very few Argentine shots went uncontested, great close-outs all game. Aggressive on-ball defense and relentless recovery flustered the normally high-functioning Arg. offense. Well-timed doubles on Scola and great coverage on screens stymied Argentina.

Rarely see an Argentina get outplayed this badly. They were very slow defensively, getting repeatedly beaten by drives and failing to hustle back in transition. Argentina was very slow to react throughout the game, you just don't see Argentine teams failing to give max effort. Have to wonder if the intense game vs. Brazil two days before wore them out.

Give credit to Lithuania Coach Kemzura, he had a wonderful game plan and he was funneling players in & out of the lineup early. He obviously knew Argentina's depth was its main weakness, and he tried to expose it early by keeping his guys fresh. Also, Kemzura needs props for getting his team to sell-out defensively. Lithuania had similar personnel last summer and they stunk defensively under a different coach.

Even with all the great shooting by Lithuania, the best player of the game might been a guy who scored zero points, Robertas Javtokas. The veteran big frustrated Luis Scola like no one else in this tourney. Scola could not get clean shots inside vs. Javtokas and the Prigioni-Scola pick/roll was ineffective thanks in large part to Robertas.

Lithuania played the pick/roll much keener than Brazil. Javtokas would give Prigioni a cursory show, then rush back to Scola. Didn't think Javtokas would be able to follow Scola away from the basket area, but he held up great on the perimeter. It wasn't just his defense on Scola that was superb, his help was good near the rim and he even closed out on shots on the perimeter (blocked a Delfino 3PA).

Linas Kleiza had a fine all-around showing, tallying 17 pts & 9 rebs. Linas flashed to open spots, drove the ball and knocked down jumpers. Thought Kleiza played some the most active defense I've seen from him. He was helping everywhere and shuffling his feet laterally with vigor.

SG Martynas Pocius mixed jumpers with some hard-charging drives for 16 pts. Pocius poured in seven points early in the 3rd to crush any hopes that Argentina would mount a comeback in the 2nd half.

PG Tomas Delininkaitis drove thru the Argentina defense multiple times for scores and drilled two pull-up 3-pointers off of ball screens, his speciality.

Sharpshooter Simas Jasaitis (19 pts, 4-for-7 3PA) hit jumpers off of screens, in transition and off quick dribbles. Mantas Kalnietis, Jonas Maciulis and Paulius Jankunas all added 12 pts each. Lithuania had seven guys reach double-figures in points.

Luis Scola's 13 points (5-for-16 FG) came mostly on mid-range jumpers, as Luis failed to get any type of low-post game going. Scola was definitely visibly frustrated and he failed to draw fouls at the rate he's used to.

This one subpar game does not erase the fact that Scola might be the MVP of the tourney. (If USA wins, you have to hand it to Durant). Scola was dominant in his first six games averaging 28 ppg (57.7%), 7.7 rpg & 84% FT on 8.4 FTA per game. And his play vs. Brazil was an all-time great FIBA performance.

Carlos Delfino led Argentina with 25 pts, 4 rebs, & 2 stls but still could not find the range on his 3pt. shot (1-for-6). Carlos gave his squad nice all-around play at the Worlds (19 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 spg, 2.7 apg) besides erratic outside shooting (31% on 3PA).

Argentina's 2010 Worlds run ended one game earlier then expected. But otherwise, Argentina had a positive showing in Turkey with a thin roster. Think their lack of depth caught up with them vs. Lithuania. Argentina's core is on its last legs with only Delfino under 30. The 2012 Olympics could be the last hurrah of this golden generation of Argentina.

Lithuania heads to the semis to face Team USA on Saturday. If Lithuania wants a chance vs. USA, they will need to stroke the ball like they did today. That's not out of the question, Lithuania is loaded with shooting threats as always. But can they replicate the defensive performance? I just don't see it.

USA 89, Russia 79

Team USA did not overwhelm Russia in this game, but did have control of the game in the 2nd half. Russia stayed competitive for most of the game but ultimately had no answer for Kevin Durant and his creative shot-making.

Team USA's ability to force turnovers was a key to victory as their half-court offense wasn't great. 14 of Russia's 18 TOs came by way of steals by Team USA, which were usually turned into countless scoring opportunities or drawn fouls. Don't have the official fast-break numbers but USA must had 20+ pts in transition.

Russia's switch to matchup zone did cause some issues for Team USA in the 2nd quarter. Russia was able to grab a 5-point lead midway through the 2nd. Team USA made a run in the second half of the 2nd quarter to change the momentum. Russia did stick around in the 4th, but the outcome of the game was never in doubt.

Russia's defense has a way of making its opponent look ragged. Russia was able to hold Team USA to 42.6% shooting overall, though Team USA was able to hit 10-of-26 (38.5%) from behind the arc--Russia usually does a better job guarding the 3pt. line.

