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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wade Rehabs, Yi Reneges, Team USA Reloads

Summer league play is over and it will be a few days until Team USA opens up minicamp in Las Vegas, so there is no on court NBA action at the moment. However, there are a few interesting stories developing off of the court:

(1) Word out of Miami is that Dwyane Wade's surgically repaired left shoulder and left knee may not be completely healed by October, possibly causing him to miss the start of the regular season.

This is a "developing situation," as news networks like to say. I don't recall anyone previously mentioning even the possibility that Wade may not be ready to go in time for the 2007-08 season, so it is strange to hear that everything is supposedly going according to plan but he may miss some games anyway. The most important thing is not whether or not Wade misses a few games but how close to 100% he is once he does return to the court. Shoulders and knees are delicate and important joints to an explosive athlete like Wade, so both his range of motion and durability will bear watching. In any case, with Shaquille O'Neal aging and Wade at least somewhat banged up, it looks more and more like Superman and Flash will have to be content with one NBA title, which is less than could have reasonably been expected from O'Neal after he led the Lakers to three straight championships from 2000-2002.

(2) Chen Heitao, who runs the Guangdong Tigers, has declared that his player Yi Jianlin, chosen sixth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2007 draft, will not play for Milwaukee. Chen Heitao contends that this has nothing to do with Milwaukee as a city but is purely a basketball decision, indicating that the Bucks have a surplus of big men and that Yi would not get enough playing time to continue his development, which could in turn have a negative impact on his performance for the Chinese national team.

This story makes no sense on every level. First, the Bucks knew that Yi and his representatives had publicly stated that Yi would never play for Milwaukee but they drafted him anyway. Yes, they had every right to do so on principle, but "on principle" will average 0 ppg and 0 rpg this season; why didn't they either draft an equally talented player who they could actually sign or simply trade the pick and acquire a veteran player? Second, neither Yi nor anyone else should be able to manipulate the draft by not reporting to a team. The purpose of a draft is to prevent the best teams/cities from gobbling up all of the young talent. As a human being, Yi has the right to do whatever he wants but as a basketball asset he should be punished for not reporting to Milwaukee; he should never be allowed to play for another NBA team unless he or that other team compensates the Bucks. Milwaukee's problem is that Yi does not have to ever come to the NBA; he could just keep playing in China--again, that is why the Bucks should never have put themselves in the middle of this fiasco. Third, the idea that playing for Milwaukee will impede Yi's development is absurd. If he truly is a legitimate star in the making, then he will benefit from practicing against and playing with NBA players. It didn't hurt Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett to take their lumps as young players before becoming superstars. If Yi's representatives are worried that he will never crack Milwaukee's rotation then maybe he wasn't worth being taken sixth overall. I just don't see how playing in China will help his development more than playing against NBA players. Hasn't Yao Ming's game grown by leaps and bounds since he came to Houston?

(3) In August, Team USA will play in the FIBA Americas tournament in Las Vegas in order to earn a spot in the 2008 Olympics. The revamped national team program has a pool of 32 players, 12 of whom will be selected to play in a given event. Only 17 of the 32 will be available this summer, though. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will likely be choosing his roster from this list: Carmelo Anthony, Shane Battier, Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Kirk Hinrich, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Mike Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd, J.J. Redick, Amare Stoudemire, Deron Williams.

One would assume that, barring injury to some of the more experienced players, young Durant and Redick have no chance of making the final cut. Chandler and Miller will also likely be out, although Miller may be worth keeping around because of his shooting. Who will be the fifth man out? Kobe, LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Amare, Battier, Howard, Hinrich, Kidd and Williams seem to be mortal locks to make the team, based either on their skills or their prior participation (and thus greater familiarity with Coach Krzyzewski's system). So I expect Billups, Prince and Redd to fight over the last two roster spots.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:51 PM



At Wednesday, July 18, 2007 5:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that one title in Miami is less than expected. They were said to have a 2-3 year window of opportunity before age and injuries caught up with them, and they got their ring. Fair enough.

On Yi, there's a column on Sporting News that had a couple interesting bits before taking the easy way of bashing the agent. First, Yi is indeed different from Yao, who looked determined to come over and take his life into his own hands. Second, it's amazing that nobody actually knows what's going on.

Finally, Team US remains handcuffed to the same old way of doing things. No supporting players, too few defenders, not enough big men to control the lane.

At Wednesday, July 18, 2007 5:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


What I wrote is that one title is less than was expected of Shaq after 2002, not less than what was expected once he arrived in Miami in 2004-05. My point is that had Shaq been more focused his last couple years in L.A. then that team may have kept winning and then may have been kept together. In any case, I doubt that anyone thought in 2002 that Shaq would only win one more ring. Yes, by the time he arrived in Miami the thought may have shifted to the idea that Shaq was just going to get one more ring but even then I think that some people thought that he might be able to get two before the window of which you spoke closed.

The Yi story is just strange all the way around, as I wrote. Who even knows if he will ever be a top level NBA player? If I were the Bucks, I would have never drafted him--but now that they have, they have to vigorously fight for their rights and the rights of other "small market" teams.

