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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Team USA Opens Exhibition Tour With 120-65 Win Over Canada

Team USA began its five game pre-Olympic exhibition tour with a 120-65 win over Canada in the State Farm USA Basketball Challenge at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Michael Redd led Team USA with 20 points each. Anthony added six rebounds and three assists, while Wade had three rebounds, two assists and three steals and Redd shot 6-8 from the field, with all of his attempts coming from three point range. Kobe Bryant contributed 15 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals while filling the defensive stopper role that he has played with perfection since joining the squad last summer for the FIBA Americas tournament. Dwight Howard scored six points on 3-3 field goal shooting and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds as Team USA enjoyed a 38-24 rebounding advantage. Jason Kidd had a stat line that belied his real value to the team: five rebounds, zero assists and zero points (he did not attempt a field goal or free throw and was the only Team USA player who did not score). What those numbers don't show are how Kidd defended tenaciously, continually pushed the ball up the court and threw several great passes that resulted in scores but were not assists--not to mention the leadership that he provides for this team on a daily basis in practice. Team USA often used Chris Paul and Deron Williams at the same time, with Bryant sliding over to small forward; Paul had 11 points and a game-high eight assists (one more than Canada's entire team), while Williams added 14 points and five assists.

LeBron James did not play due to a sprained ankle. Wade started in his place and thus there were about 20-25 extra minutes of playing time to distribute, so it will be interesting to see whose minutes get cut once James returns; Wade will be the sixth man but he will probably play about the same number of minutes that he did in this game (18). Last month, in the comments section of my Analyzing Team USA's 12 Man Roster post, I predicted that in the Olympics Howard will average about 20 mpg, with Chris Bosh and Boozer each averaging about 10 mpg. Howard played 19 minutes against Canada, Bosh played 14 and Boozer made an eight minute cameo appearance. Certain matchups, foul trouble and/or injuries could of course change things in a given game but at the end of the Olympics I am confident that their minutes will indeed average out to right around 20-10-10.

ESPN broadcast this game, with Rick Kamla doing the play by play and Fran Fraschilla providing color commentary. Just before tipoff, Fraschilla listed three keys for Team USA:

(1) Build chemistry
(2) Establish pressure defense
(3) Make outside shots

These teams played almost a year ago in the FIBA Americas tournament, with Team USA improving to 3-0 after a 113-63 win that was remarkably similar to this contest in several respects: last year Team USA led 28-21 after the first quarter, 65-34 at halftime and 95-49 after the third quarter, while Team USA enjoyed 30-24, 61-38 and 95-56 leads respectively after the first three quarters this time around. Last year, Anthony led Team USA with 25 points, Redd scored 19 points and Bryant had 15 points.

Canada may be the weakest squad that Team USA faces this year but Canada was game ready simply by virtue of the fact that they had just played in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Athens (Canada lost to Croatia 83-62 and will not participate in the Beijing Olympics). It is interesting to see to what extent preparation can be an equalizing factor even for an overmatched team like Canada (yet another reason it is important for Team USA to not only insist on a three year commitment by players but also to play these kinds of exhibition games prior to the main event): Team USA looked sloppy in the first quarter, committing numerous turnovers and allowing Canada to shoot 5-8 from three point range. While people often talk about how important it is for Team USA to make three point shots, I have consistently maintained that it is even more important for Team USA to do a good job defending against the three point shot: most FIBA teams rely heavily on three pointers and if you take that weapon away from them their offenses are much less effective. The FIBA three point shot is only 20'6" (compared to 23'9" around the arc in the NBA and 22' in the corners) and the reality is that everyone on Team USA can make that shot fairly easily except for Howard, Boozer and possibly Bosh, three players who should not be shooting from that far out anyway; you don't have to be an NBA three point specialist to make 20 foot jump shots.

Team USA only led 30-24 after the first 10 minutes and neither team had scored a fast break point; the significance of that statistic is that Team USA will probably never execute a half court FIBA offense as well as well as FIBA teams that have played together for years so it is vitally important for Team USA to force turnovers and score in transition. Team USA's defensive intensity and focus picked up noticeably in the second quarter. Bryant forced a turnover that led to a fast break opportunity for Redd, who was fouled and split a pair of free throws. Normally, teams attack a defensive weak link, not a defensive strong link, but for some inexplicable reason Carl English went one on one versus Bryant on the next two possessions, missing shots both times. Bryant drove to the hoop and dished to Boozer, who was fouled and made two free throws. Then Canada hung English out to dry, having him bring the ball up the court against Bryant with no help; naturally, Bryant ripped English cleanly and sailed in for a fast break dunk and a 35-25 lead. Fraschilla mentioned several times that in FIBA--unlike the NBA--there are no rules against hand checking and consequently the perimeter play can be very physical. Bryant noticeably takes advantage of that difference, playing a much more physical and aggressive brand of defense in FIBA competition than he would be allowed to in the NBA; Kidd and Wade also do this and hopefully all Team USA perimeter defenders will adjust to this as well.