Russia was able to offset those lost possessions by grabbing 14 off. rebounds to Team USA's 25 def. rebounds.

Kevin Durant must have been watching Juan Navarro at these Worlds because he was abusing Russia with off-balance shots all game. Durant took on the brunt of the scoring chores for Team USA, usually beating his man in isolation for a variety of tough shots. Durant's production was simply sublime--33 pts (11-for-19 FG), 5 rebs, 2 stls, 2 blks & 8-of-9 FTA. Though, I'm wondering if Durant has an off day in the next two games, then maybe Team USA could be in some trouble.

Durant got some help from Chauncey Billups and Russell Westbrook, who were keys to Team USA taking control of the game in the 3rd quarter.

Westbrook came up big in a one-minute stretch midway through the 3rd that pushed Team USA's lead to double digits. On three consecutive USA possessions, Westbrook had two steals that he turned into breakaway dunks and also hit a corner 3-pointer. Team USA never lost its double-digit cushion the rest of the game.

Billups was also a key in Team USA's 3rd quarter surge, scoring 8 of his 15 points in the quarter. Billups banged down two 3-pointers and had one blow-by drive in isolation in the quarter. 12 of Billups' 15 pts came on threes, and he also dished out 5 assts.

Team USA also got important contributions from Lamar Odom and Andre Iguodala. Odom's defensive coverage was tight and he held his own in all the switches he was involved in. Iggy did similar things but was also a help defender deluxe once again. Both guys also got on the glass--Odom had 12 rebs (5 off), Iggy had 5 rebs (3 off).

Timo Mozgov had another solid outing with 13 pts, 4 rebs & a few changed shots. As usual, Mozgov's points came off of rolls, cuts or put-backs. Timo's foul problems surfaced again, with four fouls recorded in 24 mins. Mozgov had a solid tourney leading his team in scoring--12.6 ppg on 64% in only 19 mins per game. But he also averaged 3 fouls per game as well. He needs recalibrate his aggressive tendencies.

Think the Knicks took a worthy risk signing Timo to a 3-year, $8.15M contract (2/$5.4M guaranteed). No doubt Timo has the physical tools to hang in the NBA (7-1, 270) but he needs to work on refining his basketball fundamentals and feel for the game.

Thought 21-year-old PG Dmitry Khvostov was impressive today setting up his teammates. Made some terrific passes and did not seemed that phased playing against NBA players. Khvostov banged home two 3-pointers on his way to 8 pts & 5 assts. Might be a guy to keep track of during his club season.

Andrey Vorontsevich was another young Russian who was not phased by NBAers. Andrey continued his strong rebounding with 12 boards (4 off) and knocked down some jumpers for 14 pts. The 6-9 Vorontsevich is a nice athlete who can crash the boards and he had a solid tourney--10 ppg & 7.5 rpg (2.3 off). Generally not a great shooter, but if he keeps shooting the ball from the perimeter like he did here in Turkey (52% on 3PA), he might deserve a look from NBA teams.

Sergey Bykov was Russia's most consistent offensive threat scoring 17 pts, mostly on spot-up or pull-up jumpers. But Bykov brought his usual careless passing to the mix today.

Another solid int'l showing by a David Blatt-led Russian team. A Russian team lacking scoring punch was once again able to be competitive thanks to great defense. Russia's only losses came at the hands of Turkey and USA, two of the best teams in the tourney. Rumors are that Blatt will resign his post, which would suck for Russia and for FIBA. If he'd done with Russia, imagine some other national team will be ready to scoop him up (maybe Spain).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Quarterfinal Analysis (Serbia-Spain)

Serbia 92, Spain 89

Spain made Serbia and Milos Teodosic look foolish the last time they met, in the 2009 EuroBasket final, winning 85-63. Teodosic made sure it did not happen twice in row. Teodosic isolated Jorge Garbajosa up high after a switch on a pick-and-roll, then unleashed a 28-footer with the clock winding down to give Serbia a 92-89 lead with 0:03 remaining. After hitting on just 1-7 3PA in the game--and just 10-34 3PA for the FIBA World Championship--Teodosic (the Euroleague MVP, who hit 43% of his 3s in that competition) delivered when it mattered most. Spain failed to get off a last-second shot, allowing Serbia to advance to the semifinals to face Turkey, who crushed Slovenia 95-68.

Similar feel to the Argentina-Brazil battle with great back-and-forth action throughout the Serbia-Spain game--had players on both sides making professional plays. If Serbia would make a big play, Spain would respond with one of its own.

Spain got burned by the Serbs on the 3-point line. Serbia scorched the nets with 15-for-30 from long range and it seemed Serbia had too many open looks. Serbia's open looks often seemed to arise from Spain getting mixed up either in transition or in early offense situations. Also, it seemed as though Serbia scored some buckets on broken plays where Spain did good job initially stopping a play, but had its defense get out of position.