The main problems that Team USA had last time around were defending the pick and roll play and also guarding the three point line (related issues, of course). The additions of Kobe along with possibly Prince and/or Billups should help the perimeter defense. Scoring was not a problem, nor was interior defense (except when broken down by bad pick and roll defense). Even though this tournament will be held in Vegas, Team USA is playing FIBA's game, not an NBA game--different court, different three point line, different rules, different officiating style. Plus, several of the other teams have NBA players on their rosters and are not intimidated to play against NBA stars. I think that the addition of Kobe will make a big difference in terms of defense and overall intensity; it goes without saying that he can help from a scoring standpoint but scoring is not a big need for this team and I would not be surprised if someone other than Kobe leads the team in scoring.

At Wednesday, July 18, 2007 6:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected about Shaq and 2002, I got it wrong.

I agree that Team USA needed to improve defense not offense (even against Greece they had a decent or even good offensive game, other than atrocious free throw shooting), but I think that it is more than just perimeter defense. During the whole competition, Team US showed a distinct lack of defensive tension - they often let the opposition hang around until they went into pressure and used their quickness to get a few steal, run the fast break and break open the game.

That was it. Defensive rebounding was suspect, and they did not do good fundamental, half court defense in any position not manned by Shane Battier. They were often too unfocused to make solid 24-second-long defenses and once again other than Battier they had no designated defender that could lock on opposing stars. They lost to Greece and their pick'n'roll, but they struggled against other teams. Or at least they failed to win convincingly.

Maybe the biggest weakness of Team USA, other than defense, was its inability to change their setup, their look. Greece was on its way to a lopsided defeat when they changed their whole offense and went on to win. Spain lost Gasol to injury and they changed their offensive and defensive game to rout the Greeks using a box-and-one with the "one" being the center which is not exactly a staple of Spanish basketball.

Meanwhile, Team USA remained locked into one and the same approach, kind of like the Phoenix Suns in playoffs: if they run, they win; if they can't run, there's no plan B.

Team USA may win the Olympic gold by sheer offensive power, but so long as they have to play Battier as power forward I don't fancy their chances.

At Wednesday, July 18, 2007 10:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with a lot of what you said about Team USA's defensive shortcomings, a subject that I discussed repeatedly last year when I wrote about those games here. A big part of the problem is that the other national teams have played together under FIBA rules much longer than Team USA has. Team USA had a brief training camp and could only install a limited amount of things; that is why the team lacks a certain flexibility in schemes, as you mentioned. The idea of having a core group of 30 or so players who will participate in all FIBA competitions over a period of several years is that eventually Team USA will develop some continuity. In theory, the team should look better this time around than it did last year--even more so with the addition of Kobe, whose all-around game is perfectly suited for FIBA play.

Battier can play power forward because most of the other teams are not overwhelmingly big. Team USA's best strategy is to emphasize speed, quickness and depth--those are the team's advantages, whereas the other teams have better continuity and better familiarity with FIBA play.

Team USA outrebounded the opposition 36.4 rpg to 30.8 rpg in last year's tournament, so rebounding is not a big concern. Team USA's "small" players include LeBron, Melo, Kobe, etc., all guys who are certainly capable of rebounding against even the "bigs" from other teams. Defending the three point line and defending the pick and roll are the two primary concerns, assuming that there is no drop off in the areas where Team USA did well last time around.

At Thursday, July 19, 2007 1:59:00 AM, Blogger kenny roberts said...

one title in the last 6 years isn't great but he definitely hasn't under achived because he hasn't won more than 1 the last 6 years. wilt only won 2 his whole career bird won 3 in 13 years. shaq has always been there thats all you can ask for your not going to win every year you know.

at the end of the day shaq won a ring without kobe and it hasn't happened the other way. shaq dont care bout anything else, he got over on the lakers after he felt disrespected by them. his legacy is intact anyway, the lakers have to win the ring without him, or hey at least get out the first round, to justify tradeing shaq for odom and others. that was terrible

At Thursday, July 19, 2007 3:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick final comment: I don't see a problem playing Battier at the "four" as an option, I see a problem having to play him there extended minutes simply because the wings are full.

Team USA roster virtually pushed Battier into the power forward position due to the overabundance of high profile SG/SF types (Wade, Anthony, LeBron, Johnson...). Condiering the relative lack of size of many national teams, maybe Team USA could have used a big lineup with Battier at the three slot to overwhelm the opposition physically - but that was not to be, due to the very setup of the roster. Maybe that big lineup would not have worked, but what makes no sense is limiting your own options.

Battier at the four is fine, Battier crowded out of the three is not fine.

At Thursday, July 19, 2007 4:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I see your point but whenever Battier was in the game I thought that he played better defense than whoever he replaced regardless of position. That wide trapezoid lane and close three point line make the FIBA game more wide open and thus the power game is not as important or effective, so a lack of true NBA fours on Team USA is not a big concern in my book. Assuming that Bosh, Howard and Amare are on the roster Team USA will not lack for inside players; I would play one of those guys at a time and go small at the other positions and try to get in a running, pressing game.

At Thursday, July 19, 2007 5:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I suppose that underachievement is a relative term in this context. Yes, Shaq has had a great career, winning more titles than some other legends have and one-upping the Lakers after the trade--but he could have established himself as clearly the premier player of the post-Jordan era by winning 5, 6 or 7 titles. Instead, he will at best share that honor with Tim Duncan--but since Duncan is younger and in better shape (and on a better team) it seems likely that Duncan will win at least one more title and clinch recognition as the best player of the post-Jordan era.


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