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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Exclusive Interview with ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, Part II

Part II of my exclusive interview with Fran Fraschilla begins with the ESPN analyst revealing his thoughts about Team USA's roster composition. It is worth emphasizing why Fraschilla disagrees with those people who think that Team USA should have added another big man to the roster; he explains that FIBA play is more physical than NBA play, particularly on the perimeter, and that consequently it is vitally important to have many versatile players who can guard multiple positions on the perimeter. Fraschilla concludes, "I think that it is even more important to defend the perimeter than it is to defend the paint because the most dangerous players in this tournament are drivers, slashers and three point shooters--guys like Ginobili." I have been saying repeatedly for years that the main reason that Team USA failed to win the gold medal in several recent international events was that their perimeter defense broke down. That is why the addition of perennial All-Defensive Team guards Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd to the roster is a vitally important upgrade.

Friedman: "I look forward to a potential USA-Greece matchup with Kobe possibly guarding Papaloukas. Kobe loves challenges and Greece is a team that embarrassed Team USA and I think that would be interesting. To me, it would almost be like when the Dream Team was playing Croatia (in the 1992 Olympics) and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen wanted to show something to Toni Kukoc because the Bulls were wooing him with so much money. I mean there are different reasons involved in this case, but a lot of times great competitors find a reason--or invent a reason--to go to another level. Kobe is so highly motivated anyway it is almost ridiculous to even say that he could be more motivated but I think that he would take a game against Greece particularly personally as yet another opportunity to show why he is the best player, why he is different from the players who we sent over in previous years who did not win. Getting back to Team USA in general, what do you think of the roster composition? Do you think that we have enough bigs? Would you tweak the roster in any way?"

Fraschilla: "That’s a great question. I’ve thought a lot about this. You could make the argument that they could use another big--although the point is somewhat moot now that (Tyson) Chandler injured his toe and will not be able to practice with the team--except that my feeling about international basketball is as follows: the game is played from outside in, whereas in the United States in college and the NBA the game is played from inside out. What I mean by that, Dave, is so much of international basketball is predicated on the three point line and you’ll see a guy--and I know you’ve seen this--drive to the rim and it looks like he’s going to get a layup and all of a sudden he throws the ball back behind him because he sucked five defenders into the lane and then someone knocks down a three. I think that the way they’ve constituted this team with a lot of versatility on the perimeter and guys who can guard multiple positions--LeBron, for example, can guard the two, three or four, Wade can guard the one, two or three, Williams and Kidd are in that 6-3, 6-4 range, Tayshaun Prince can guard four and maybe five spots--you go down the line and I think that the way that the game is played they’ve got an ideal roster. The international game, as you know, is more physical than the NBA right now because (in the NBA) they won’t let you get away with any hand checking out front. What these guys found out in 2006 is that the international game is more physical and it is particularly physical out front. I think that the way that this lineup is constituted with the versatility and size on the perimeter it’s going to bode well. Strategically, here is the issue. American basketball has always taught to defend from the paint on out: that means on a drive you provide help, you take away the drive, you allow the kickout (pass) and then you contest the shot. You cannot play that way in international basketball. You have to play your man straight up and the other three guys on the perimeter just cannot leave their men or it’s suicide. So it really puts a premium on one guy defending the basketball so that his teammates on the perimeter do not have to help. That’s what I mean by the international game being played from the outside in. That is the biggest concern that I have, because if we get sucked in because in high school, college and the NBA we are taught to defend the paint, that is where I think that we can get in trouble because the three point shot is the equalizer in international play. We almost have to allow the ball to get to the rim so that people don’t get the open three off the kickout, which is counterintuitive by the way."

Friedman: "Doesn’t some of that have to do with FIBA’s trapezoidal lane so there is not as much post play as we are accustomed to seeing in America where we have the more traditionally shaped lane?"

Fraschilla: "Yes. The trapezoid affects international play and in particular this Olympics as follows: if you really analyze it, there aren’t a lot of post players in this tournament who you can throw the ball to and they will get a basket. You can put Yao in that category, you might put Scola at times in that category even though he is only 6-8, Schortsanitis when he is in shape and not in foul trouble is a factor inside, but there are very few guys who you are really going to have to double down on and force them to kick it back out. That is because of the trapezoid and also because of the way international play is constituted. That is why I think that it is even more important to defend the perimeter than it is to defend the paint because the most dangerous players in this tournament are drivers, slashers and three point shooters--guys like Ginobili. Guys like Diamantidis and Papaloukas for Greece. Calderon’s three point shooting. (Juan Carlos) Navarro’s three point shooting. It gets back to what we talked about earlier. The way that the team is constituted--minus a severe injury to one of the bigs--I think that they have enough bigs to handle the type of size that they are going to see."

