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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Team USA Improves to 2-0 With 97-76 Win Over Angola

Team USA played sloppily at times but defeated an overmatched Angola 97-76 to improve to 2-0 in preliminary round play. Dwyane Wade again led Team USA in scoring with 19 points, shooting 6-8 from the field. Dwight Howard scored 14 points on 6-6 shooting and LeBron James put up another well rounded stat line: 12 points on 5-7 shooting, a team-high five assists, two rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot, a spectacular spike worthy of Karch Kiraly. Carmelo Anthony added 12 points and a team-high six rebounds, though his totals were boosted significantly by extended minutes in garbage time when the other starters were no longer in the game. Kobe Bryant shot 0-8 from three point range--which is highly unusual considering that the 20-6 FIBA three point shot is a midrange jumper for Bryant during the NBA season--and he finished with eight points, four rebounds and two steals. Carlos Morais scored a game-high 24 points for Angola, doing damage in the paint and from behind the arc (3-8 three point shooting), but he was also charged with 10 of Angola's 25 turnovers. Those miscues fueled Team USA's transition game, which proved to be very important because Team USA shot just 5-21 from three point range. Obviously, that is not good but I still maintain that people are making too big of an issue out of Team USA's three point shooting percentage. The important number is Team USA's defensive three point field goal percentage, which in this case was .290 (9-31). If Team USA continues to play that kind of defense then they will win the gold medal whether or not their players make the midrange jumpers that FIBA designates as three pointers. Case in point: designated three point shooter Michael Redd scored two points on 1-4 shooting (0-2 from three point range) and Team USA won easily.

Mike Breen and Doug Collins handled the broadcasting duties, this time for USA Network, which showed the game live. Craig Sager, on loan from TNT, provided the sideline coverage and he offered this interesting tidbit shortly after the start of the game: Angola Coach Alberto Carvalho told his team before the game that their goal was to lose by fewer than 40 points. That is not exactly shades of Knute Rockne but that lets you know two things--Angola's coach is a very realistic man and the statistics from this game are of limited value in assessing how Team USA will perform against the better teams. Bryant opened the game by missing a three pointer and Angola converted the rebound into a fast break dunk to take a quick 2-0 lead.

Bryant's three point bricklaying (he has shot 1-15 from long distance in the first two games) is sure to be much discussed. I think that Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo should have replaced Bryant on the roster with Mike Miller so that the squad would have enough pure shooters. NOT--I just wanted to see if you are paying attention! Bryant shot 17-37 (.459) from three point range last summer when Team USA went 10-0 en route to winning the gold medal in the FIBA Americas tournament and he shot 7-19 (.368) from three point range when Team USA went 5-0 during their pre-Olympic exhibition tour--that adds up to 24-56 (.429) three point shooting during his 15 FIBA games prior to the Olympics. Bryant shot .361 from the 23-9 NBA three point distance last season and is a .340 career NBA three point shooter. In other words, at some point he is going to have a 6-8 game from the three point line and by the end of the Olympics his three point shooting percentage will be around its normal level.

Collins has a slightly different take: "Kobe is still adjusting right now to being a catch and shoot player. In L.A. he is a creator. He is a guy who makes plays for his teammates or does a lot off the dribble. In international play he is getting a lot of catch and shoots and right now he is just not comfortable." I respect Collins' expertise--he and Hubie Brown are the two best on air NBA analysts--and his experience as an Olympian, an NBA All-Star and an NBA head coach but I think that this is just an excuse for Bryant because, as noted above, he shot well from three point range in his previous 15 FIBA games. All that has happened is that in two games Bryant has missed shots that he normally makes; he is shooting very well from inside the arc and the rest of his game is on point, so this is a non-issue, even though some people will surely make a big deal out of it. Bryant's most important role on this team is defensive stopper and that job will be critically important against the better FIBA teams, one of which--Greece--Team USA will face in their next game on Thursday. Team USA must make Greece pay for the 101-95 loss the Greeks dealt them in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship and that is the primary reason that Bryant was added to the roster the next year: he may call himself "Black Mamba" or the "Doberman" but his task versus Greece is to be "the bill collector."