Serbia had multiple guys bury clutch 3-pointers throughout the game. Milos Teodosic (2-8), Novica Velickovic (3-6), Dusko Savanovic (2-4), Nemanja Bjelica (3-3) and Marko Keselj (5-6) all hit big 3-pointers.

Serbia came out of the gates hot, shooting 11-for-16 overall, 4-for-7 from 3-point land. Spain wasn't too bad either, shooting 9-for-19 (4-for-9 on 3PA). Besides some sloppiness in the 3rd, both these teams kept up the high level of offensive play--Serbia shot 52% for the game, Spain shot 48%.

Down 8 at the half, Spain came out strong at the start of the 2nd half, going on a 10-0 run. They forced Serbian TOs on four consecutive possessions in the opening few minutes of the 3rd. The 3rd had a bit of a helter-skelter feel, with each team struggling with TOs. Both teams combined for 17 TOs in the quarter (Serbia-10, Spain-7). A spate of moving-screen calls at the end of the quarter added to the total.

I would say Serbia won the transition battle today, which is kind of odd thinking how badly they got burned last year. Thought they prevented Spain from establishing an uptempo pace. A handful of Serbia's 3-point makes came in transition or delayed transition, in which the Spanish defense was out of order.

Serbia once again went deep into its bench with 10 guys getting at least 10 minutes of action. Coach Ivkovic spread the minutes around last summer and he's doing another masterful job utilizing his whole roster.

PF Novica Velickovic brought his all-around talents and was particularly impactful in the 1st & 3rd quarters. Novica dropped 10 pts in the 1st Q on three long jumpers and a runner in the lane. Came off a flare screen up top to drop a big 3-pointer to put Serbia back up 57-55 midway thru the 3rd. Novica finished a tough coast-to-coast layup in traffic in the 3rd as well. Velickovic finished with 17 pts, 5 rebs, 3 assts, 4 stls & 3-for-6 3-pointers in just 20 minutes. We are fans of Novica's all-around game and think he can carve out a niche as a reserve forward in the NBA.

Serbia got a boost from reserve SF Marko Keselj whose 17 points came mostly on spot-up 3-pointers (5-for-6). Keselj did also have one big quick pull-up off a head-fake to give Serbia a 89-84 lead.

Nemanja Bjelica has a tendency to fade into the background, but he was perfect with his scoring today (5-for-5). Bjelica was productive early, scoring 11 of his 14 pts in the 1st quarter. He also knocked home a big 3-pointer midway thru the 4th to give Serbia a 82-76 lead (Nemanja was 3-for-3 from deep).

Besides the game-winning shot, Milos Teodosic was great at distributing the ball and showed off his patented quick release to finish with 12 pts, 8 assts & 5 rebs.

For a player who was lucky to make the final roster, Dusan Savanovic (15 pts, 5 rebs (3 off))has become a vital component of the Serbian attack. Savanovic showed off his crafty in-between game all night, and shined down the stretch with 10 of his 15 pts in the 4th. Savanovic scored on a baseline spin, a nice duck-under jumper (plus foul) and toasted Garbajosa on an isolation drive with a spin move.

Nenad Krstic continues to have a strong tourney as a factor on both offense and defense. Nenad was aggressive around the rim again, drawing fouls and snatching offensive rebounds. Nenad pitched in with 13 pts, 9 rebs (5 off) and stout defense on the backline.

This was a big game so you knew Juan Carlos Navarro would generate points. Juan's 27 pts came from a steady diet of long jumpers (4-for-7 3PA) and floaters (3-4), including a fadeaway number late in the game. He banged home his jumpers curling around screens, stepping back or spotting up. Serbia would often flood La Bomba with extra defenders when he came off screens and he did a good job finding the open man (5 assts).

Rudy Fernandez's activity was positive in spots but he could not find his touch behind the arc (0-for-7 3PA). He did a nice job flying in for rebounds (5 rebs), including converting a soaring tip-in, and forced his way to the rim for some points (15 pts, 7-for-7 FTA). Similar to last summer, Rudy had a good all-around tourney, averaging 13.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg (led team), 1.6 spg, 51% shooting & 38.7% 3PA.

Can't fault Coach Scariolo for handing Jorge Garbajosa heavy minutes in this game. Garba's jumper was *on* from the start and Jorge ended the game with four 3-pointers. Garba added 6 rebs to his 18 pts, but he threw some passes away (3 TOs).

Where were the touches for Marc Gasol down low? Marc was pretty damn effective when he touched the ball--13 pts on 6-for-7 FG. Only recall two post scores for Marc, one was a sweet turnaround jumper in the 4th. Also, Marc made some nice passes and recorded a handful of blocks.