Late in the second quarter after Deron Williams drove to the hoop, looked to pass and drew a foul, Fraschilla observed, "If there's anything going on right now it's almost too much unselfishness by Team USA. A lot of the turnovers in the first half are caused by guys who are supposed to be big-time scorers trying to make the unselfish play."Anthony and Wade led Team USA with 12 points each in the first half, shooting 5-9 and 4-4 from the field respectively, while Bryant had nine points on 4-5 field goal shooting.

Neither team did much posting up and even though Canada is not a strong FIBA team this is typical of what to expect in FIBA play and illustrates the value of having a roster full of versatile perimeter players as opposed to one overstocked with superfluous post players. Keep in mind that Anthony is a great power forward in FIBA and that James is essentially the same size as Boozer and Boozer's Utah predecessor Karl Malone, so there is no reason that James cannot play power forward if necessary.

The second half was essentially "extensive gar-bage time," as Marv Albert would put it; Canada never seriously threatened. As the final horn sounded, Fraschilla said of Team USA's performance, "Impressive team chemistry. The defense was solid, the outside shooting was pretty solid. There is still some work to be done. They'll get better and better. It will be an interesting Olympics and it won't be easy."

Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski was pleased with his squad's pick and roll defense, an area that has been Team USA's fatal weakness in recent FIBA events. After the game, he said, "Two years ago (in the FIBA World Championship, where Team USA settled for the bronze medal) we didn’t X and O, we didn’t have time in building our infrastructure and all that, we weren’t as good X and O wise as we are now. We’ve taken the input from these guys of how they wanted to defend it, we studied it, we have a good plan. We have I think a very good plan against it and then you have to execute the plan. A lot of it is making sure that the pick and roll is played by five guys and not two."

Kidd added, "Defensively we played well, we just have to work on not giving up so many 3-point shots, and then just taking care of the ball and getting good looks." Although Team USA held Canada to .333 field goal shooting, Canada shot 9-23 from three point range (.391) and they had too many open looks from deep, particularly in the first quarter. Team USA shot 11-22 from three point range but many of those treys came when they already had a huge lead and it is not hard to do the math and calculate that if they had made no three point shots they would have still won by 22 points. The number one key for Team USA is to play good pressure defense: that will shut down the three point shooting of opposing teams while also making it difficult for teams to establish a postup game.

Just like I did during my coverage of last year's FIBA Americas tournament, I tracked the on court/off court numbers of several Team USA players. Team USA outscored Canada 67-40 when Bryant was on the court and 53-25 when he was off the court. Carmelo Anthony played the vast majority of his minutes alongside Bryant, so his numbers were very similar (69-43 and 51-22 respectively). The blowout gave Coach Krzyzewski the opportunity to play Kidd for just 16 minutes; Team USA outscored Canada 47-25 when he was on the court and 73-40 when he was off the court. Team USA outscored Canada 52-29 when Dwyane Wade was on the court and 68-36 when he was off the court. Of course, these numbers are skewed a bit by the production of the reserve players when the game was well in hand, so it is perhaps more significant to note that Team USA outscored Canada by 15 (41-26) in the first half when Bryant was on the court, by 14 (41-27) when Anthony was on the court, by 13 when Wade was on the court (30-17) and by 12 (25-13) when Kidd was on the court.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:14 AM

19 comments

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19 Comments:

At Saturday, July 26, 2008 1:28:00 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

"Jason Kidd had a stat line that belied his real value to the team: five rebounds, zero assists and zero points (he did not attempt a field goal or free throw and was the only Team USA player who did not score). What those numbers don't show are how Kidd defended tenaciously, continually pushed the ball up the court and threw several great passes that resulted in scores but were not assists--not to mention the leadership that he provides for this team on a daily basis in practice."

