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Friday, August 17, 2007

Team USA Roster Taking Shape One Week Before FIBA Americas Tournament

The FIBA Americas tournament begins next week in Las Vegas, featuring ten teams fighting for two spots in the 2008 Olympics; the third, fourth and fifth place finishers will earn one last opportunity to qualify for the Olympics in the 12 team FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which will be held in July 2008. Team USA is in Group B with Brazil, Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela, while the Group A teams are Argentina, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico and Uruguay. Team USA will play Venezuela on August 22, the U.S. Virgin Islands on August 23, Canada on August 25 and Brazil on August 26. All of Team USA's games will be televised. The remainder of the tournament's schedule will be determined after group play concludes.

The United States has gone 26-0 in its last three FIBA Americas tournament appearances, winning gold medals in 1992, 1999 and 2003 (the United States qualified for the 1996 Olympics as the host country and thus did not play in the 1995 FIBA Americas tournament).

Brazil's team includes four current NBA players--Rafael Araujo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene and Anderson Varejao. Argentina has Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola but Manu Ginobili will not be participating, while Puerto Rico has Carlos Arroyo and Jose Juan Barea; you may recall that Puerto Rico defeated Team USA (which had a much different roster than it will this time around) 92-73 in the 2004 Olympics. Of course, all of these countries have set national teams, whose rosters only change due to injuries or retirements. Team USA has 32 players, from whom a final roster of 12 is selected before a given event. Team USA will not have the same team in Las Vegas that it did in the 2006 FIBA World Championship and probably will have a slightly different squad for the 2008 Olympics (assuming that Team USA qualifies, which should not be a big problem).

On July 17 I predicted who the final 12 players on Team USA's roster would be, suggesting that "Kobe, LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Amare, Battier, Howard, Hinrich, Kidd and Williams seem to be mortal locks to make the team." I added that Kevin Durant and J.J. Redick had no chance to make the team and that Tyson Chandler and Mike Miller would probably be left out as well, which would leave Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd fighting for the last two spots. Since then, a lot has happened; Battier and Hinrich withdrew from consideration for personal reasons and Bosh will not be able to play due to plantar fasciitis. Nick Collison has been added to the group that is currently training in Las Vegas but there is little chance that he will be on the 12 man roster.

A big key for Team USA this time around--and hopefully in the 2008 Olympics as well--will be the presence of Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd in the backcourt; this should result in much improved perimeter defense and an offense that runs more smoothly in the halfcourt set. As I wrote several times last year, including this post after Greece beat Team USA, there are three keys for a Team USA victory in FIBA competition: (1) Defending the three point shot; (2) containing dribble penetration; (3) being able to score not only in transition but also in the halfcourt set. Team USA's losses in various FIBA competitions in the past few years have stemmed from shortcomings in one or more of those areas. If Team USA does well enough in the first two areas then it should have so many open court scoring opportunities that halfcourt execution will not be quite as vital. In other words, while many people clamor for Team USA to add shooters to the squad, I would focus on adding guys who can defend against shooters. Team USA does not need to make a lot of three pointers to win but its opponents do--and its opponents also use the threat of the three point shot (which in FIBA play is a 20'6" shot, not a 23'9" shot like it is in the NBA) to open up driving lanes.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 AM

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