USA Basketball: 8n’t It Great?

USA GoldIt had been EIGHT years since USA Men’s Basketball had won an international competition. Then, in USA’s EIGHTH game of the Olympics, the so called “Redeem Team” joined Michael Phelp’s EIGHT gold medal performance as the biggest stories of the 2008 Olympics, which started on… 08/08/08.

That said, here are 8 observations about USA’s 2008 gold medal run think about.

— 1 —

If Team USA proved that USA Basketball is still number 1 in the world, it also proved its players have a short attention span when it comes to playing defense.

At the beginning of Olympic competition, USA was serious about defense, but then visibly and statistically let up as time went by. Check it out:

70.8 = Points per game allowed by USA in their first 5 games
91.0 = Points per game allowed by USA their last 3 games

36.7% = USA opponents shooting percentage first 5 games
46.2% = USA opponents shooting percentage last 3 games

Putting this in perspective, no other team in the 2008 Olympics allowed a team to score as many as 107 points like USA did versus Spain in the gold medal game, and Spain is less than half the size of Texas.

In fact, 107 points would have won every other game in the 2008 Olympics, and would be enough to have beaten USA in 5 of our 7 previous 2008 Olympic games.

And USA’s statistics for the gold medal game against Spain looked less like a “redeem team” performance based on the first 5 games of the Olympics, and much more like USA basketball has looked these last 8 years, when a talented USA team would sometimes fail to outgun their opponents.

Had USA not come up with enough points to win its shoot out with Spain, there would forever be doubt in the minds of USA basketball. If a 3 year commitment, a coach focused on TEAM play, and a group of players like this couldn’t bring home the gold, who could?

Spain will be back (see #5), and when it does, USA better have a longer lasting commitment to defense than it did this year.

— 2 —

Praise and accolades are being heaped upon Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade for their heroics in the gold medal game.

Dwayne Wade carried USA early, when Bryant and LeBron James were benched with foul trouble, scoring 21 of his 27 points in the first half.

Then at clutch time Kobe Bryant came through, scoring 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.


The rest of the truth is that those two shooting guards allowed Spain’s 2 shooting guards to combine for 40 of Spain’s 107 points. (Fernandez 22, Navarro 18)!

In fact, they allowed Spain’s shooting guards to score so much that despite their heroics, Bryant and Wade were actually only +7 over their counterparts for Spain.

Remember, Navarro washed out of the NBA after playing 1 year for the Memphis Grizzlies, and Fernandez will be an NBA rookie this fall!

There is something seriously wrong when THOSE 2 players combine to score just 7 points less than the scoring performance everyone is praising Kobe and Dwayne for, and the thing that was seriously wrong was Kobe and Dwayne’s defense.

Earlier in the tournament, when USA cared about defense, Fernandez and Navarro combined for just 13 points against USA.

And while Dwayne Wade did have 4 steals, most if not all came by leaving his man and gambling on a pass. In reality, Spain’s guards were never pressured.

The gold medal game was the least number of turnovers a USA opponent ever committed in the 2008 Olympics.

— 3 —

The final score was a little bit deceptive. Spain was actually better this game than the final score would leave you to believe.

With 26 seconds left, USA got 4 free throws in a row, and possession of the ball, thanks to a foul and a technical foul on Ricky Rubio.

The flustered 17 year old Rubio then missed a lay up on the following possession.

Additionally, Spain’s highest scorer, Rudy Fernandez, fouled out with 3:10 left in the game.

There are easily AT LEAST 6 to 10 points in those end of game events, for which USA can take no credit. USA was just the beneficiary of some fortunate breaks.

After Spain’s first defeat to USA in pool play, Spain started playing better, and began holding its opponents to 59 and 50 points, including opponents that USA allowed to score 76 points.

Excluding their meltdown against USA, Spain is the only team that averaged less turnovers per game than USA (13.4 vs. 13.9). Given Spain’s improvements, USA should not have been surprised it would present more of a challenge than it did in their first meeting, and USA should have been prepared to defend better, rather than ease up.

28 = Turnovers by Spain vs. USA in pool play
14 = Turnovers by Spain in gold medal game

82 = Points by Spain vs. USA in pool play
107 = Points by Spain vs. USA in the gold medal game

39.4% = Spain’s shooting percentage against USA in pool play
51.4% = Spain’s shooting percentage against USA in gold medal game

— 4 —

Who did Coach K trust to bring home the gold?