Ricky Rubio made a few creative dishes but failed to have a major impact on this game. Ricky's Worlds were a mixed bag, in which he flashed his brilliant passing skills but also showed his lack of scoring ability. It's not just his subpar shooting that needs tweaking, he needs to work on his finishing. In seven games, Rubio averaged 5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.9 TOpg, 3.3 rpg & 27.5% shooting (2-for-15 on 3PA) in 27 mins per game.

Spain's Worlds performance was not up to expectations. They underachieved in group play like they did last year. But this year they had less margin for error and had a tougher playoff-round draw. Won't be surprised if Scariolo is relieved of his duties. Didn't think Spain played up to its capabilities on the defensive end.

Not having Pau definitely hurt the defense, but so did the retirement of role-playing forward Carlos Jimenez two years ago. Also, some of the blame has to go on Scariolo for never getting max effort from this team on defense. They never consistently caused havoc like they did in the later stages of EuroBasket. Where was the ball-hawking defense that created easy scoring opportunities in transition that we saw last year?

Serbia now has to face Turkey in the semis on Saturday. Turkey rolled over Slovenia 95-68 in a game that was never close. Turkey has looked very impressive over the last 10 days and have fed off the home crowd. Serbia has played great and have great depth, but I just can't take them over Turkey playing at home. Should be a close game.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Round of 16 Analysis (Argentina-Brazil)

Argentina 93, Brazil 89

The old lions of Argentina refused to pass the torch of South American preeminence on Tuesday, holding off a relentless Brazil team in a true El Clásico in Istanbul. What a game: the best game of the 2010 FIBA World Championships to date. It's too bad the Brazilians were sent home so early--we wanted to watch more of them.

Non-stop back-and-forth action throughout the game, other than a lull at the start of the 2nd quarter. Both teams shot 50%+ not only from the floor overall--Argentina 58%, Brazil 53.7%--but also from behind the 3pt. arc--Argentina 61%, Brazil 50%.

Luis Scola was kind of a big deal on Tuesday--37 pts on 14-for-20 FG, 9 rebs (4 off), 3 assts, 2 stls & 8-for-9 FTA. Scola is an inside-out force, but Luis did the majority of damage with his jumper on Tuesday. He was a menace in pick/pop action, where he drilled 6-7 jumpers between 15-18 ft. He even bounced in a 3pt. make, made a jumper off a heady flash cut, and hit a short pull-up off a screen. I counted only two scores with his back to the basket, but both were tough.

Scola was clutch down the stretch--he converted four baskets and forced one crucial TO in the last 3:00. Let's take a look:
    3:00: Prigioni-Scola left side pick/roll. Prigioni goes away from the pick, drops a perfect bounce pass to Luis, who hits a foul-line jumper. Argentina 83, Brazil 79.

    2:15: Delfino-Scola high pick/roll, Scola gets the ball on the right elbow on a delayed pop, Varejao charges out on him, Luis drives right and converts a close runner. Argentina 85, Brazil 79.

    1:05: Maybe his best play. Luis backs down Varejao on the right block, then turns right shoulder to bury a fadeaway jumper going across the lane over Anderson's outstretched arm. Argentina 87, Brazil 84.

    0:45: Barbosa runs a right side pick/roll heading toward baseline, Scola helps and impedes Barbosa's progress, poking the ball away in the process. Argentina recovers the ball. Argentina 87, Brazil 84.

    0:24: Prigioni-Scola high pick/roll, Prigioni drops another perfect bounce pass to Luis, who pops out high & converts a 18-footer over Huertas. Argentina 89, Brazil 84.
Scola also dropped some nifty passes and drew plenty of fouls once again. He is now averaging a tournament-leading 30.3 points per game on 62% FG and 86% FT, plus 8.3 rebounds per game. Even if Argentina loses in the quarters, Luis should get the MVP trophy.

The Prigioni-Scola pick/roll continues to be the deadliest in the tourney. A lot of Scola's scoring opportunities are made easier because of Pablo. Very few players throw bounce passes like Pablo and the placement of his passes are key to his teammates getting good looks. He's like Nash in that regard. Best pure passer in this tourney next to Rubio. Pablo dropped 8 assists but the usually unflappable vet made some unlikely miscues today (3 TOs).

We've had a lot of praise for Brazil Coach Ruben Magnano in this space, but we have to question his strategy on Tuesday. The team's coverage of the Prigioni-Scola pick/roll made no sense, as Varejao and Splitter consistently left Scola to show hard against Prigioni, who is not really a pull-up shooter, and rarely looks to create shots for himself.

On Scola's last basket, for example, you saw Brazil hedge hard on Prigioni and stay with him too long. Varejao should just have showed real quick on Prigioni, then immediately gotten back to Scola. Instead he stayed with Prigioni too long. Make Prigioni a scorer, it goes against his instincts.