Team USA did not take the lead versus Angola until Howard rebounded a missed Bryant three pointer and dunked the ball to make the score 8-7. Around this time, Collins pointed out that in 1992 the score was tied 7-7 before the Dream Team hit Angola with a 46-1 run. Team USA did not take command with quite so much authority this time but they led 29-18 after the first quarter. Wade provided a nice boost off of the bench, scoring six points as Team USA closed the quarter with a 15-7 run after he entered the game. Collins cautioned that people should not read too much into the fact that Team USA did not immediately blow out Angola: "You can't go for the knockout punch even against Angola. The United States is the deepest team in the field--12 guys wear down the opposition over 40 minutes. That's the game plan." This is apparent by the rotation that Coach Mike Krzyzewski used and the way that the minutes were distributed: no one on Team USA played more than 22 minutes and everyone--even Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince, players who received minimal run previously--played at least 11 minutes. So people can look at the three point shooting or certain individual player statistics but nothing from this game's boxscore tells you anything about what will happen in the game with Greece. As Collins put it, "As the games get tighter you find out who the coach trusts."

As the second quarter began, Sager relayed a funny story about the Dream Team's victory over Angola, a contest in which Charles Barkley infamously elbowed an Angolan player after Barkley felt that he had been fouled but nothing was called. Sager spoke with current Angolan assistant coach Anibal Moreira, who played for Angola in 1992, and Moreira told Sager, "We thought Barkley was a bit deranged. It was not a sane reaction from a person playing basketball." Sager added that Barkley posed for a picture with the Angolan player after the game and that they became friends.

Team USA pushed the lead to 37-21 but Angola cut the margin to 39-32 and Collins said, "Very, very sloppy play by the United States. Right now they are playing down to their competition." During that sequence, Carlos Boozer missed two point blank layups that he should have dunked, including one right after Bryant fed him a gorgeous no look, behind the back pass. Team USA also had some defensive breakdowns and even Bryant was guilty in this regard, committing the cardinal sin of fouling a three point shooter. However, Team USA did not panic and they promptly went on a 12-0 run that essentially put the game away. James had one assist and scored seven points during that stretch, including a three point play on a feed from Bryant. "Incredibly unselfish play by Kobe," Collins said. "He had a wide open layup but dropped it off at the last second." Team USA led 55-37 at halftime. Howard (12 points on 5-5 shooting), James (11 points on 5-5 shooting) and Anthony (eight points on 3-3 shooting) combined to score 31 points on 13-13 field goal shooting.

Bryant did not make a field goal or score a point in the first half but he produced eight of Team USA's first 10 points in the third quarter as the starters maintained a comfortable lead. By the middle of the quarter, all of the starters were on the bench except for James, who stayed in the game a few minutes longer; when he sat down for good Team USA led 73-48 and the margin was 81-53 by the end of the quarter.

Wade played briefly at the start of the fourth quarter before calling it a night and it looked as though none of the starters would play at all in the final stanza but Krzyzewski put Anthony back in with Team USA leading 87-58. Anthony played the rest of the way. That is an unusual move but perhaps Krzyzewski wanted Anthony to get some extra work and/or boost his confidence by padding his numbers. Angola actually outscored Team USA 18-10 in the garbage time fourth quarter minutes when Anthony played despite the fact that Anthony added to his scoring and rebounding totals. For the game, Angola outscored Team USA 46-42 when Anthony was on the court. The reason that Team USA gets outscored more frequently with Anthony on the court than with the other players who I track (Bryant, James, Kidd and Wade) is Anthony's poor defense and that poor defense is a much more significant concern than the ghosts (three point shooting, rebounding) that some people continue to emphasize. If Team USA loses it will be because of poor defense. Team USA outscored Angola 51-25 when Wade was on the court, 53-35 when James was on the court, 45-35 when Bryant was on the court and 32-28 when Kidd was on the court. Team USA broke the game open in the second quarter with James, Wade, Bryant, Chris Bosh (eight points, two rebounds in 14 minutes) and Chris Paul (six points, four rebounds, three assists in 21 minutes) in the game. Paul played excellent pressure defense during that stretch.