On the floor at crunch time were:
– Chris Paul
– Duane Wade
– Kobe Bryant
– LeBron James
– Chris Bosh

And considering Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were in foul trouble since the first quarter, it is interesting who still ended up playing the most minutes:

28 minutes – LeBron James
27 minutes – Kobe Bryant
27 minutes – Dwayne Wade
24 minutes – Chris Paul
23 minutes – Chris Bosh

* Notice how USA starters Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Jason Kidd are not in either of those two lists?

World class blogger, Basketballogy, known for his astounding basketball intellect (not to mention his fine collection of mouse pads and his lovely singing voice), once pointed out that USA basketball’s problem is not talent, it is decision making. This is especially true of Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, although both are young and have lots of time to grow in this regard.

— 5 —

While USA disbands this team, searches for a new coach, and organizes its next group for a 3 year commitment, it hopes the pattern set by the “redeem team” will keep USA on top.

However, Spain promises to be a force the London Olympics as well. Spain’s young back court includes Rudy Fernandez (23), and Ricky Rubio (17), Jose Calderon (26), and Juan-Carlos Navarro (28), and its front court includes Pau Gasol (28), Marc Gasol (23), and Felipe Reyes (28).

And next time, Spain will be bringing the “redeem team,” in a push to get their gold medal back.

— 6 —

Dwight Howard shot 45.9% from the free throw line for the Olympics, which is worse than Spain’s 3 point percentage in the gold medal game (47.1%).

I am still high on Dwight Howard, but clearly he was not the best center (after Yao Ming) at these games. In fact, Dwight wasn’t even the best center playing for USA.

It will be interesting to see how NBA fans vote for the 2009 All-Star game, with both Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard in the east.

Additionally, Pau Gasol probably upped his stock in the eyes of NBA fans. In fact, I’d be very surprised if Shaq didn’t take a back seat in the 2009 NBA All-Star game to both Yao Ming and Pau Gasol.

— 7 —

Why don’t more players learn to shoot the runner? Juan Carlos Navarro, and his 18 point gold medal performance against world champion USA, certainly showed how effective the runner can be at the highest levels of basketball… as if France’s Tony Parker hadn’t already proved it.

Opposing defenses don’t even get their knees bent to jump before the shot is off.

The runner makes dribble penetration so much more deadly, and causes defenses to back off and give you open 3s.

If you had a deadly runner, a deadly 3, and were a good passer, I’d let you play on MY team!

— 8 —

This was a 2 point game in the fourth quarter.

It was a 4 point game with 2:29 left to play.

It was a 6 point game with 1:52 left to play.

USA was just +2 in the fourth quarter, +1 in the third quarter, and +1 in the second quarter.

USA had to shoot an insane 70.3 percent from 2 point range to pull this win out.

All of Spain’s statistics, including its shooting percentage were within normal ranges.

And Spain was +6 on rebounds.

The odds of USA pulling off a performance like this again are not at all has high as Spain’s odds at hitting their numbers again.

USA has superior depth, quickness and athleticism. If it will put that to use on the defensive end of the court, it won’t have to rely on unlikely performances to bring home the gold from London in 2012.

— Bonus —

Lately I’ve been noticing that the number of comments on a blog is in inverse proportion to the amount of time I spend on it, so I’ll be lucky to get 8 comments.

Nevertheless, here are 8 great Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski quotes for your enjoyment.

(1) “A basketball team is like the five fingers on your hand. If you can get them all together, you have a fist. That’s how I want you to play.”

(2) “A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on “x’s and o’s” as compared to time spent learning about people. Making shots counts, but not as much as the people who make them.”

(3) “I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”

(4) “I believe God gave us crises for some reason—and it certainly wasn’t for us to say that everything about them is bad. A crisis can be a momentous time for a team to grow—if a leader handles it properly.”

(5) “I had a really bad temper, when I was growing up. Sport helped me channel that temper into more positive acts.”

(6) “I always won in my imagination. I always hit the game-winning shot, or I hit the free throw. Or if I missed, there was a lane violation, and I was given another one.”

(7) “A leader may be the most knowledgeable person in the world, but if the players on his team cannot translate that knowledge into action, it means nothing.”

(8) “A leader has to be positive about all things that happen to his team. Look at nothing in the past as failure.”

  1. jorgejorge09-03-2008

    Congratulations from Spain for the gold medal! It was one of the greatest matches I ever watched!

    Anyway, it was a pity that the referees didn’t call all the travelling that us players did… 🙁

  2. Pleace let us be well-informed , when you are going to publicize some new articles. You are awesome writer.

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