I'm a Mavs fan and this is somewhat surprising to me. He looked done this past spring after the trade. Is some of his increased effectiveness due to his game being more FIBA compatible at this point, being surrounded by much more talent where the ball can't be funneled to him to score, or not having a coach that is an idiot? I'm not very optimistic about Dallas for this upcoming season. I'd be interested to hear what you think the Mavs can do this year with a full training camp with Kidd and a coach who won't have him go stand in the corner on the weak side as a spot-up shooter.

 
At Saturday, July 26, 2008 2:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel:

I think that all of the factors you mentioned are important, though I would not describe Avery Johnson as an "idiot"; after all, Johnson led the Mavs to the Finals one year and in another year he guided the team to one of the best regular season records in NBA history.

Keep in mind that Kidd has far more FIBA playing experience than any other player on Team USA's roster and that he has never lost a game in FIBA competitions. Also, on this team he is only expected to play 15-25 mpg, which is obviously a lot different from playing 35-40 mpg for an 82 game NBA season plus the playoffs.

Being surrounded by great talent also helps but by the same token Kidd also makes things easier for those talented players by playing excellent defense, by helping out on the boards and by running the show offensively from the standpoint of getting everyone else involved.

Kidd arrived in Dallas in the second half of the season and seemed to be bending over backwards to fit in on the team. He is best suited to play in an uptempo style and the Mavs probably did not play at a fast enough pace to take advantage of his skills.

That said, his numbers as a Mav were not terrible: in 29 games, his field goal percentage, three point percentage and free throw percentage were all higher than his career averages and his rebounding and assist averages were right around his career norms despite playing less mpg than he has during his career. His scoring was down but that was because he took much fewer shots than he normally does.

Chris Paul clearly got the best of the Mavs in the playoffs, particularly in the first two games when they trapped him poorly, allowing him to score 30-plus points and get 10-plus assists in each of those games. I think that you have to play Paul one on one, live with the points that he scores and not trap him in ways that allow him to easily find his teammates. Paul is the best pg in the NBA right now but Kidd still has something left and he is a very valuable member of Team USA, even though his numbers will not show that.

 
At Saturday, July 26, 2008 3:04:00 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

I agree that you go under the screen on Paul, pack the lane and force him to beat you with jumpers. You live with what he does in that scenario. That's what the Spurs did. New Orleans is a great team, so maybe that isn't sufficient, but I felt Dallas could've been more competitive in that series.

I probably shouldn't have called Avery an idiot, but it was clear by the end of his tenure in Dallas that the players were no longer responding to him and he was very, very stubborn in the way he ran the team. I completely agree with your takes on the Dallas-Golden State series and that the Mavericks fell into Nellie's briar trap. Avery also was badly worked over by Riley in the Finals. The Mavs should've run on the Heat like they did San Antonio, and if they had done that, they would've easily captured the title. What stuck in the craw of a lot of Mav fans is that he pretty much threw the players under the bus and failed to acknowledge how badly outcoached he was in those successive series.

I think the early success he had went to his head and he did not let his assistants have much input. I went to a lot of games this year and usually snuck down to right behind the Mavs bench. He was up out of his seat calling plays on almost every possession. Jason Kidd is not some seventh-grader in a YMCA youth league playing basketball for the first time; he doesn't need to have his hand held on the court. That said, it still doesn't look like they've overhauled the roster to play a more up-tempo style to take advantage of his strengths. Gerald Green and Shan Foster are pretty raw and probably won't be getting a lot of minutes this year.

Ian Thompson of Sports Illustrated has us ranked fourth in the Western Conference in his latest article, behind LA, SAS and NOLA. I don't think we're better than Houston or Utah, but the naive optimist in me is hoping that Carlisle can get better results out of this squad than Avery did and Josh Howard can return to form.

Keep up the good work, I like your stuff.

 
At Saturday, July 26, 2008 6:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel:

It took San Antonio a couple games but the Spurs finally defended Paul in the manner that you described and ultimately won the series. Popovich also made a nice adjustment by putting Bowen on Peja instead of Paul. Against New Orleans it is important to contain the other players because I don't think that Paul is going to bust out and get 50 points and win a game all by himself and you can beat New Orleans if Paul has 30 points but fewer than 10 assists.

Avery Johnson's stubbornness is a strength and a weakness (which is true of stubbornness in general). He certainly has the courage of his convictions about how the game should be played but that did lead to some inflexibility that cost Dallas in certain situations, particularly against GS and Miami as you described.

Right now I definitely don't think that Dallas is better than Utah. Houston is a wild card because the Rockets depend heavily on the health of two stars who are frequently injured. Every year I feel like making two predictions for Houston, one with T-Mac and Yao playing at least 70 games each (which may be sheer fantasy at this point) and the other with both of them missing a significant number of games.