Friedman: "I think that is what a lot of people are missing. It is a 40 minute game. If you assume that (Dwight) Howard will play 20 minutes, (Chris) Bosh and (Carlos) Boozer 10 minutes each, as you said these other teams do not have a preponderance of post players so if we add more and more post up bigs to the roster then those players are superfluous and they’ll be useless. What you really need to have is a steady stream of versatile perimeter players who you can shuffle in and out to keep them fresh so that they can play pressure defense and Team USA can run. We are probably never going to execute a half court offense in a FIBA context as well as these other teams do. Even with superior players we are not going to execute as well because we don’t practice this as much but if we can push the tempo, get stops and steals and score in transition--that is what Team USA’s game should be. To me, the last thing that they need is to put another post player on the team. Chandler was essentially useless—he was like the human victory cigar in the FIBA Americas tournament and he did not play unless we were up by 20 points. I don’t understand why there was such a clamor that Chandler should have been put on the team."

Fraschilla: "Yes and two years ago Brad Miller was basically a wasted roster spot as well. Here is the other thing strategically--because I know how much you love this--I always said as a coach that the first post defender is always guarding the basketball. For example, China’s backcourt is very weak, so when you pick them up right at the halfcourt line with guys like Kidd or Bryant or Deron Williams pushing that Chinese offense five, ten, twelve more feet away from the basket, that makes it that much harder to get the ball into Yao. That is why I always say that the first post defender is always the man guarding the ball. Secondly, one thing international teams are not necessarily accustomed to is the type of team that can switch (defensively) at three or four spots. Their offenses are very intricate and well executed with a lot of screens but the minute that you can switch back screens and down screens you present a lot of problems for a team that is a methodical, half court oriented team. Does that make sense to you?"

Friedman: "Yes and I agree with that. We’ll see what the ultimate results are but I think that this is the best team that the United States has sent into FIBA play since the 1996 Olympics for a lot of the reasons that you just described--the defensive versatility, the attitude, the preparation. Obviously, the competition is better than it used to be but just comparing the various Team USAs outside of who they are playing but just considering whether this is a roster that is prepared to win while playing the FIBA way I think that this is the best team we have sent out in a long time."

Fraschilla: "I think that the scary part is that even with everything that has been done right by Jerry Colangelo and the coaching staff the difference between Team USA and the other top four or five teams has shrunk dramatically since 1992. I think that’s a given. This team is going to blow through the preliminary round. Even when they play Spain, Spain’s new coach is not going to show all of his cards. They’ll take a 20 point loss to the U.S.--as long as they know that they are advancing to the medal round--in order to not show their whole arsenal, whether it’s a triangle and two defense or a two-three zone. The new coach of Spain, the coach of Greece, the coach of Croatia and the coach of Lithuania--these guys know what they are doing. My point is that there is going to be a stretch—probably in the quarterfinals or semifinals--where for five or seven minutes Team USA is going to face some adversity. There will be some FIBA referee calls that you scratch your head and wonder where they came from or they’ll be a couple threes that somebody hits with the shot clock running down. There will be two or three times during the competition that they will come up against some adversity and how they react will determine how smooth the road to the gold is. If you remember, they were up double digits against Greece in the first half and then they just fell apart once Greece figured out that they had no answer for the pick and roll."

Spain ultimately defeated Greece to win the 2006 FIBA World Championship. Spain just recently fired that squad’s coach--Pepu Hernandez--and replaced him with Aito Garcia Reneses but Fraschilla warns that despite this switch Spain must not be taken lightly.

Fraschilla: "Everybody is saying that Spain is in disarray but they’re not. They hired a guy who is probably the most well known coach in Spain and he has coached five of the 12 guys who are on the roster, including Gasol and Rudy Fernandez. I’m trying to think of a good example--it’s like firing someone who is coaching Kobe Bryant and then bringing in Phil Jackson."

Friedman: "They brought in someone who is more than capable of doing the job, even if most Americans don’t know who he is."

Fraschilla: "That is exactly right. I have a healthy respect for international basketball and I am as patriotic as they come but what I have enjoyed the past couple years as a coach and as a guy who gets a chance to call basketball on TV is that we now in America have more of an appreciation for the game globally. We have exported the game—Dean Smith, Louie Carnesecca, Hubie Brown and all the great coaches who went over there and did the clinics and helped coach national teams--and it’s all come home to roost, in a way. It’s healthy, in a way, because in America I see a greater sense from the grassroots level on up--high school, college--that you need to be fundamentally sound. Look at the next wave of players--Durant, Oden, Kevin Love, Brandon Roy and go down the list--these guys are all trying to learn to play the game the right way, just like Team USA has tried to do the last couple years. I think that it is going to filter down to the lower levels--not completely, because there is still a lot wrong with the game at the lower levels--but I think that the fact that international basketball has caught up to us has been an eye opener and will have a positive effect on our game from the NBA level on down."

