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):

Chris Paul
Deron Williams

Kobe Bryant
Michael Redd

Carmelo Anthony
Lebron James
Josh Howard

Shawn Marion
David Lee
Chris Bosh

Amare Stoudemire
Dwight Howard

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.


Yuri K said...

I have long been of the opinion that the best long-term solution for international play is not to use collegeiate amateurs, or a dream team. No, instead we should field the current edition of the Harlem Globetrotters. Team cohesion? No worries there - and the Argentina Generals - I mean "National Team" won't be able to keep pace with our drop-kicks, finger-spins, and sass.

brian said...

What do you guys think about putting somebody like Emeka Okafor on the team?

Jake Taylor said...

Brian - Both Wade and I agree that, in the international game, it's helpful to have a big man who is good on the pick and roll, and few are better than Stoudemire in that regard. That said, I've always really liked Okafor a lot, and if a coach prioritized getting a shot-blocker, you couldn't do much better than Okafor. It's too bad there just aren't that many roster spots available.

wade garrett said...

Or minutes of playing time, for that matter. There are at least four or five power forwards who I would rank as being among America's top players, but even if you had enough roster spots for them, I don't think you could get more than a couple of them onto the court at any one time. Its one reason why Elton Brand, Lamar Odom and Al Jefferson wouldn't make my team.

Again, I'm not crazy about Lebron or Carmello, though the NBA wouldn't ever let them be left off the team entirely. If Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Tracy McGrady and Tayshaun Prince were willing to play, wouldn't you rather have any of them over either LeBron or Carmello?

McGrady and Prince are significantly better defenders; Allen, Hamilton and McGrady are significantly better perimeter shooters; all four of them can score without needing to handle the ball. More importantly, all of them are accustomed to sharing the limelight with players of similar talent, where as LeBron is suffering from Allen Iverson disease - he's not an inherently selfish player, but he's been the best player on a bad team for so long that he's losing his feel for running an offense that doesn't go through him. But because those players aren't participating, the NBA is going to cram "the next generation" down our throats until we're sick of them.

wade garrett said...

One reason Team USA struggled in 2002 and 2004 was that, without natural point guards, and with too many players accustomed to dribbling too much, they weren't able to get many easy baskets, other than off of the occasional turnover. One reason I think its important to have guys like Marion, Michael Redd, Amare and David Lee on the team is that they are guys wh can move without the ball, run lanes, and score without lots of dribbling and lots of turnovers. Its okay to have one guy like that (Kobe) on the floor at crunchtime, when somebody needs to be able to create their own shot, but too many Wade/Iverson/Carmello/LeBron types on the floor at once results in too many players who do the same things well, and too many other players standing around watching.

Anonymous said...

What about Chauncey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!