It was all the more curious because Magnano is the former coach of Argentina. If anyone should know their personnel, it's Ruben, yet Brazil consistently gave up wide-open passing lanes to Prigioni, almost like an American team who had no idea what his strengths and weaknesses were.

Yes, Scola killed Brazil all game long with pop jumpers. But part of the reason he was able to was that Brazil flat-out left him open.

Carlos Delfino (20 pts) got the Argentines rolling early by banging home three 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game. 'Los also snaked his way to rim a couple times for lay-ins.

SF Hernan Jasen has filled in for Andres Nocioni admirably and has been an active role player. On Tuesday he stepped up on the offensive end to score 15 pts, 3-of-6 on 3-pointers (Jasen had only hit 2-of-9 on 3PA coming into this game). His biggest contribution to the game was a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers to respond to a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers from Barbosa to tie the game early in the 4th.

Fab Oberto (7 pts, 5 rebs) was back in the lineup and was an integral piece to the victory. Oberto functions so well in Argentina's system playing physical defense, setting screens and displaying his underrated passing skills. Oberto made a few nice passes today and did a solid job laying into Splitter.

Brazil's Marcelo Huertas was once again dangerous off the bounce, constantly finding his way to the rim for scores or drawn fouls (8-for-8 FTs) on his way to a 32-point performance. Marcelo also had his jumper working--4-for-8 on 3PA--including two big 3PT makes in the last 2:00.

We felt Huertas was a possible NBA free agent prospect before the Worlds began, based on his past int'l play and strong ACB season. His play over the last 10 days just solidifies his standing as a legit NBA PG in our estimation. He has good size (6-3), good speed and can get in the lane to put pressure on a defense.

Leandro Barbosa (20 pts) was raining down 3-pointers (5-for-9) either in isolation or quick pull-ups off of ball screens. He sparked Brazil at the start of the 4th with back-to-back 3-pointers to give his team a 72-66 lead. He did not take too many dicey shots today, but he did make a costly TO late (see above).

Tiago Splitter was solid with 10 pts, 5 pts and a few big defensive plays, but he was limited to just 25 minutes due to the lingering effects of a leg injury from the group stage.

Brazilian vets Alex Garcia (7 pts, 4 rebs), Marcelo Machado (10 pts in 17 min) and Anderson Varejao all added decent auxiliary support. Garcia's speed was a factor causing TOs (3 stls) and pushing the pace when available. Varejao (7 pts, 5 rebs) did hound Scola near the rim a few times but he had difficulties following him away from the basket. Machado brought his requisite deep range with two 3-pointers.

Even though Brazil won't medal, they should feel satisfied with the way they played in Turkey. They took Team USA to the brink and they pushed a quality Argentina squad to the edge. Splitter had a solid tourney, averaging 12.8 ppg (54% FG) & 5.2 rpg plus quality defensive effort in 25 mpg.

Argentina advances to the quarters to face Lithuania on Thursday. We're expecting Argentina to take out Lithuania and head to a likely semifinal matchup vs. Team USA. Though, the one advantage for Lithuania is its depth. Linas Kleiza was also a beast on Tuesday, tallying 30 pts and 9 reb on 14-22 FG in Lithuania's 78-67 win over China. The Kleiza-Scola matchup should be a good one--they've been two of the very best players in the tournament.

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.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Round of 16 Analysis (Turkey-France, Slovenia-Australia)

Turkey 95, France 77

This game played out as expected. We figured Turkey's zone would give France's substandard offense plenty of issues and Les Bleus would struggle to score. The game was essentially over early in the 3rd.

Turkey's 2-1-2 was impressive once again. Their length plus their overall activity makes for a rough day for the opposition. What's great about the zone is that they can still clog the painted area, but still contest on the perimeter because of their length and shorter 3pt. line.

Once again Turkey got great activity from its guards at the top of the zone, who funneled ball-handlers to the sides. France committed 11 TOs in the 1st half. France finished the game shooting 12-for-24 from 3pt. land, but a lot of those were when the game was already decided. France managed only 2-for-9 from deep in the 1st half and shot 43% overall in the half.

France usually struggles mightily in the half-court and today was no different. France managed only 45 points through three quarters before scoring 32 points in a meaningless 4th.

France gets credit for doing a decent job attacking the zone. Got the ball to the high post and short corner area to create some quality looks. The ball-movement was commendable, they just could not knock down their shots (not surprising). The interior passing of the French was solid. That being said, they also forced a bunch of passes into congested areas, which was a big reason for their 17 TOs.

Hedo Turkoglu had his finest day of Worlds play with 20 pts on 6-for-10 FG, 3 assts and 4-for-7 on 3PA. Hedo buried two back-to-back 3-pointers at the start of the 2nd half that put Turkey up by 21 pts. Also added a patented mid-range pull-up going to his left early in the 3rd. Hedo also dropped some sweet dimes--set up Savas on a few pick/rolls.

