Team USA Needs Bruce Bowen More Than it Needs Michael ReddAccording to the "experts," Team USA has been "plagued" by "inconsisent three point shooting" in recent FIBA competitions. The addition of Michael Redd to this year's squad will purportedly solve what is alleged to be Team USA's greatest weakness. I have two questions for anyone who agrees with that line of thinking: Have you actually watched any Team USA games in the past several years? Have you looked at Team USA's statistics from those competitions? Complete understanding can only be obtained by both watching the games and examining the statistics; it is vitally important to observe how teams accumulated the numbers that they put up. For instance, bad perimeter defense can lead not only to open three pointers but it also can result in a layup being scored because other defenders got lured out of position trying to help the first player who messed up (just watch a tape of Team USA's 101-95 loss to Greece in last year's FIBA World Championships and you will understand what I mean).
I watched every game that Team USA played in last year's FIBA World Championships; my game stories about that event can be found in the 20 Second Timeout archives from August and September 2006. Let's take a closer look at what I wrote on September 5, 2006 in the wake of Carmelo Anthony's selection to the All-World Championship team. I noted that although Anthony averaged 19.9 ppg--the second highest scoring average ever by an American player in World Championship competition--his defensive deficiencies during the event were quite glaring and very costly. Those who believe that Team USA's problems happen at the offensive end of the court either don't understand basketball or are in denial of reality. The FIBA three point line is more than three feet closer to the hoop than the NBA three point line; Anthony shot .440 from three point range in the 2006 FIBA World Championships, Shane Battier shot .476, Kirk Hinrich shot .462 and the team collectively shot .369. More significantly, Team USA ranked first in scoring (103.6 ppg, nearly 15 ppg more than Spain, the team that won the tournament) and first in field goal percentage (.506) but only 16th (out of 24 teams) in points allowed (83.1 ppg), 16th in defensive field goal percentage (.462) and 13th in three point field goal percentage allowed (.349). Team USA's performance in the latter category was actually even worse than the middle of the pack ranking suggests, because if you remove the numbers from Team USA's blowout wins against outmatched teams from Australia and Senegal the percentage drops to .378, which would rank 21st. For those of you whose eyes glaze over when reading paragraphs that are loaded with statistics, here is the bottom line: in the 2006 FIBA World Championships, Team USA performed extremely well offensively but was mediocre at best defensively and struggled mightily to defend the three point line.
How can anyone watch the games or look at the numbers and think that the solution is to bring in more shooters? I am not against bringing in good shooters but Team USA's focus has to be on the defensive end of the court; they must do a better job contesting three point shots and they must be more effective in their pick and roll defense. Team USA was one of the best rebounding teams in the 2006 FIBA World Championships and those numbers would be even better if they improved their defensive field goal percentage; that in turn would lead to more fast break opportunities and more layups, making Team USA's offensive statistics even more impressive.
Michael Redd is a very good player--but the idea that his shooting prowess will save Team USA is absurd. The competition in the upcoming FIBA Americas tournament is not as good as what Team USA faced last year but when Team USA faces the very best squads in next year's Olympics the deciding factor will not be how many three pointers Redd makes but how well Team USA plays defensively. Bruce Bowen is an outstanding three point shooter from either baseline and a much better defender than Redd and could actually make a more valuable contribution to this team. Anthony is not a great NBA three point shooter but, as noted above, he put up Reggie Miller-like numbers in the 2006 FIBA World Championships by feasting on FIBA's short (20'6") three point line. Kobe Bryant can shoot easily from that distance, as can Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups and even Jason Kidd, who does not have a great overall field goal percentage but makes a decent percentage from behind the NBA's 23'9" three point arc. Literally half of Team USA's roster can very comfortably shoot FIBA three pointers even if Redd and Mike Miller were not added to the squad--but if Redd, Miller and Anthony have bewildered looks on their faces as opposing teams lose them in pick and roll plays and nail open three pointers, then Team USA could fall short of its goal. That will not likely happen next week but it could be a problem in the Olympics.
Team USA can change the active roster before the Olympics; even if there are some defensive lapses in the FIBA Americas tournament, Team USA will probably still win the gold and then the powers that be can reevaluate what the team's real needs are before heading to Beijing in 2008. Also, when Team USA has to get defensive stops Bryant and Kidd will most likely be on the court--barring injury or foul trouble--and they figure to provide a defensive presence on the perimeter that Team USA has not had for quite some time. Still, it only takes one bad defender to break down a team's defense. Veteran FIBA teams are masterful at running pick and roll plays and at driving to the hoop and kicking the ball out to three point shooters and it takes a good team defensive effort to deal with all of that ball and player movement.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:49 AM