Despite the fact that American basketball showed some promising signs with their summer showing in International play, their 3rd place finish can’t be seen as anything else than a tremendous disappointment that further emphasizes the many problems that are evident with the lack of fundamentals and savvy starting at the Grassroots level of American basketball. And while many important measures have been taken to avoid the type of embarrassing efforts that characterized the selfish and stubborn teams sent to the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis and the 2004 Olympics in Athens, USA Basketball still suffers from a lack of understanding of what it takes to build the type of squad that can compete with the International powerhouses that routinely give the Americans fits when allowed to play under their FIBA rules.
Countless analysts have already touched on the very obvious deficiencies in this current team that came up when the going got tough for the US. They include the lack of ball movement and off the ball movement that the offense suffered from, as well as the fact that besides Kirk Hinrich, Shane Battier, and surprisingly enough—Carmelo Anthony (historically a poor 3-point shooter in the NBA)—there wasn’t a player who could consistently knock down shots from the perimeter when left open. Lebron James’ insistence on taking his man off the dribble and going one on one (as Fran Fraschilla correctly pointed out “going one on five”) every other possession perfectly exemplifies the way the US played right into the hands of what opposing defenses were trying to accomplish. The lack of defensive discipline in terms of going underneath screens on the pick and roll instead of switching (even if its true that the concept of a moving screen is not consistently enforced by FIBA refs) and complete lack of pride that almost the entire team (besides again—Hinrich and Battier) showed in their team defense can easily be solved by going deeper in exploring the problems the Americans faced. These issues along with the youth and inexperience of the American national team are all well established. Leaving the column at that without offering a long term solution would not be very productive, though.
The most obvious problem starts with the makeup and selection of the roster put together by Jerry Colangelo and co. Talent will never be an issue when considering the incredibly deep pool of stars that the USA Basketball has at its disposal at any given moment. On the contrary; what we are about to find out in the coming years is that more is certainly less when putting together a squad of this nature. Although Americans, with their SUV’s and Double Quarter-Pounders with cheese are famous for exaggeration and excess, the US would be well served to build a team off of, at most, one or two legit NBA superstars and then a group of hungry and more disciplined players that are willing to be “role players” in a collective effort.
Letting the Dwyane Wade’s, Carmelo Anthony’s and LeBron James’ of the world get some much deserved rest after grueling seasons and instead giving an opportunity to players who are used to being part of a supporting cast is the only way to emulate the type of International teams that are showing us the optimal way of succeeding in this type of setting. Mixing in some scrappy hustling role players in the mold of Josh Howard, Tayshaun Prince, Udonis Haslem, Eddie Jones, PJ Brown, Jameer Nelson and Bruce Bowen with a few experienced American players with a deep and thorough understanding of the FIBA game will make for a much better rounded group that can play the type of team and man to man defense that this current squad never had a chance to. Now that we’ve seen with our own eyes what are the aspects that work best in FIBA Basketball, why not actually try to build the team around players whose style of play is best suited to this style?
Adding proven Americans at the European level like Anthony Parker, Charlie Bell, Matt Bonner and Maurice Evans would give Team USA a dimension that was previously lacking. It’s foolish to expect that players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Brad Miller, Antawn Jamison, Joe Johnson and others who have never shown any type of ability or commitment to play stifling defense during the NBA season will be able to learn how to do so all of a sudden after three weeks of preparation.
Going away from the assembly of star power that just could not be benched and Coach K was either unwilling or unable to discipline through tough love the way his reputation as a college coach tells you he would is in Team USA’s best interest. Rather than addressing and calling out these NBA stars on their blatant and repeated mistakes (particularly on the defensive end) the way you’d expect him to at Duke, Coach K instead preferred to make arbitrary substitutions of three or four players at a time that aimed to postpone the problem and just hope it goes away.
We never saw the type of urgency in crucial moments from either the players or the coaching staff that you would expect on a stage of this magnitude. Watching the Greeks shredding apart the US defense with the greatest of ease and then seeing how the clinic the Spanish national team put on to show the world exactly how team defense is supposed to be played really emphasized the difference between the two squads. The Spaniards were not only incredibly active in their man to man defensive settings, they also showed a much higher level of commitment and better understanding of making rotations to help their teammates in the case that they got beat. This type of mental and physical toughness that the Spanish role players showed is a far cry from anything that 90% of the US squad needs to do as the unabashed stars of their respective NBA teams.
Another issue that hasn’t been touched on quite enough in the mass media is the apparent lack of Advance Scouting the US conducted on their very talented opponents. For the American coaching staff and players to continue to refer to well established International stars such as Theodoros Papaloukas, Vasilis Spanoulis, Dimitris Diamantidis and others as “#4…#7…and #13” is not only insulting to players that have earned their stripes and have been on the radar (at least here at DraftExpress) for years now, it shows the type of ignorance of International basketball that you would not expect to find six years removed from the last major tournament the US has won. The way these players were allowed to operate to their strengths at all times and never forced out of their comfort zone leaves serious question marks about the way the US was prepared for these games.
Speaking of preparation, it was nearly impossible for this team to get ready for the style of play they’ll be facing when given the task of dismantling mediocre non-European squads such as Puerto Rico, China, Korea and Brazil in the preparation games. Playing against a fairly washed up Italian national team and a soft underachieving Slovenian were the only true “tests” the US faced until they reached the semi-finals against Greece.
In a 3 or 5 game playoff type series like the Americans are accustomed to coming from the NBA their chances of succeeding would have been infinitely higher against Greece, but for the time being, the US will not be able to enjoy any type of consistent long term success until more steps are taken to put the team on a level playing field when stacking up with their International counterparts.
Suggested 15-man roster for the 2007 Tournament of Americas and 2008 Olympics:
PG: Kirk Hinrich, Jameer Nelson, Charlie Bell
SG: Michael Redd, Eddie Jones, J.J. Redick
SF: Anthony Parker, Shane Battier, Josh Howard
PF: Tayshuan Prince, Udonis Haslem, PJ Brown
C: Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, Matt Bonner
Nice article, i can appreciate the role player argument but he seems to be taking it just a bit too far adding relative unknowns (who the heck is Parker?) and average vets/journeymen like Brown, Bell, Boner, Jones and Haslem, Nelson and redick have no place on this team either.
where's the scorers in that squad?
i appreciate the too many scorers problem but he's overdone it..
maybe Rip Hamilton as 15th man, his mid range game may translate well to int'l play
thats maybe as strong as the US could be right now but the bigs still look weak, Brand, Bosh and Howard were'nt all that in this tourney, none looked totally at ease in int'l play...and i'm not sure about the 3 captains either...though you do need scorers i would'nt be against dumping two of them and bringing in maybe a defensive specialist (Prince) and another shooter (maybe Allen if he's up for it).