Omer Asik did not do much of his requisite finishing off of rolls/cuts today, but he did score on two put-backs and drew fouls. Asik was once again efficient with his floor time--10 (4-for-4 FG) & 5 rebs in 17 mins. Ersan Ilyasova had trouble finding his touch but still added 9 pts & 5 rebs.

Turkey got some nice input from the bench, particularly in the 2nd quarter. Oguz Savas (9 pts) gave Turkey a nice lift in the 2nd quarter as a roll man. Reserve PG Ender Arslan (9 pts, 2 stls) added some 3-pointers and was another active guard in the zone. Reserve SG Sinan Guler was key with 17 points coming on a few purposeful drives, and finished in transition multiple times.

Turkey was dealt a blow with starting PG Kerem Tunceri going down with an ankle injury. Tunceri is a steady guard who takes care of the ball and makes nice pocket bounce passes. Tunceri thrives on the defensive end and is a key figure on top of their zone. Tunceri was active before he went down in the 3rd, tallying three steals.

Boris Diaw played his finest game of the tourney with 21 pts (8-of-14 FG), 5 rebs, 4 assts & 5-for-8 from 3pt. range. Diaw did a nice job out of the high post with some good passes, a nice drive and a mid-range jumper. But Boris threw two of the most nonchalant passes I think I've seen, part of his 4 TOs. Boris being Boris.

Nando De Colo made a few smart cuts for buckets in the 1st half. But De Colo did not run the offense with ease. De Colo has struggled all tourney running the point and I wonder if he's better served as 2-guard who occasionally runs the PG. Though, Nando did shoot the ball well in the tourney--49% overall, 43% on 3PA.

Dallas Mav Ian Mahinmi fouled out in seven minutes. Mahinmi did a few things well on defense in this tourney, but man, is this dude raw. I can understand why Popovich had little use for him. Poor feel for the game. Nic Batum (11 pts) hit a few jumpers but was not much of a factor elsewhere.

Turkey advances to the quarterfinals to play Slovenia on Wednesday. France performed about as well as expected considering its numerous absences. If France ever gets all its top players together, they should be a medal contender.

Slovenia 87, Australia 58

Now, this game did not follow the script we expected. Thought this game would be more competitive, but for whatever reason, Australia failed to show up today. Like the Turkey-France tilt, this game was essentially over early in the 3rd. This was a difficult game to get into because of Australia's ineptitude.

Australia did not score a point until the 3:30 mark of the 1st and only ended the quarter with eight points, The Boomers were not much better in the 2nd Q, and finished the 1st half with 21 pts. They did manage to score 24 in the 3rd, too bad Slovenia had 29 in the quarter.

Australia shot just 6-for-27 (22%) from the floor in the opening half and 0-for-7 from long range. They ended the game shooting 31% overall, 2-for-19 from 3pt. land. They had some short distance shots that would not drop.

Give Slovenia credit for forcing some of these misses. An underrated factor of Slovenia's ascendancy up the FIBA rankings has been a stout defense. I thought their defense would fall off when Rasho retired, but they have been solid this year and were great at EuroBasket.

Australia had trouble with down-screen action and could not contain Goran Dragic, which is understandable. Slovenia is tough to guard with their ability to put four guys on the floor with 3-point range plus a center (Brezec) with 18-foot range. Arguably the best shooting team left in the playoff round.

Jaka Lakovic led Slovenia with 19 pts thanks to another strong shooting performance. He hit a few quick dribble pull-up 3-pointers off ball screens and hit a step-back 3 as part of his 5-for-11 3pt. day.

Goran Dragic was a menace off the dribble, winding his way through the Aussie defense for nice feeds or buckets. The Dragic-Brezec connection was particularly fruitful. The Dragon had a sweet line: 10 pts, 8 assts, 4 rebs & 2 stls.

Primoz Brezec has done a good job in the tourney moving to open spots for scoring opportunities. And he was sharp today scoring on cuts/rolls. Primoz added 12 (5-of-7 FG) and should thank Dragic for most of his buckets. Thought Primoz was a quality deterrent defensively in the interior today as well.

Slovenia got nice contributions from Miha Zupan (8 pts, 4 rebs), Sani Becirovic (8 pts, 4 rebs, 3 assts), Uros Slokar (8 pts) and Boki Nachbar (7 pts). Zupan ("the Slovenian Scalabrine"), Becirovic and Slokar all hit two 3-pointers.

Patty Mills banged home three jumpers off the bounce and mixed in a few drives on his way to 13 pts. But was off on his 3PA (1-for-7) and was 6-for-16 overall. Mills had a solid tourney, scoring double-figures in all six games and averaging 14 ppg & 4 apg. He did not shoot the ball particularly well--39% overall, 31% from 3pt.--but he was able to keep his TOs down (1.8 per).