Friedman: "You mentioned scouting and player evaluation a couple different times while answering some of the previous questions. You have a unique perspective because you were a college coach for a number of many years and now you have the opportunity to watch so many different teams and players while you are coming up with material to use during broadcasts. Explain the methodology that you use to evaluate players. Say that you are watching a player who you have not seen before and who you don’t have a lot of background information about but you are trying to figure out just how good he really is. What key things do you look for in that type of situation?"

Fraschilla: "That’s a great question. I loved your stuff with Kevin Mackey (A Scout's Eye View of the Game). We’re not close friends but I certainly am an admirer of his going back many, many years. I loved that stuff that you did with him. It’s funny, David, I think that the first thing is if you’ve watched enough basketball--and I grew up in New York in the playgrounds of Brooklyn and wanted to be part of basketball my whole life as a college coach and I’ve been lucky enough to be around the game probably for 35 years going back to when I was 15--you train your eye. That is the first thing. Anybody who evaluates--whether it’s college players for the NBA or high school players for college--I think that the first thing that you have to have is a trained eye. You have to know what you are looking for. In other words, it’s like the old story about the Supreme Court justice who said about pornography that he could not define it but he knew it when he saw it. I think that’s very similar to evaluating players; there are things that you see in a player instinctively that tell you that you have to watch this guy some more. So that’s the first thing: a trained eye. That comes from years of watching, coaching and being around really good players. I was lucky enough to coach 18 guys who played in the NBA. So, at every level you watch players and look for something that tells you that this guy is a little bit different; this kid has a good feel for the game or he’s athletic or his skill level is good and can get better. All those things are factored in right off the bat as you are watching somebody: you almost can tell ‘I don’t need to watch this guy over here anymore but I’m going to keep my eye on this guy because he may have something.’ The other thing I think is that being a former head coach when you look at players you are always looking at them from a coach’s perspective and asking, ‘Could this guy fit into a system? Could he fit into an offense or a defense? Could I incorporate a guy like that into my system?’ Or, if I was an NBA scout, having been a former coach, I would wonder if this guy could fit into the system of the coach of the team for which I was scouting. When I go to practice--I see about 50-60 college practices a year when I am calling these games--I look for attitude, coachability, basketball IQ, athleticism, skill level and it all becomes a combination of the above as to whether I think a guy can play or not. There are certain intangible factors and certain physical factors that have to be all added together."

On Wednesday in Part III of this interview Fraschilla offers his thoughts about statistical analysis and how it can best be utilized in the player evaluation process.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:10 AM



At Tuesday, July 22, 2008 5:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview. I loved both parts.
Can't wait for the tourney to begin!

At Tuesday, July 22, 2008 11:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is Eric. I really appreciated that opportunity to read the first two sections of your interview with Fran Fraschilla. This is great stuff!

Fran appears quite knowledgeable concerning basketball internationally and the about the game in general.

At Tuesday, July 22, 2008 1:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boozer has not the height to defend Gasol or Yao, Bosh is a weak defender and Howard -who was destroyed by Schorcianitis in 2006- may be in foul trouble pretty easily in a FIBA tournament. What I'm saying is that elite centers can do much more damage to Team USA than it seems.

Bryant guarding Papaloukas makes no sense, Papaloukas has no 3 shoot and is pretty slow. His game is based in his intelligence and knowledge of the game, but if you guard their team mates well he will be useless, since he is not a great scorer.
Plus, I don't see Kidd doing it that well against faster players like Spanoulis or Diamantidis. That should be Bryant's job.

At Tuesday, July 22, 2008 5:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yogi and Eric:

Thanks. There are at least two more parts still to be published, possibly more depending on how I break down the material.

At Tuesday, July 22, 2008 6:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I indicated in the interview and in my previous post about the roster, Howard will probably play roughly 20 mpg, with Bosh and Boozer playing 10 mpg each. Of course, matchups and foul trouble could tweak those numbers in certain games. So, Howard will spend most of the time guarding Gasol and Yao, not Bosh or Boozer.

Fraschilla made an excellent point that bears repeating: the first post defender is the player guarding the man bringing the ball up the court. With Kidd and Kobe providing great pressure against the opposing guards it will be difficult for other teams to get the ball into the post. China's guards are not good, so it will be very difficult for them to get the ball to Yao no matter who is guarding him.

Also, as Fraschilla noted and as I have been saying for years, FIBA basketball is played outside in, so none of these teams really tries to force feed the post anyway.