 
At Saturday, July 26, 2008 9:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like your opinion on some "popular" views about Kidd.

1. He would have been a poor fit for the triangle because he can't shoot, blah blah...
2. He would have been a poor fit for the Cavs because he can't shoot blah blah...

One of the best ever at finding the open man and getting them easy baskets, having him feeding the league's leading scorer is just WOW! Not to mention he instantly makes the team into a top 5 rebounding unit. Spot up shooters contribute about 12 points/game anyway, somewhere around Kidd's averages if I'm not mistaken.

I think Kidd is perfect for the Cavs. I think if the Lakers traded Bynum for Kidd, Lakers win. (of course the trade doesn't look pretty if you didn't know they'd get Gasol for nothing)

Z

 
At Saturday, July 26, 2008 9:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I think that Kidd can fit into most systems because he is a very intelligent and unselfish player. He certainly could have helped in the Finals versus Boston with his toughness and defense.

LeBron would love playing with Kidd (as would most NBA players) because Kidd could take over the ballhandling and playmaking responsibilities and free LeBron to simply attack the hoop looking to score. The real world problem would be how much would Cleveland have to give up to obtain Kidd. The strength of the Cavs (other than LeBron) is their frontcourt depth--the source of their rebounding and defensive prowess--and if they have to weaken that too much to get Kidd then the deal might not improve the team that much.

This is all hypothetical now, of course, because Kidd is not on the market. Dallas just gave up young Devin Harris to get Kidd to try to win now with Dirk, so I don't think that the Mavs would even consider trading Kidd.

 
At Sunday, July 27, 2008 2:46:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

David - I was wondering if there is any difference between the Olympic basketball tourney and the FIBA one.
Aren't they both: professional and worldwide?

 
At Sunday, July 27, 2008 9:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yogi:

Both events are governed by FIBA (the International Basketball Federation) but the Olympics and the FIBA World Championship are two separate events. Spain defeated Greece in the gold medal game of the most recent FIBA World Championship (2006). Team USA won the bronze medal. Argentina defeated Italy in the gold medal game of the most recent Olympics (2004). Team USA also won the bronze medal in that event.

Team USA went 10-0 in last year's FIBA Americas tournament, winning the gold medal in that event to earn a berth in this year's Beijing Olympics.

 
At Sunday, July 27, 2008 4:21:00 PM, Anonymous tp said...

FIBA did not get recognition by the International Olympic Committe until very late in the movie. Early FIBA World Championships were drab affairs usually played in South America with few teams from Europe due to travel costs. NCAA did not even bother send a representation and it was usually the AAU that represented US. Basketball being admitted into the Olympics was a major event, but the FIBA World Championship did not really pick up until the seventies, and became a major basketball competition probably in 1986.

 
At Monday, July 28, 2008 12:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

TP:

I've followed American basketball for roughly 30 years and I have to admit that for most of that time in this country there has not been a great importance placed on winning the FIBA World Championship. Everyone was upset when Team USA lost to the Soviet Union in the 1972 Olympics after the officials kept replaying the end of the game until they achieved the "right" result and people were upset when the Soviets beat Team USA fair and square in the 1988 Olympics but between 1950 and 1990 Team USA only won 2 of 11 FIBA World Championships and no one was up in arms about that. As you said, we sent AAU teams that were not nearly as strong as our Olympic teams.

After the first (and only) Dream Team cruised to the Olympic gold medal in 1992, Team USA sent another squad of NBA players--the so-called "Dream Team II," which was a very good team but did not have the legendary, Top 50 star power of the original Dream Team--to the FIBA World Championship and that group also rolled to victory. In 1998, the NBA lockout led to Team USA being comprised of a mixture of college players and Americans who were playing overseas and that group fought its way to a hard earned bronze medal.

I think that Americans really first took notice of the FIBA World Championship in 2002 when Team USA sent an NBA squad and finished sixth. Then, in 2006 Team USA needed to a win the FIBA World Championship to automatically qualify for the Olympics but only won the bronze.

I vaguely remember hearing a little bit about the 1986 and 1990 FIBA World Championships but I don't recall paying that much attention to the event until "Dream Team II" clobbered everyone in 1994.

 
At Monday, July 28, 2008 3:24:00 AM, Anonymous tp said...