Veteran center Matt Nielsen's (12 pts, 8 rebs) activity led to a couple buckets off of drives, some drawn fouls and four offensive rebounds. Australia bigs Dave Andersen and Aleks Maric were not much help, combining for nine points on 2-of-11 shooting.

Slovenia moves on to the quarters to face Turkey on Wednesday. Slovenia has the type of shooters who could expose Turkey's zone. Though, some of their great looks are set up by Dragic/Becirovic dribble-drives. Should be a terrific matchup.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Round of 16 Analysis (Spain-Greece, Serbia-Croatia)

Spain 80, Greece 72

These two squads didn't play up to their capabilities in group play, but can't complain with the effort they gave today. This much-anticipated Sweet Sixteen game did not disappoint.

Coach Scariolo's decision to switch to a zone late in the 3rd decided the game. Spain went zone with about 2:00 remaining in the 3rd, and Greece managed only six points in a 10-minute stretch until Vassilis Spanoulis hit a 3-pointer with about 2:00 left in the 4th.

That 10-minute stretch was the key to the game. All thanks to Spain's 2-3 zone. Greece had a nice rhythm going in the 3rd and the zone almost immediately stunted their flow. That's what a good zone does--disrupts the offensive flow. Every FIBA team needs a quality zone at its disposal.

Greece starting rolling in the 3rd quarter, shooting 8-for-10 (four 3-pointers) in the first eight minutes of the quarter. Diamantidis and Spanoulis were making the defensive shape shift and the Greek ball movement was swift. Before the possession in which Spain went zone, Greece scored on five possessions in a row.

Juan Navarro led Spain with 22 points that came on a few floaters, perimeter jumpers and drawn fouls. Rudy Fernandez helped La Bomba with 14 pts. Rudy shined in the 2nd half with two big 3-pointers down the stretch, a drawn foul on a 3PA using a head-fake, and finishes of some weakside cuts.

Spain got a great lift from its bench. Sergio Llull scored a couple of leak-out lay-ins and put up 9 pts in 15 mins. Felipe Reyes had 6 pts & 10 rebs (4 off.) in 19 mins. Reyes turned three of those off. rebounds into tip-ins. Back-up PG Raul Lopez gave them good minutes as well.

Fran Vazquez notched 6 pts & 7 rebs (5 off.) in 16 mins. Fran made his presence felt late 3rd/early 4th with a steal, offensive rebound and alley-oop connection with Llull. My partner has been pleading for more time for Fran. He has also been wishing for some Rubio-Vazquez pick-and-roll pairing, and an attempt at a Vazquez-Marc twin-tower lineup.

Hate to say but might need to see less Jorge Garbajosa. Garba has been knocking down his outside shots, but he has not been rebounding much, while Reyes and Vazquez get on the glass. Vazquez gives the frontline a much-needed dose of athleticism.

Marc Gasol had a rough day (four fouls) and seemed to have some difficulties dealing with Big Sofo. Marc did do some nice things defensively, but only put up 4 pts & 2 rebs.

Same story for Ricky Rubio--creative passing, ineffective scoring. Ricky dropped delicious dimes as usual (6 assts), but his shooting/finishing was subpar (6 pts, 2-for-8). My partner has alluded to Ricky's poor finishing skills a few times in the past.

Dimis Diamantidis would not let Greece go out quietly. Dimis did a little bit of everything to keep Greece in this game. Dimis hit three 3-pointers and moved the ball while bringing his usual stellar defense. Dimis had two steals on the ball and two terrific blocks in transition. Dimis was the catalyst of Greece's 3rd quarter surge. Dimis did have some miscues in the 4th, in that he bit on some of Rudy's head-fakes and also threw a lazy pass that Spain picked off at a crucial juncture. Dimis finished his final game with Team Hellas with 16 pts (6-of-8 FG), 2 steals, 2 blocks & 3-for-5 3PA.

A tip of the cap to Diamantidis, a Painted Area favorite, who is retiring from int'l play. Dimis was one of the top FIBA ballers of the last decade and one of the finest defenders ever to play in int'l competition. Always thought he was too unselfish, often reluctant to shoot, but had a knack for knocking down big shots when his team needed them (Euro '05 vs. France, Worlds '06 vs. USA, etc). We'll miss his game.

Vassilis Spanoulis did score on a handful of drives scattered throughout the game, but he never got consistent deep penetration. The key number for Spain: 1-for-2 FTA for Spanoulis. When you can limit Spanoulis' foul shots, you're usually in good shape vs. Greece.

Nikos Zisis was killing Spain with mid-range pull-ups all game. Nearly all of his 16 points came on mid-rangers. Antonis Fotsis did his stretch-4 duties by knocking down three 3-pointers. Fotsis also provided solid help defense and seven rebounds (4 off.).

