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Saturday, July 07, 2012

Team USA's 12 Man Roster is Officially Announced

Injuries and the aging process prevented USA Basketball from completely putting the 2008 band back together but the 2012 version of Team USA that will compete in the London Olympics includes a strong mixture of five Olympic veterans and five FIBA World Championship veterans plus two young talents who will provide athleticism and scoring punch. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams played on the 2008 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, while Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love won gold medals for Team USA during the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Blake Griffin and James Harden are the newcomers who will provide firepower off of the bench.

James and Anthony will join David Robinson (1988, 1992, 1996) as the only men to play three times for Team USA in the Olympics. Bryant, Paul and Williams will add their names to the somewhat longer but still quite distinguished list of two-time U.S. Olympic basketball players: Charles Barkley (1992, 1996), Carlos Boozer (2004, 2008), Patrick Ewing (1984, 1992), Burdette Haldorson (1956, 1960), William Hougland (1952, 1956), Michael Jordan (1984, 1992), Jason Kidd (2000, 2008) Robert Kurland (1948, 1952), Karl Malone (1992, 1996), Chris Mullin (1984, 1992), Gary Payton (1996, 2000), Scottie Pippen (1992, 1996), Mitch Richmond (1988, 1996) and John Stockton (1992, 1996).

The 39 year old Kidd, who owns a 46-0 record as a member of two Olympic gold medalists and three FIBA Americas Championship squads (1999, 2003, 2007), previously announced his retirement from international play (and likely would not have been selected for this year's roster in any case); injuries prevented 2008 Olympians Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and 2010 FIBA World Championship veteran Derrick Rose from participating this time.

It will be very interesting to see how Coach Mike Krzyzewski distributes starting honors and--more importantly--minutes. Durant, the three-time reigning NBA scoring champion and 2010 FIBA World Championship MVP, may not even start for this team; James, Bryant and Paul are almost certainly locks to start, Chandler is the only true center on the roster and Anthony--despite his poor shooting and inconsistent play--started all eight games for the 2008 squad (though he often ended up on the bench during crunch time). Chandler played so poorly in the 2010 FIBA World Championship that he not only failed to hold on to the starting center job but he eventually fell out of the rotation completely, averaging just 8.6 mpg during the event, so perhaps that will influence Coach Krzyzewski to go "small" from the outset with James at center, Anthony at power forward, Durant at small forward and Bryant and Paul in the backcourt. It is certainly possible that Coach Krzyzewski will experiment a bit with his starting lineup and his overall rotation during Team USA's exhibition games/pre-Olympic tour. Love indicated that Coach Krzyzewski plans to use him almost exclusively at center.

FIBA basketball has different rules, a different playing/officiating style and a different rhythm from NBA basketball, so some players who look great in NBA play may be plagued by foul trouble and/or just generally seem out of sorts during FIBA competition. Love has emerged as a great NBA player but he was a non-factor--other than in garbage time--during the 2010 FIBA World Championship and Griffin is a good candidate to lead this squad in fouls per minute due to his aggressive style combined with FIBA's eccentric officiating. Harden seemed to lose his game and his confidence during the 2012 NBA Finals, so it will be interesting to see if the changes of venue and rules bring him back to life or if he stays in his slump.

Team USA will obviously rely on quickness and athleticism and if Team USA has the proper "attention to detail" (as Bryant put it shortly after the announcement of the final roster) then they should be able to overwhelm most of the teams that they will face; Team USA's main weakness--a lack of size, specifically a dearth of true back to the basket centers--could be exploited by teams that do not turn the ball over, keep the pace of the game slow and pound the ball inside to skilled big men.

Despite what countless "experts" will proclaim, the deciding factor for Team USA will not be lack of size or how well Team USA shoots from behind the arc; Team USA has several players who play and rebound "bigger" than their size and Team USA should be able to score so well in transition that three point shooting will not be a huge part of their offensive repertoire. The key for Team USA to win in FIBA events is to play suffocating defense and shut down the opposing team's three point shooters without getting broken down for layups in the screen/roll game. In the 2008 Olympics, Team USA held opposing teams to .403 field goal shooting and .299 three point field goal shooting. Those are the two most important statistical categories to monitor as Team USA chases gold in London.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:26 PM

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3 Comments:

At Wednesday, July 11, 2012 8:16:00 PM, Blogger Dodgerblue15 said...

Kobe was recently asked if he thought the 2012 team could compete with the original Dream Team. Kobe, while paying due respect, said “I think we would pull it out.” I’m sure you’ve heard or can imagine the backlash. Of course, Sir Charles came out today and refuted that. Said the Dream Team would handle the 2012 squad by 20 plus.

