Tuesday, August 14, 2007

USA Basketball is... fun... sort of...

So it officially appears that Team USA Basketball is headed back to where they were in 2002: The middle of the pack in international competition. After being embarrassed in the 2002 World Championships and finishing in sixth place, they again played poorly in the 2004 games in Athens, finishing with the bronze medal. After dominating the rest of the world since basketball became an Olympic sport, the US had finally reached a point where merely throwing their talent on the floor would not suffice. The low point came with their first game in the Athens games: A 92-73 blowout loss to Puerto Rico which was the first loss since NBA players came together to form the original “Dream Team” in 1992. After losing one arguably fixed game in 1972, and another in 1988, the United States lost three times (5-3) in the 2004 games. Something needed to change.

Editor's note: Keep in mind that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. This is like Taiwan engaging in a conflict with China, and the Chinese Government ultimately being overthrown by twelve 5'3 guys from Taipei.)

Enter Jerry Colangelo, former majority owner of the Phoenix Suns and major basketball guru. Team USA brought Colangelo in to assemble a team that would once again dominate the competition. Colangelo started out with a major strike against him: He hired Mike Krzyzewski as head coach of the team. Let’s count all of the times that a college coach leading professional players has been an effective move: ______________. Exactly. Krzyzewski’s first assistant was also Jim Boeheim. Okay, so we have one hall of fame college coach being backed up by another. Fanastic.
Then came the selecting of play, and believe it or not they did a great job here… at first. The problem with the 2002 and 2004 teams is that there were too many people who just wanted to score and not enough all around players. Having Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Michael Finley, Raef LaFrentz and Jermaine O’Neal starting might look great on paper, but who in that group is going to play a morsel of defense? No question about it, the worst decision in this span was putting Richard Jefferson on the floor in 2004. RJ started all eight games for the US, finishing the tournament 18 for 56 from the field (WOW) including 6 for 23 from the short international three point line (eek). The United States as a team shot 31% from the three point line for the tournament; a far cry from the 44% shot by their opponents. So clearly we can see a few problems: Too many hot dog swingmen, not enough distributors, too many crappy shooters, and no one who plays defense. How did Colangelo and his buddy Rudy Tomjanovich fix this? They fixed it by bringing in a few true pass-first point guards (Kirk Hinrich and Chris Paul), some great defenders (Hinrich and Shane Battier) and a few guys who can shoot the ball (Hinrich, Battier, and Carmelo Anthony). Hey, that Hinrich guy seems to be coming up an awful lot. Let’s take a closer look at how he and Mr. Battier did: Hinrich started three games, shot 46% from the three point line, and dished out 19 assists. Battier started five times, shooting 54% from the field, 48% from three, and grabbing 22 boards. Again, they were also probably the two best defenders on this team.
The team still had a few “why are they here?” players on the roster in Joe Johnson and Antawn Jamison, but for the most part the roster was solid. The team rebounded from the 11-6 performance in ’02 and ’04 by going 8-1 in Japan. USA basketball appeared to be on the right track. Now this:
Kirk Hinrich and Shane Battier (as well as newcomer Greg Oden) have withdrawn from USA basketball. Why? Because apparently their roster spots were going to be offered up to two of the following: Hinrich’s for Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams or Michael Redd, and Battier’s for Mike Miller or Tayshaun Prince. Nice work, Team USA. Mike Miller for Shane Battier. I hate all things Duke, and even I can’t wrap my head around that one. Let’s just go back to the mistakes that made the United States second fiddle to countries like Argentina and Serbia & Montenegro.
Alright, I should stop complaining and just throw out the twelve man roster that needs to be on the floor next summer in Beijing. After all, I am the smartest person in the world. Here it is:

Deron Williams, PG, Utah
Great defender, great point guard
Chris Paul, PG, New Orleans
Had 44 assists in Japan
Kirk Hinrich, PG, Chicago
Can shoot, can defend, can pass
Michael Redd, SG, Milwaukee
Maybe the best pure shooter in the NBA
Salim Staudamire, SG, Atlanta
I’m not even close to joking
LeBron James, SF, Cleveland
Too much of a freak to cut out
Carmelo Anthony, SF, Denver
Captain of the team, played well in 06
Shane Battier, PF, Houston
Best defender on the team
Elton Brand, PF, LA Clippers
Best face-up post player
Shaquille O’Neal, C, Miami
If you’re arguing with this, kill yourself
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando
Shaq the second
Tim Duncan, C, San Antonio
The only effective player in Athens

I don’t think many people can argue with the three centers. Those are guys who can dominate inside. Teams will never outrebound the US. The argument I’d foresee is, “what did Dwyane Wade do to deserve getting cut”. Well, I’d say it’s just that we don’t need him. He’s a 6’4 combo guard who isn’t a great shooter. Of course, he’s also one of the few guys I’m almost certain will be on the team. Oh well.
I still feel that the United States will go into these games as the country to beat, even though they haven’t won in any of the previous three major international events (2002: Yugoslavia, 2004: Argentina, 2006: Spain). Nonetheless, if it’s the same selfish, horsepoop brand of basketball that we saw in the previous Olympics, don’t expect too much from this group. If they play solid, inside-out team basketball, who knows: Maybe it’ll be 1992 all over again. …well, maybe ’96.

Editor's Note: Great input from my friend Matt once again: "I'm pissed about Hinrich leaving because he's the type of player I'd want to see on Team USA in like 2012 too, we need some longevity on a Dream Team."

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