Team USA's 101-70 victory over China was an exciting moment in basketball history more than a competitive game and this contest versus Angola was a glorified scrimmage. Four out of six teams from group play advance to the medal round, so Team USA has all but sewn up a berth at this point but the rest of the way is serious business. The game on Thursday against Greece will be a measuring stick for how much Team USA has improved since 2006 and then after that there will be a tough game against 2006 FIBA World Champion Spain, another important litmus test for Team USA. From this point forward it is of paramount importance that Team USA play excellent defense, starting on the perimeter with Bryant, Kidd, young point guards Paul and Deron Williams, plus James and Wade. Howard and Bosh must continue to hold down the fort in the paint and Anthony must at least demonstrate some effort and focus on defense. Good pressure defense will disrupt the opposition's offense while creating transition scoring opportunities for Team USA and that is the recipe for winning the gold medal. If Team USA can make some three pointers along the way that will be nice gravy but the heart of the meal--the meat and potatoes--is defense.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:59 PM

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10 Comments:

At Tuesday, August 12, 2008 6:09:00 PM, Anonymous brandon hoffman said...

David,

Can you expand a little bit on your belief that our 3-point shooting shouldn't be a concern?

Do you think we'll continue to get easy baskets in transition? How so?

I have my doubts that we'll force as many turnovers against Greece and Spain. And while we may be able to defend the three-point line, of greater concern to me is our pick-and-roll defense.

Cheers.

 
At Tuesday, August 12, 2008 7:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Brandon:

I wouldn't say it should not be a concern at all, just that it is not nearly as big of an issue as others make it out to be. I keep reading/hearing how important Michael Redd is and that Mike Miller should have been on the roster. This team (with a few roster adjustments) has played 17 games (10 in the FIBA Americas tournament, five exhibition games, two games in the Olympics) and has gone 17-0 with Redd rarely being on the court when the game is close. Miller was awful during the FIBA Americas tournament, a designated shooter who shot .439 from the field. He ranked 11th out of 12 players in field goal percentage and seventh out of 12 players in three point field goal percentage. The last thing that Team USA needs is one dimensional players who are not even contributing within that one dimension.

Team USA needs versatile defenders and it needs guards who can pressure opposing ballhandlers. I discuss these issues at length in a September 4, 2007 post titled "The Real Story Behind Team USA's Losses in Previous FIBA events."

Team USA will probably not get as many easy transition baskets against Greece and Spain as they did in previous games against weaker opponents but with Kobe, LeBron and Kidd leading the charge (and Wade coming off of the bench) they should be able to do a much better job of disrupting the opposing team's offense than the 2006, 2004 and 2002 teams did.

When I talk about defending the three point line/perimeter defense, it goes without saying that I do not mean overplay the shooters to such an extent that you give up backdoor layups. The idea is to try to force turnovers but when you don't get turnovers make the other team work against the shot clock and ultimately shoot a contested shot.

Team USA scored 95 points in the 2006 loss to Greece. That is a lot of points in a 40 minute game. Shooting/scoring was not a problem--bad defense killed Team USA in that game.

After the China game somebody made reference to Redd being important because he was the only guy who consistently made threes in that game--but Redd's threes all came when Team USA was already up by 30! I could make threes for Team USA when they are up 30 and the other team is winded and demoralized.