I don't know of pre-80s championships firsthand, but as far as I can tell early editions were kind of shabby (much like any other basketball competition, in fact). Teams did not qualify, they just showed up and were admitted, and most just refused to go due to high travel costs for a competition with little or no name. I think that it picked up in Puerto Rico 1974: the fans were there, the organization was top notch for the first time ever, and the play was great, with the US sending a squad almost of Olympic level and losing the rematch with the Soviets.

But the real jump to first line competition was 1986. Spain was coming off its first "golden age" (semis in 82, silver in 83, silver in 84, semis in 85) and they really put in the effort, building arenas and giving a good show. And then you had the surprise US win, when Muggsy Bogues stymied Drazen Petrovic and David Robinson battled Arvydas Sabonis. European basketball was also getting into a golden age of its own: Yugoslavia, USSR, Italy, Greece, Spain etc, and it didn't hurt.

If you compare US squads from 1982 and 1986 you can see a difference, one had Doc Rivers but featured "big" men such as John Pinone and Earl Jones, the other had Robinson, Armon Gilliam and any number of players named Charles Smith (quite hot prospects at the time).

 
At Monday, July 28, 2008 1:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

it's kobe and lebron team i could put any other 10 guys with kobe and lebron and they would win the gold aginst the rest of the world. there going to win because they have lebron and kobe and other great players but those two guys essentially i could put gheoge muresan and todd fuller as big man and they would still win the gold all this stategy is stupid you got lebron kobe and wade it's OVER.

 
At Monday, July 28, 2008 3:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Need I remind you that LeBron, Melo and Wade--plus many other big name players--were on the 2006 and 2004 versions of Team USA that settle for bronze medals? Winning a FIBA event is not about merely throwing together the biggest "name" players in the NBA; it requires putting together a team that is sound defensively and has practiced and prepared under FIBA conditions.

Kobe is even more important to this team than LeBron because of Kobe's defense and because of the way that Kobe has elevated this team's practice and workout habits.

 
At Tuesday, July 29, 2008 2:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

kobe more important maybe he is a better defender but you in the tank for kobe i expect that i think lebron a little better offensively than kobe so they both important to me jason kidd might be most important player though they all said that. lebron and kobe with anybody could beat the world 06 and 04 they didnt have kidd or kobe 04 doesnt count as much lebron wade etc was rookie.

 
At Tuesday, July 29, 2008 4:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I'm not "in the tank" for anybody. Steve Kerr told me how much of an impact that Kobe has had on the team and Kerr got his info straight from D'Antoni, a Team USA assistant coach. Coach K and Colangelo have both said that Kobe completely elevated the attitude and practice habits of the team. When I talk about Kobe's impact on Team USA I am reporting what the players, coaching staff and management are saying, plus what I observe by watching the games. I truly believe that if Kobe had been able to play in 2004 and 2006 then Team USA would have won the gold medal; the 2002 team was so messed up that even Kobe might not have been able to save the day.

LeBron is a very important member of Team USA but Kobe and Kidd are the two most important players, even though Kidd will not post impressive stats. Melo adds a lot offensively but he gives something back defensively, though I thought in the Canada game he played better defense than usual. CP3 and DWill have a growing role on this team and could maybe even be the starting backcourt in 2012 if Kobe does not play.

 
At Wednesday, July 30, 2008 4:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

in the tank meaning you overpraise kobe. he would of not won in 04 kobe couldnt fix that mess. perhaps 06 but that was a fluke game where greece shot 60 percent from 3 and like 53 from field. kobe is most important with kidd but one player cant make a 6th place finish 1st now he could make a 3rd place 1st like 06 04 and 02 had too many problems for even maybe the best player in the league to fix.

 
At Wednesday, July 30, 2008 11:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Did you pay attention to what I said? I specifically indicated that I don't think that Kobe alone could have carried the 2002 team to the gold medal. However, in 2004 and 2006 his defensive presence and overall leadership would have been enough to help those teams avoid the loss that kept them out of the gold medal game and then win the gold medal game once they got there.

 
At Thursday, July 31, 2008 7:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

i read what you said i disagree i dont think kobe was enough alone in 04 maybe 06 youre right he brings defense so does kidd they have enough talent around them kobe shuts the door down with kidd kidd leadership and kobe is big actually they have alot of young players

 
At Friday, August 01, 2008 2:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

The problem in 2004 was the game against Greece. Team USA would have won that game with Kobe spearheading the defense. The 2002 team lost several games, which is why I'm not sure that Kobe could have fixed everything.

 

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