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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Serbia Beats the Status out of Team USA

Gregg Popovich needs to spend less time working on his snappy comebacks to the media and more time trying to figure out FIBA basketball strategy. His Team USA squad can finish no higher than seventh place in the FIBA World Cup after losing 94-89 to Serbia. Serbia's coach ran his mouth about this matchup weeks ago, and Team USA made that guy look like a genius.

You know the old cliche about the game not being as close as the final score? Team USA trailed 32-7 at the end of the first quarter. Read that again: 32-7. Popovich took a team of 12 NBA players to China, and after 10 minutes of play the Serbians were beating their brakes off by 25 points. I wrote it yesterday and I will write it again today: when Popovich gave a sarcastic answer to a legitimate question about his fourth quarter strategy versus France, he may have been trying to deflect attention from the fact that he had no strategy.

An important step toward becoming a champion is to make no excuses--and there are no excuses for Team USA's performance in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Yes, Team USA could have assembled a better roster. Yes, Team USA would have benefited from better coaching, more practices and a greater sense of urgency, but the bottom line is that there is no way a roster that would easily qualify for the playoffs in an 82 game NBA season should finish seventh or eighth in this tournament. Team USA lost an exhibition game to Australia, should have lost to Turkey, lost to France, and was getting humiliated by Serbia before rallying to make the score respectable.

When Team USA is reduced to trying to make the score respectable, something is seriously wrong.

Serbia has a decent squad, and Team USA sent its third or fourth stringers--the superstars are at home "load managing" and counting their millions of dollars--but Red Klotz and the Washington Generals would not have trailed Serbia by 25 points after 10 minutes.

The key to success for Team USA in FIBA basketball--as I have pointed out for well over a decade--is not three point shooting or going small or anything pertaining to offense; the key is being able to simultaneously defend the three point line and not give up layups. It is easy to shut down one or the other, but it requires a good game plan--and good execution by the players--to do both. Team USA allowed Serbia to shoot .562 from two point range and .484 from three point range. John McKay once said of his hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers that they did not block, but they made up for that by not tackling. Team USA did not defend the paint, but they made up for it by also not defending the three point line.

Plus/minus numbers in a small sample size can be noisy, but Team USA was +8 versus Serbia with Myles Turner on the court and -13 when he was on the bench. He played 24 minutes in a five point loss, and I predicted a week ago that Team USA risked losing against some of the top contenders if Turner did not play at least 25 effective minutes. Would Team USA have beaten Serbia if Turner had played a few more minutes and if Derrick White--who scored two points in 11 minutes with a -14 plus/minus number--had played fewer minutes? White plays for Popovich's Spurs. I have not seen the postgame press conference, but it could have been interesting if any reporters asked Popovich some direct questions about his game plan and his substitution patterns.

In case you are wondering, Carmelo Anthony would not have helped because he does not defend and he cannot guard Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic or any other true center. If Anthony had been on this team he would have been a distraction, and in the end he would have shouldered the brunt of the blame that--as we can see--should be directed elsewhere. It was much better for Team USA and for Anthony that he was not on the team.

Team USA bounced back from the embarrassing 2002 and 2004 performances not just by adding talent but also by focusing on defensive execution, spearheaded by Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd. If Team USA expects to win the gold medal in the 2020 Olympics merely by recruiting a few superstars but without changing the team's mentality and game plan then things will not end well.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:35 PM



At Saturday, September 14, 2019 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous Eric L said...

The facts are in. Gregg Popovich has not been able to lead a Team USA squad to win an international tournament yet. It shows that the game has truly evolved globally and also that he has not maximized his roster to the FIBA style of play.

There is now a report of him saying that those who bash the team's failure this year are "arrogant and immature". This is all smokes and mirrors to deflect everyone from the fact that he has failed. I don't understand how someone (of usually high class and respect) can't admit his failures and wrongs as a coach on this stage.

Yes, Team USA's roster needs an overhaul going into the 2020 Olympics, but Popovich must also get better.

At Saturday, September 14, 2019 11:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Eric L:

I agree. Popovich is a great NBA coach, but his FIBA record as both an assistant coach and as a head coach is underwhelming.


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