The other thing that is important to remember is something that Doug Collins mentioned during the Angola game: Team USA's game plan is to wear teams down with pressure AND depth. This is not 1992. Team USA is not going to blow teams out right out of the box. China and Angola kept things close early in the game but still got blown out in the end.

It is essential to look at the big picture to understand these games and these tournaments but most so-called analysts are content to glance at the game, glance at the boxscore and spit out superficial commentary.

 
At Tuesday, August 12, 2008 7:30:00 PM, Anonymous brandon hoffman said...

David,

Well, I guess I'm one of those "so-called analysts" because I'm very concerned with our 3-point shooting. It's layup, dunk, or three-pointer thus far. We're obviously not shooting well from beyond the arc and our mid-range game has been non-existant.

I don't think we'll force half as many turnovers against Greece and Spain. Those teams won't allow penetration either.

Do you think we can win the next three games if we shoot 15-of-63 from the 3-point line like we have the previous three contests?

We can't expect to force as many turnovers as we have against China and Angola. And Greece and Spain will shoot a higher percentage.

Add it all up, and we're going to have hit from outside at some point.

 
At Tuesday, August 12, 2008 8:25:00 PM, Anonymous tp said...

They scored 95 vs Greece in 2006 with a very poor free throw percentage, otherwise it would have been three digits.

I don't see the need for Mike Miller (who is not so one-dimensional, but whose ballhandling skills are not needed in this team), but three point shooting remains a concern. Kobe's shooting has been abysmal, but the rest of the bunch have not been much better, particularly Deron Williams (except Redd, and usually in garbage time). It is unsettling as players are getting the good looks, they are simply not converting.

It's not a major issue [yet], but I don't think you can just wave it away and expect it to disappear just so. Unless percentages pick up right now, it is a disturbing trend and the kind of weakness that you just don't want in a close game for the medals.

 
At Wednesday, August 13, 2008 5:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Brandon:

Team USA won the first two games of the Olympics by 31 and 21 points. Yes, the opposition was not the strongest but if three point shooting were that important for Team USA then wouldn't these games be closer? What is wrong with shooting layups and dunks? The FIBA three point line is short, so if a 6-6 or 6-7 player puts the ball on the floor from the FIBA three point line he gets to the rim for a layup or dunk pretty quickly. Most coaches I know like to see their teams shooting layups and dunks. Team USA has not been taking bad three point shots for the most part; they've just missed the shots.

When Kobe wasn't on the team and the defensive focus was not there Team USA was losing to Puerto Rico by double digits and Jasikevicius was looking like the second coming of Drazen Petrovic, not a guy who could not even cut it in the NBA. Go back to my post about the recent Lithuania exhibition game and compare Jasikevicius' stats against Kobe with what Jasikevicius did in his previous three games against Team USA.

I'm not saying that it is optimal to shoot poorly from three point range. Obviously, it would be preferable to make those shots but Team USA does not HAVE to make three point shots to beat Greece or Spain. Team USA HAS to play sound defense. Again, Team USA scored 95 points against Greece in the loss in 2006. Offense has not been Team USA's problem in recent FIBA competitions; if you score 95 points in a 40 minute game then you should win, period.

Although I don't think that making three point shots is vitally important for Team USA, I also don't think that Kobe is going to continue to miss shots that he has been routinely making for more than a decade.

 
At Wednesday, August 13, 2008 5:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

TP:

Truthfully, if I had a shooting concern about this team it would be free throw shooting, not three point shooting; Team USA can decide how many three pointers they will shoot, who will shoot them and when they will shoot them but if opposing teams decide to hack Howard or hack LeBron then Team USA will have to live with their iffy free throw shooting.

It is true that Team USA did not shoot well from the free throw line versus Greece but, again, if you can score 95 points in a 40 minute game then you should win. That projects to a 114 point pace in a 48 minute NBA game. If an NBA team scored 114 points and lost no one would say that offense was the problem. By this way of reasoning, the Denver Nuggets need to add Michael Redd and Mike Miller.