I don't know whether or not Bryant will guard Papaloukas. In the FIBA Americas tournament Kobe asked to guard the toughest perimeter player regardless of position, so I guess it will come down to whether Coach K wants to have Kobe hawking Papaloukas or chasing around Spanoulis or Diamantidis. I have this hunch that Kobe will guard Papaloukas at least some of the time but maybe I am wrong. Either way, with Kobe and Kidd playing perimeter defense it will be much more difficult for Greece to successfully execute the pick and roll action that killed Team USA the last time that they played.

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 4:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FIBA basketball is played outside in for several reasons, and one of them is that you usually have a big man stationed in the lane. My reason for thinking that another big man (or at least a really inside defensive big man instead of a Boozer or Bosh) is precisely that, you must contest the drive with your big men. Relying on your outer defensive crust is taking too many risks, I think. If Kobe or Kidd get injured or in foul trouble, or simply struggle in some matchup, you won't have the big men to step up and rescue you. I fully agree that inside defense starts at the backcourt, but you can't hope to deny the drive, contest the pass and challenge the three point shot, all with your backcourt. Spain has a good FIBA defender in Calderón, and Navarro tries even if it is not his forte - but they are superbly backed up by an array of imposing defensive forwards with one of the Gasol brothers for the last-ditch effort block. Team USA could find itself trying to grind out a win with Anthony and Boozer protecting the paint.

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 6:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You say that if Kobe or Kidd are out due to injury or foul trouble that Team USA will be in trouble but that is precisely why the team has so many versatile perimeter players. As Fraschilla and I both noted, guys like Chandler and Miller have been useless, spare parts in previous competitions.

We all agree that Melo is a weak defender but the theory is that his scoring will counter balance that. Team USA will be relying on Kidd, Kobe and LeBron to play good perimeter defense and Howard to contest anyone who gets to the rim. As Fraschilla said, even when FIBA players drive they are usually looking for the kickout pass, not to finish at the hoop. I just don't see interior defense being a big concern for this team in light of how the other FIBA teams play. Team USA is strong enough inside and will absolutely wreak havoc on the perimeter.

I actually do agree that if Kobe and Kidd are out of the game--and the game is close--that Team USA could have a problem but that problem would not be solved by putting Chandler into the game. It will be up to Wade or D Will or Prince or someone else to hold down the fort defensively.

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 7:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remain unconvinced that the rest of the perimeter players can provide the same defensive performance as Kidd and Kobe (except for Prince, who is a very good defender). Team USA boasts a wide range of versatile players who can match up in defense with three or four different positions... but their versatiliy looks dangerously close to the old joke of "capable of being equally inept at different positions" (I am referring solely to defense here, not offense). Quite frankly, I don't see opposing players blanketed by Wade or Redd, and even LeBron is more willing than knowledgeable in defense.

FIBA players don't usually finish at the hoop because they don't have the top athleticism of their NBA counterparts that'd allow them to overcome big men stationed in the lane, but if you take the big man out then you are inviting them to try. You can't have your cake and eat it, if you want your backcourt to stay with the shooters then you need your frontcourt to hold its own on inside defense.

Fraschilla is right, you can't have your perimeter players helping out in defense up to the hoop leaving the three point line unprotected, but you can't just "soak up" layups and dunks either.

Of course, it's not just adding one more big man and then leaving him anchored to the bench. It's working on a tactical wrinkle you can throw out when the going gets tough.

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 7:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You'll note that I never mentioned Redd regarding defense. I would have chosen Bowen instead of Redd; Bowen can make threes and he is a much better defender. Redd had good numbers in the FIBA Americas tournament but all he did was make open threes after Team USA had comfortable leads. I think that Redd's value to this team has been overstated by some people.

If Team USA is unfortunate enough to be without the services of Kobe and Kidd for an extended period due to injuries or foul trouble then I think that Team USA is in danger of losing to one of the better teams and I'm not sure that there is a roster choice or tactical move that can change that reality. Kidd is a great player and a great FIBA player and Kobe is simply the best player in the world, so it goes without saying that if they are both out that really hurts Team USA a lot. I just don't see how adding Chandler would provide insurance against that nightmare scenario.

Based on the commitment to perimeter defense that this version of Team USA displayed in the FIBA Americas tournament I think that Team USA will win the gold in the Beijing Olympics but there is no doubt that Kobe and Kidd are key components to the team. Similarly, if Argentina were to lose Ginobili and Scola then their chances would decrease. The first and only true Dream Team is probably the only squad that could have lost the services of several top players without missing a beat.

The bottom line is that Colangelo decided that it was more important to fortify this team with versatile depth on the perimeter than with several post up bigs and I happen to agree with his thinking in that regard. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.


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