Monday, April 30, 2007
Thoughts on Team USA Basketball 2007
Despite the fact the NBA playoffs will chug along for another month and a half, I figured I'd devote some time here to the upcoming FIBA Americas Championship, which will be held in Las Vegas from August 22 through September 2. For countries in North and South America, this tournament serves as the preliminary qualifier for the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, with the top two teams automatically advancing. The teams that finish third through fifth will earn spots in the 2008 Olympic qualifier next year, where they will compete against various teams from Europe, Asia, and Africa for the final Olympic berths.
Much attention was paid to last year's USA Basketball squad, mainly because membership on the team was determined by a Senior National Team tryout camp, as opposed to direct selection which had formed the "Dream Team" squads from 1992-2004. The new effort, spearheaded by Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski, was a response to the 2004 Olympics debacle, in which the United States finished sixth, displaying uninspired and disorganized play against finely-tuned, more cohesive squads from around the world.
The 2006 team's bronze-medal performance was considered disappointing by most, but I thought it was generally a good step forward. The US lost to an amazingly hot-shooting Greece team in the semi-final, before defeating Argentina - a team featuring a number of good NBA players that many thought would "teach us a lesson" in international-style basketball - by 15 points in the bronze-medal game.
Long story short, the US doesn't need to blow up the whole program and start over. However, I do think that minor changes should be made in both personnel and playing style. Below I have listed which players I would take to this summer's tournament if I were the head coach. There are two assumptions on which this roster is premised: (1) Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince will all stick to their previous decisions to not participate in the Olympic program and (2) Dwayne Wade will probably take the summer off to recover from his shoulder injury.
OK, here goes (starters in bold):
In my opinion, the main problem with our previous unsuccessful basketball squads has been a lack of definition of player roles, caused by a selection process based more on reputation andmarketing concerns than creating a good basketball team. Since 1992, the US has picked teams almost exclusively of guys that led their NBA teams in scoring. Most basketball players know that a good team needs both stars and players that fill specific important roles such as rebounding, ball distribution, defense, and hustle. In Team USA's case, it has been difficult to ask guys who average 25 points per game in the NBA to defer scoring responsibilities to guys who average 27 - it's still Mr. 25ppg's instinct to want to score, and this greatly disrupts offensive flow. The starters on my team are all good scorers, but the starting lineup is largely assembled to assuage certain egos. Reserves like Josh Howard, David Lee, and Deron Williams would get a lot of playing time, mainly because they have proven (1) while talented offensive players, they are willing to defer to more prolific scorers and (2) they are willing to defend people aggressively.
The toughest guy to cut from this year's crop was Shane Battier, a very smart player who always hustles, plays great defense, and is a decent three point shooter to boot. That said, I think this squad wins the tournament this summer, but only if they find a way to get LeBron James to (1) score without dominating the ball as much as he does during the regular season with the Cavs and (2) defend people on the perimeter.