Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Worlds Apart

At halftime of the USA-Germany game on Wednesday, the US led Germany by a single point. This despite the fact that Dirk Nowitzki, Germany's lone premier player, was a dismal 1 for 7 and missed the last 3 minutes of the half after picking up his 3rd foul on a phantom whistle.

Of their 44 first half shots, 20 of them were from three-point range, and they had made only 5 of those.

So you figure Coach K will get in their faces and tell them to stop settling for 3's early in the shot clock and take the ball to the hole in the second half.

After halftime, the US pulled away and eventually won by 20. And of their 41 second half shots, 20 of them were from three point range, and they made only 5 of those!

Coaching is a funny thing. I am the first to say that Larry Brown had the 2004 Athens team on WAY too short a leash, and he made mediocre outside shooters into horrendous outside shooters by taking away their confidence. So, it's a good thing that Coach K has allowed these guys to play with confidence and take open shots. But C'MON! Can't we have a sound game plan AND instill confidence in the players? Is it too much to ask for both of those things?

40 out of 85 attempts from 3! Obviously, Mike D'Antoni is a big part of this, encouraging players to take the open 3, just as he does with the Suns. But the difference is, the Suns CAN'T score inside and CAN'T stop anyone on defense. They can beat physically superior teams by taking quick shots and forcing a fast tempo. But this US team is the deepest and physically most impressive in the world. Why is it playing this style?

It would be one thing if this roster was loaded with shooters. Indeed, much has been made of the improved 3 point shooting (as compared to 2004), but look at the players.

Of the top 10 3 point shooters in the NBA last season by percentage, only one of them is playing in the Worlds. And he plays for Brazil (Barbosa). Bruce Bowen was top 10, but, oh yeah, he got cut. So let's look at the top 20 - there's a name from today's game - it's Dirk Nowitzki. Top 30? Still no Team USA players. Not a single player from Team USA was in the Top 30 in 3 point percentage last season. Not one.

The best shooters on the roster, percentage wise from last season, are Battier and Jamison at 39%, tied for 32nd in the league. Of course, Jamison has fallen off the depth chart, and how do you feel about Battier shooting 3's? How do you think the other team's coach feels about it? He's deliriously happy, that's how he feels.

Of the 12 guys on the roster, only Hinrich and Joe Johnson are what I would consider 'shooters'. These are the only two guys who are out there to take open shots. (Battier should spot up and take 3's when he has them, but he's out there to play defense and hustle, not to shoot.) EVERYBODY else should be using open jump shots to set up the rest of their game.

Carmelo Anthony took 19 shots in the Germany game and 9 of them were 3's. NINE! The guy shot 25% from 3 last season! Dwyane Wade - 5 of his 11 attempts were 3's - he made 1 of them. This guy made 13 3's the WHOLE SEASON - he shot 17% from out there. Chris Paul - also 5 of his 11 attempts from 3. He shot 28% from 3 last year. That's 19 three point attempts from 3 guys who were all worse (sometimes much worse) than 30% last season.

Now I know that the line is shorter, and I know that Germany was playing a packed in zone, but guess what? If the zone forces poor outside shooters to take threes, then it's working. You have to attack the zone, not just stand around and shot 3's over it.

Everyone is lamenting the 25% shooting (10 of 40) from 3 in this game. But isn't 25% more in line with who these guys are than the 41% we saw before Wednesday?

We're done to 4 semi-finalists in this tournament who are all 7-0. Truth be told, these are the 4 best teams in this tournament by a BIG MARGIN. Lithuania and Serbia are rebuilding, France was without Tony Parker. These are the 4, and not one of them has really been pushed yet.

If the US keeps playing like the Phoenix Suns, they will lose one of the next two games. The pressure D is not going to hurt these teams, and they won't make enough 3's to outscore them. But of course, it seems obvious that they aren't going to change - not now. If you take 20 3's in the first half, lead by 1 against a team you should destroy, and then take 20 3's in the second half - well, either that's your game plan, or the players are running the team. Either way, the shots will be flying against Greece.