Miller is not one dimensional in the NBA but he was one dimensional in FIBA play last summer and that is all that matters in this discussion--and the same thing is true of Redd. Neither of those guys contributes much in terms of rebounding, passing, ballhandling or defense in FIBA play. They just run to the corners and shoot three pointers. They do not fit in well with the pressure defense that Team USA plays, which is why they sat on the bench last summer until Team USA built huge leads and why Redd is playing that same role this year--watching Kobe and Wade do the work at shooting guard and then coming in for mop up duty.

The main three point shooting problem in this small sample of two Olympic games has been Kobe Bryant. On the one hand, there is a 10-plus year sample that says he makes a living shooting 20 foot jumpers and then there are these two games that Team USA won by 31 and 21 in which he shot horribly on 20 foot jumpers. I don't think that Kobe's final three point shooting percentage for the Olympics is going to be .067. I think that he will shoot fewer threes in the remaining games and that he will make a normal percentage of them and probably have at least one significantly above average game that will fix his overall percentage. Assuming Team USA makes it to the medal round they will play six more games. Kobe will probably take 5-6 threes a game instead of 7-8, so if he shoots 14-30 the rest of the way then he'll end up shooting 15-45 from three point range.

Of course, as long as Kobe defensively takes out the top perimeter threat in the next six games it really won't matter what his three point shooting percentage is.

 
At Wednesday, August 13, 2008 10:23:00 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

Jasikevicius was an incredible scorer four years ago, but right now he's way out of his prime. He made 20% fg against Argentina. So Kobe stopping him is not a big deal, he's not the same player than he was in 2004. By the way JR Holden did better numbers against the doberman that against Croatia.
I know Kobe is an active defender, but there are some players he just won't guard easily. -Rudy Fernández, Spanoulis or Holden spring to mind-

There's nothing wrong with layups and dunks, but often Wade and Paul are losing their proper positions in the court looking for steals. Also, smart guards won't lose the ball as often as Angola's guards did.

A little fact: In 2006, Greece shoot at 72 % from 2pts against USA, which was a much more important factor than the 8 three pointers they made.

 
At Wednesday, August 13, 2008 12:10:00 PM, Blogger Allen said...

David,

I am certainly interested to see how USA handles the quicker guards of Spain and Greece on defense.

Kobe, Williams, and Paul were able to harass Jasikevicius, who, although he is a good player, is not exactly a speedster.

We saw J.R. Holden do very well against the perimeter defense of the US, burning the guards several times.

Can the USA harass and pressure the likes of Calderon, Spanoulis, and even Rubio?

I'm also interested to see Rudy Fernandez's performance against the US.

There's a lot to look forward to this week!

 
At Wednesday, August 13, 2008 2:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

Jasikevicius has never been a speedster but previous versions of Team USA were unable/unwilling to do what is necessary to contain him.

I agree that it will be very interesting to watch the next couple games.

 
At Wednesday, August 13, 2008 2:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

Jasikevicius was never a speedster, not even when he was burning Team USA earlier in the decade.

Holden did make a couple nice plays against Kobe--a drive to the hoop and a backdoor cut immediately come to mind--but he also scored a lot of his points when Kobe was not guarding him.

You are right that Wade and Paul gamble too much--and they take high risk, low reward risk gambles sometimes.

Obviously, the Greek and Spanish guards are much better than Angola's--but Kobe is a much better defender than the guys Team USA was running out there two, four and six years ago.

You are right that Greece shot a phenomenal two point percentage but that resulted from bad Team USA perimeter defense: the screen/roll plays completely broke Team USA down and they were giving up open three pointers and open layups--but the problem started on the perimeter with the guards and with the screen/roll defense. Colangelo has said repeatedly that he added Kobe and Kidd because Team USA had to become bigger and more physical at the guard positions in order to defend properly.

 

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