USA Men’s Basketball: What everyone should know before the gold medal game

Whenever there’s a conversation about USA Basketball, there’s always someone pontificating about the 1992 “Dream Team”  There should really be a special website for people who live in the past so they don’t keep cluttering up conversations about international basketball.

And then there are the guys always harping on USA because it sends NBA players instead of college guys. Sigh.

Today the best player on the floor when USA played Argentina was an NBA player that had 28 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks… and didn’t play for USA.

It’s a new world, and it is time to acknowledge and embrace it!

For years, USA smugly took its basketball superiority for granted and paid little if any attention to the fact that the rest of the world was getting better... until it was too late. And now, in these 2008 Olympics, history may be repeating itself.

It is very easy to be blasé about USA’s weaknesses when it is beating opponents by 20+ points per game, but a disturbing fact about these wins is that of the 7 games the USA Men’s basketball team has played so far in the 2008 Olympics, its worst two games were its last two.

If it happened once, it could be a fluke. But if it happened twice, it could be a trend.

The large margins of victory are lulling USA into bad habits and it is getting complacent, and sloppier.

Meanwhile, since its defeat to USA, Spain has been getting better. A lot better. In fact, Spain has held its opponents to 59 and 50 points, including opponents that USA allowed to score 76 points. And Spain has been having games with as little as 9 to 11 turnovers, as opposed to the 28 turnovers it had against the United States.

Think about USA’s last game against Argentina.

After the first quarter, USA was up 19 points.

When the game ended, USA was up 20 points.

That means that after USA’s big first quarter, Argentina played dead even with USA for the last 3 quarters, and they did it without Manu Ginobli, and with an injured Andrés Nocioni.

USA’s last two games were against Australia and Argentina.

Prior to playing Australia, USA’s opponents had been averaging 70.8 points per game. Argentina scored 81, ten more than that average. Australia scored 85, which is enough points to have won 12 of the games played so far in these 2008 Olympics.

And prior to playing Australia, USA’s opponents shot just 36.7 percent from the field. Australia shot 43 percent and Argentina shot 44.1 percent, again without Manu Ginobli, the scoring leader of the Olympics, and with Nocioni hobbling.

USA used to own the second quarter against its opponents, but today USA was outscored by Argentina in the second quarter 10 points! Outscored by 10 in 1 quarter?!

And while USA defense is visibly and statistically getting worse, so is its offense.

Argentina has ONLY played man to man defense in the Olympics, but after the first quarter injury to Manu Ginobli, Argentina packed the paint with zone defenders and gave a green light to USA from the arc. Not coincidentally, that is when USA’s breakdown started.

With 40 seconds left in the first half, USA was up by only 6 points and Doug Collins mentioned that 20 out of USA’s 33 shot attempts were 3 pointers! In other words, 61 percent of all shots taken, including put backs and face breaks, were from beyond the arc! That is incredibly bad shot selection.

You don’t think Spain is intrigued that USA basically took the shots Argentina told it to?

USA’s problem is not talent, it is decision making.

Kobe had no free throws. None. Question: was it bad officiating, or was he settling for  outside jump shots? Well, Kobe shot 5 of 14 (35.7%) overall, and was 2 of 9 (22.2%) from the arc. Since 9 of 14 of his shots were 3-pointers, it is safe to say Kobe made some a lot of very poor decisions.

I just wish Kobe was the worst culprit this game.

Carmelo Anthony
shot 3 of 14 (21.4%) overall, and 2 of 8 (25%) from the arc, and conducted himself in a manner that was an embarrassment to everything USA Basketball claims to stand for.

At half time, NBC aired an interview with USA coach Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K said that Jerry Colangelo and he want USA to “win on and off the court” and to “show respect to the rest of the world.”

With Coach K’s words about respecting the rest of the world still hanging in the air, track this 3rd quarter action:

8:15 – Carmelo Anthony and Luis Scola got in a tussle.

7:09 – Anthony ran from near the sidelines to pick a fight with Scola for giving a hard foul to Dwight Howard. It took all 4 of Anthony’s teammates to walk Anthony to half court and get him to knock it off.

6:30 – After a made jumper by Scola, with players running back down court, Anthony sought out Scola and unnecessarily bumped him, provoking another tussle.

5:38 – Anthony made contact with Scola then flopped to the floor. Anthony was called for the foul, gave up 2 points to Argentina and was finally benched by Coach K.

Carmelo Anthony is the poster boy for everything I hate about the NBA. He is disinterested in defense, plays hard only to score, is a thug on the court, and is an idiot both on and off the court, but no one cares because he is talented.

One of the most surprising things about this game was that, for the first time in the 2008 Olympics, this very deep team saw players play more than 30 of the 40 game minutes. Both Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony were granted that honor. While Kobe at least played defense and was a peace maker, Anthony was totally unworthy of the trust Coach K put in him that game.

Speaking of bad decisions, look at the turnover statistics of USA’s primary ball handlers:

Turnovers per Minute Played:
0.188 Jason Kidd
0.154 Lebron James
0.154 Deron Williams
0.095 Chris Paul
0.063 Kobe Bryant

On Sunday, USA faces Spain again. I hope USA has learned its lesson about taking opponents for granted, especially since there were anomalies in that first meeting that USA should not count on happening again.

– Spain committed 28 turnovers versus the United States, a number it hasn’t come close to before that game or since.

– USA shot 7 of 11 (64%) from the arc in the first half that game. For perspective, USA averages 36.4% from the arc for the Olympics.

– In the first meeting of USA vs. Spain, Marc Gasol had early foul trouble so Spain couldn’t press its size advantage.

– Spain foolishly tried to play at USA’s pace rather than slow the pace down to their advantage, a lesson Spain seems to have learned now given that opponents are only scoring 50 and 59 points since.

Because of the large margins of victory, USA’s 67 percent free throw shooting hasn’t been a factor. (Argentina shot 15 of 16 (94%) from the free throw line by the way). But that 67 percent number is a little deceiving. For instances, in this game against Argentina, two players combined to shoot 18 of 18 free throws, skewing the team’s overall free throw shooting performance.

If Spain wants, it can foul Dwight Howard (48.4%) and others with bench players, and pretty much count on getting the ball back while giving up just 1 point at the most.

With 20+ point margins of victory, it is very easy to be blasé about USA’s weaknesses.

Then again, in the past USA has smugly taken its basketball superiority for granted and paid little attention to the fact that the rest of the world was getting better… until it was too late.

It’s a new world, and it is time to acknowledge and embrace it, respect our opponents, and EARN the gold, and not just assume they plan on handing it over to you because you dominated in the past!

Playing basketball is a lot like shaving: no matter how good a job you did yesterday, you’ve got to get up and do it again today.

  1. 92wilkos92wilkos02-21-2011

    I was curious if you ever thought of changing the layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?

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