Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Team USA Update

OK, I know they beat Italy, but is there really any good news from Game 4?

Though I have been underwhelmed by the composition of this team, through the first three games I was becoming a believer that depth and pressure defense (two things that show up every night) would carry this team to a gold medal.

So what happens? They fall behind a good (not great) Italy team, and Coach K forgets about his bench. Anthony plays 35 minutes (all 20 in the second half), Brand 28, Chris Paul 30, etc. The Italian guards handle the pressure, and consequently the US has to be rescued by stellar one-on-one basketball from Anthony and Wade. Depth? Only 3 guys reached double figures and only 6 guys scored. Pressure defense? 8 steals is half of what the team has been averaging, and Italy's guards are not that good.

19 points from Carmelo in the 3rd quarter is great (he is a truly transcendant offensive basketball player) - but this is how Germany wins games. It's not supposed to be how the US wins.

And what is with the 3 point shooting from 'Melo? 5-7? From a guy who shot 24% from 3 on the season? I know the line is shorter, and it may be that extra 3 feet makes that big a difference to him, but I sure don't want to count on him shooting that well the rest of the tournament. In fact, this game could absolutely come back to haunt the team, if 'Melo falls in love with the 3 and settles for quick jump shots. Bear in mind this tournament doesn't really get serious until this weekend when the single elimination phase starts.

I will say this: confidence is important, and the biggest difference I see in this team versus the Athens team is confidence. Larry Brown had every one of those guys afraid of their shadows - he made it clear that he would pull them for missing a single jump shot, and consequently they passed them up when they were open, and missed them when they did take them. Coach K (and Mike D'Antoni) have clearly given this team the green light to put up 3's when they are open, and they look much better, even though on the whole these guys aren't significantly better shooters than the guys who went to Greece.

And yes, you do need to ride the hot hand. So I can understand leaving 'Melo in when he clearly was never going to miss again. But does the US have to have a white hot scorer to win games? Let's hope at least one person steps up every night if that's the case.

The half-court offense has been non-existent. Basically, this team either gets a fast break lay up, or someone goes one-on-one. Why is it that other teams can run effective half cout sets, but we can't? I know these guys don't play together all year, but guess what? Neither do the other national teams. To hear the announcers talk, you'd think the Argentine team is together year round. But it seems like that Ginobili guy has played in the NBA for a few seasons, and his season is as long as anybody's (longer than most).

Low post scoring has also been non-existent. Elton Brand and Dwight Howard have done a good job of following shots and finishing on the pick and roll, but the offense never starts at the post, always at the top. Meanwhile, Bosh and Miller have been buried on the bench, and a team that seemed a little small to me going in, got a lot smaller, with Anthony and Jamison sharing the power forward position. I mean, I like the way the Suns played this year, but they did it because they had to; they didn't have any bigs who didn't suck. Is this really the way we're going to win the Worlds? With Carmelo Anthony at the 4?

Not that it matters, but through 4 games, the US does NOT have the most dominant average margin of victory. The US average of 17.5 pales in comparison to Argentina's 30, and Spain is also better at 22.5. This isn't 1992, and this isn't the Dream Team. The rest of the world has certainly gotten better, but this is pool play, and Argentina and Spain are still managing to destroy pool play opponents.

I am not impressed, and I guarantee you that Argentina, Spain, Greece and Turkey aren't impressed either.