Sofo Schortsiantis coughed the ball up (4 TOs) as usual, but once again he was a factor in the lane. Sofo drew fouls and scored with a few righty hooks to end with 13 pts. Sofo did most his damage in the 4th with five drawn fouls and eight points. Thought Sofo did some nice things defensively as well.

Greece let Spain shoot 54% from the field partly because of too much over-helping and miscommunication--problems that plagued them in group play. Greece was not hitting the long ball heading into this game and they continued their struggle from behind the arc today--7-for-23. Greece did not help its cause by shooting 7-for-16 from the FT line, either.

Greece's team defense was just not up to par this summer. They used to be on the same page and function so well together. They could wreak havoc with active hands.

We have surmised the drop-off defensively has to do with the coaching change. Coach Yannakis held the Greeks back offensively but he made them incredibly tough defensively.

Spain moves on to face Serbia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Should be a great game, hopefully more competitive than Spain's blowout win in last year's EuroBasket final. Meanwhile, Greece goes home with its most disappointing finish in many years.

Serbia 73, Croatia 72

Thought Croatia could make this a competitive game and we got one of the better games of the tourney.

We saw the European tactic of fouling when up two points come into play today. Serbian Coach Ivkovic decided to foul with 5.9 secs left and Serbia up 72-70. I might take that foul with 8 secs or more, but taking it with 5-6 secs left puts a lot of pressure on the offense.

Generally don't like the tactic of fouling when up two or fouling when tied. Have seen the tactic backfire enough--see Germany vs. Angola from a few days ago and see Spain vs. Argentina 2006 Worlds semis. But it worked for Serbia today.

Croatia looked very sharp coming out of the gates. Put 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting up in the 1st quarter. Then Croatia could not find the basket in the 2nd quarter, finishing the 2nd with nine points on 4-for-17.

The normally sweet-shooting Croats were off the mark from long range--5-for-24. Croatia is always a strong offensive rebounding team and that kept them hanging around today.

Thought both teams took advantage of their transition opportunities. A bit surprising how much these teams looked to push the ball. Serbia has definitely looked to run more this summer, as opposed to last year, when they would grind the game out.

Nenad Krstic definitely got the better of Ante Tomic today. Nenad simply overpowered Tomic for a few scores and re-routed Tomic, even forcing a TO simply by outmuscling him. Krstic was aggressive once again getting great post position, often leading to drawn fouls. Nenad drew a big foul on a roll to the rim with :45 left. Nenad led Serbia with 16 pts.

Alexander Rasic (15 pts) is usually just a spot shooter, but today he did damage with his dribble drive. It seems that in this tourney, Rasic just makes big baskets and buries clutch FTs. Rasic made a couple huge plays in the 4th. He converted a huge plus-1 on a tough drive midway thru the 4th. Then he squirted out of a back pick at half-court to streak in for lay-in with 10 secs left to give Serbia a 72-70 lead. Finally, he drove the ball and drew the foul with one second left. Rasic knocked down the first FT (missed the 2nd on purpose) that sealed the game.

Serbia's depth let them cover for a very poor showing from PG Milos Teodosic. Teodosic forced the action in spots with dicey shot selection and lazy passes (4 TOs).

Serbia got nice input from the bench corps. Milenko Tepic (7 rebs, 4 assts) set up his teammates nicely (particularly in the 2nd Q.) and grabbed some boards while Ivan Paunic's relentless ball pressure was on display again. Reserve PF Milan Macvan (8 pts) did some dirty work-type plays to fill in the gaps. And Kosta Perovic gave them valuable minutes again, scoring (10 pts) on rolls or cuts.

Roko Ukic caused Serbia problems off the dribble. Roko drove the ball well to score at the rim and to connect on a couple floaters. He also set up his teammates off the bounce, including a nifty pass to a cutting Banic after a spin move.

The Croatian Vinnie Johnson, Marko Popovic, gave his team a dose of instant offense off the bench once again. Popovic came alive in the 4th with a two 3-pointers and multiple drawn fouls. Marko scored 14 of his 21 in the 4th, including 10 FTAs in the quarter.

Ante Tomic did grab eight boards but turned the ball over five times. Tomic had an alright tourney and showed some NBA potential. The basketball skills are there--great footwork and great touch plus good passing skills. Obviously, he needs weight, but I'm not sure he has the frame to handle much more muscle.

NBA draft prospect Bojan Bogdanovic started off the game pretty well, scoring seven of nine points in the 1st Q, but was fairly quiet until he made a costly mistake giving the ball up in transition late in the 4th.

Marko Banic did things he's known for--moving to the open spots on offense and crashing the offensive glass (10 pts & 7 rebs (4 off.)).

Croatia should feel alright about its Worlds performance. They made the knockout round as expected and pushed a superior Serbian team to the brink. If Bogdanovic and Tomic progress as they should, Croatia can contend in a few years.