While the Dream Team had an impressive collection of names, I’m not sure its talent was quite up to par with the legends those names inspired. Sure, MJ, Pippen, and Barkley were in their primes, but Magic was retired by then and suffering through knee problems. Bird, a few months before he officially retired, rarely ever played due to his awful back. And Christian Laetner was Christian Laetner.

Magic and Bird in their primes, would have struggled to keep up with the speed that the 2012 Olympic team possess. But under the circumstances and the conditions they were in, you line them up against Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, and Andre Igoudala and there’s no contest they get destroyed. Bird especially.

Dream Team certainly had the inside advantage with Ewing and Robinson, and bangers in Barkley and Malone. But they would all struggle to guard a 2012 team going small. And, do we really think Barkley and Jordan would be giving the ball up to Robinson and Ewing down in the post? It’s not like either of them lived in the post anyway. They both shot a lot of jumpers.

The two best players on Dream Team? Jordan and Barkley.
The two best players on the 2012 squad? Lebron and Durant.

While I hate to simplify it down to that, I mean, that’s about as close as you can get in terms of A+ talent. Then there’s the rest:

Pippen/Kobe?
Stockton/CP3?
Drexler/Westbrook?

I’m failing to see any matchup where the Dream Team holds a significant advantage. If anything, the 2012 squad would have the edge in those matchups.

I’m not saying this is a runaway win for the 2012 Olympic squad. But it’s a lot closer than the Dream Team members or a lot of the NBA lovers over 35 would have you believe.

I’m curious as to your thoughts.

 
At Wednesday, July 11, 2012 11:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dodgerblue15:

I saw the Bryant soundbite. I have not heard about/followed the backlash, if there has been any.

The first obvious point is that no true competitor is going to say that he/his team would not beat another player/another team. Bryant gave the only answer that he could reasonably be expected to give. However, Bryant is very cerebral about basketball and the answer he gave did not merely consist of a reflexive, machismo response; he is correct that the current version of Team USA is younger and faster than the Dream Team was and that those two traits would likely offset the Dream Team's advantage in size--something that would be even more true if this hypothetical game were played under FIBA rules as opposed to NBA rules.

The Dream Team is an iconic, historically significant squad and there likely will never be another team that matches its pedigree on paper--but in terms of an actual on court team, even though the Dream Team was tremendous you correctly pointed out some of its weaknesses: Bird and Magic were nearing the end of the line and Laettner was a non-factor. It should also be added that Stockton had a fracture in his leg that limited his playing time. A team with Bird, Magic and Jordan all in their respective primes at the same time--combined with all of that other star power--would be for all intents and purposes unbeatable but the reality is that Bird and Magic were far from their primes at that point. A reasonable case could certainly be made that the current version of Team USA would be very competitive against the Dream Team in a hypothetical game played under FIBA rules.

 
At Thursday, July 12, 2012 5:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dodgerblue15:

By the way, this same question came up regarding a hypothetical matchup of the Dream Team versus the 2008 version of Team USA. Here is part of what I wrote more than four years ago regarding that particular matchup:

"The individual matchups would be amazing to watch: isn’t a Jordan-Kobe showdown with both players in their prime something we all want to see, whatever our opinions are about Kobe? Pip on LeBron or Melo would also be tremendous, as would Magic on Kidd. I think that those perimeter matchups would end up being pretty even overall but that where the '92 team would win the game would be in the paint, with Barkley, Ewing, Robinson and Karl Malone getting the better of Amare, Howard and Tyson Chandler (who actually probably would not get any playing time because he usually only got on the court in Vegas when Team USA was up 20 and that would never happen in this game). Some analysts think that the '08 team will have problems in the Olympics with the best FIBA big men and, while I don’t think that will cost Team USA because Kobe and Kidd are on a mission, that is the area that would prove decisive in this hypothetical matchup. Dream Team '92 wins, 108-100, and Barkley (28 points, 15 rebounds) is the MVP."

The 2012 squad has an older Bryant than the 2008 squad and does not have the services of Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade but the 2012 squad also has LeBron James at, most likely, the absolute peak of his powers, plus Kevin Durant and a trio of outstanding pgs. I have roughly the same opinion of the 2012 team's chances versus the Dream Team that I had of the 2008 team's chances: the game would be competitive but I give the edge to the Dream Team.

That said, I see nothing wrong with Bryant's answer. He thoughtfully assessed the strengths and weaknesses of both teams and concluded that his team "would pull it out." He did not say that it would be a blowout or anything absurd like that and he is certainly entitled to like his own team's chances, just like members of the Dream Team are entitled to like their team's chances. I am sure that Jerry West and Oscar Robertson would be confident that their star-studded 1960 Olympic team would do well against all comers, too.

It really is foolish for anyone to get very worked up about a hypothetical game pitting two American teams against each other but, apparently, the only thing that many media outlets and media members know how to do is create fake controversies in order to boost ratings/get more page views.

 

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