Spain 75-70 France and What it Means for Team USA

I flipped on NBA TV this afternoon for a little basketball fix, having recorded the Charlotte/Cleveland game in hopes of seeing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dion Waiters in action.  Eight minutes into the first quarter, it was 10-4 Cleveland and the announcers had revealed that MKG was sidelined with a mild knee injury.  While Charlotte was perhaps the worst team in NBA history last season, one would hope that a team with 3 of its starters from last year (Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, and Byron Mullens) could manage more than 4 points in 8 minutes of a summer league game.*

*I also learned that Walker had shot 36.6% from the field last year.  Horrendous.

Suitably depressed, I decided to exercise my newly-purchased FIBAtv subscription, and was rewarded with a friendly between France and Spain, likely Team USA's two staunchest competitors in London.
The game, played before a rowdy French crowd in Paris, was far more intense than might have been anticipated.  The third quarter saw Mickael Gelabale and Rudy Fernandez both get tossed after Fernandez said something to Gelabale that provoked a two-hand shove to Fernandez's neck.  Here were my thoughts, with an eye towards how each team would match up with the US.


Nicolas Batum only played 6 minutes for unknown reasons, although he had a couple of effective drives and finishes while he was in there.

He would have been extremely helpful in addressing that old French bugaboo, outside shooting.  The real key to the game was how Spain was able to shut down Tony Parker by packing the paint on defense.  Parker shot very poorly from outside and was unable to get loose for his signature floaters in the half court.  He was continually forced to pull up for difficult jumpers with the shot clock running down. Spurs' signee Nando de Colo had an exceptionally poor game from the shooting guard position, shooting poorly on 3s with several bad turnovers and little energy.

Like against Spain, the big problem for France against Team USA is going to be an inability to score.  This will be especially so when Team USA goes with LeBron or Kevin Durant at center, France is going to find it very difficult to get open looks because Team USA can just switch the Parker pick and roll.  Nobody on the French team is enough of a post-up threat to make Team USA pay for this strategy,* nor do the French especially intimidate on the offensive glass.

*In fairness, Kevin Seraphin did flash nice jump hooks over either shoulder, but his postups are unlikely to keep the Team USA coaches up at night.


Marc Gasol did not play at all in this game after suffering what Google Translate says is a left shoulder contusion and a sprained right ankle in the teams' July 13 game in Salamanca.  Juan Carlos Navarro also played sparingly, although he was effective in his few minutes.

Among those who played significantly, Pau Gasol led the team with 22 points, 17 in the first half. He only scored 4 of those on postups however.  He was under 50% for the game and wasn't really able to get good enough post position against Turiaf and Seraphin, often settling for fadeaways.  I'm starting to wonder if Gasol, like Tim Duncan, is reaching the time in his career when he no longer needs to be double teamed in the post.  However, Gasol was still effective rolling to the rim when he was playing center with Serge Ibaka on the floor.

The Team USA scouting report will also need to reflect that Gasol will take 3s from all over the court in FIBA play (as this highlight package illustrates), even with the now-longer 22 foot line.  (In the NBA, Gasol usually sticks to corner 3s.)  Gasol will likely be used more in this role when paired with his brother Marc, who will operate as a traditional center.  Serge Ibaka also played well for Spain, as he worked the offensive boards to greater effect than we're used to seeing while effectively launching his midrange jumper.

I took two key points from this game relating to a potential Spain/USA matchup.  The first is that Spain's best offensive lineup is Calderon/Navarro/Fernandez/Pau/Marc.  Spain really does not have a particularly threatening small forward on the roster, lacking the typical Euro 6'9" sweet shooting 3. Unfortunately for Spain, Fernandez as a 3 isn't going to work defensively against the US unless Spain plays zone.

On cue, Spain flashed a nice matchup zone against the French in the 4th quarter after made baskets.  In this game, Spain dropped back into the matchup from a 1-3-1 3/4 court press, but I would be surprised to see this against the US due to the quickness and ball handling the team possesses at the 1-4 spots.  The zone proved very effective against the French, but Team USA should be able to attack it in two ways.  The first was that the French were allowed to easily catch the ball at the free throw line.  While this was usually Ronny Turiaf or Seraphin for France, Team USA can flash their 4 man there.  Once Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, or LeBron catch the ball at the free throw line against a zone, it's all over.  Spain's other problem in the zone will be defending against 3 point shooters on the wing.  Durant especially will be able to shoot right over any of the Spanish guards, and he is absolutely deadly from the shorter FIBA 3 point line.  And if Spain presses out hard against the wings, it will open up the free throw area.  Spain has rarely played much zone against the US, so it will be very interesting to see whether they change strategies here.  I would also posit that Ibaka/P. Gasol might be a better frontcourt than the Gasol brothers against Team USA.  Spain has always struggled the most on defense against the US, and Ibaka offers the possibility of covering for the defensively overmatched Spanish wings.

I did not come out of this game thinking that either of these teams looked particularly threatening to Team USA, with the caveat that anything can happen in one game.  For Spain in particular, every notable player on the roster aside from Ibaka and Marc Gasol is worse than 4 years ago.  While the US is also slightly worse given the rash of injuries and the decline of Kobe since 2008, the added element of an incredible shooter in Durant helps make up for a lot of the deficiencies.


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