USA 86-80 Argentina: Team USA Has Work to Do

Team USA’s 86-80 victory over Argentina was the second unsatisfying effort in four outings by the Americans.  While the game was not as close as the final score indicated, Team USA certainly has work to do to improve.

Kobe Bryant Needs to Stop Shooting.

As I wrote the other day, being forced to root for Kobe Bryant is rather loathsome when he insists on shooting like he’s playing for the 2006 Lakers.  He shot better against Argentina, but it seemed a mirage since he was continuing to take the same largely contested shots he has been.  I could get on board with Kobe shooting more if he were able to get past international players off the dribble or operate from the post against smaller players, but he’s mostly just jacking up contested jump shots at this point.  Even after today’s hot shooting start, Kobe is at 38% from the field and 28% on the 3s which have comprised over half his shots.  Those numbers would be awful in the NBA.  For a loaded Team USA that typically averages about 1.2 points per possession in FIBA ball, his shot selection is inexcusable.  Today’s “highlight” was ignoring a wide-open Kevin Durant to launch a 30 foot 3 from the top of the key.  He also got burned pretty badly as the primary defender on Ginobili.  Manu had 23 points on 15 shooting possession and also burned Kobe on backcuts, although to be fair in Coach K’s system he is supposed to deny the ball on the wing and have help backdoor.  

Everyone Else Needs to Keep Shooting

While both Steve Smith on the NBAtv broadcast and Fran Fraschilla for ESPN decried the number of 3s the US took, I am in complete disagreement.  With the exception of Bryant, nearly every 3 Team USA took was absolutely wide open. As I predicted a few days ago, Kevin Durant absolutely had his way from 3 point land against the Argentinian zone, as he was able to shoot right over it from the wing. Even for the rest of these players, these are 22 foot 3 pointers that would be considered a good shot for any of these players in the NBA, and they should continue to take them.  Deron Williams in particular was only 1-5, with all 4 misses wide open.  He can certainly hit the FIBA 3 in his sleep.  Moreover, Team USA has had absolutely no problem getting these shots, which has resulted in only 45 turnovers in 4 games.*  Team USA was 11/34 (38%) on 3s, a very efficient number on a high volume of attempts.

*Now that the Americans are overseas and “FIBA ref” Bill Kennedy isn’t on the crew anymore, the team was called 4 times for their old bugaboo of lifting their pivot foot before putting the ball on the floor, much to the delight of the fans on hand in Barcelona.

The Team Needs to Play Harder

Quite frankly, the Americans sleepwalked through this one after breaking out to a 17-1 lead in the first few minutes.  The key problem was awful transition defense.  On pretty much every defensive rebound or turnover, at least one Team USA player loafed back.  Kobe was again the worst perpetrator, although everyone from Chris Paul to Anthony were guilty at least once.  At one point, LeBron angrily motioned for his teammates to get back as Argentina finished a 3 on 1 against him.  If these guys are playing 20 minutes a game, they can expend enough effort to get back on D.

Kobe’s 30 foot 3 again provided the lowlight, as he somehow failed to get back on D after shooting it and gave up the most uncontested layup in the history of FIBA basketball to Ginobili.

The Centers Can’t Score

Team USA’s centers have not provided an adequate performance offensively.  Tyson Chandler has only been able to find 4 shots and 6 free throw attempts in 58 minutes; chances for him should abound off passes on penetration, pick and rolls, or offensive rebounds as the other teams’ bigs go to help.  However, it must be noted that Chandler has been excellent defensively and is well-worthy of a starting role on that basis alone.  His +/- in this game was +27 in 11 minutes of action at one point in the game.

Kevin Love cannot point to the defensive end of the floor to bolster his performane.  Frankly, he has been really bad so far.  He has 7 fouls in 47 minutes with only one block.  Subjectively, his help defense has been no better than his piddling NBA reputation would suggest, and he offers little in the way of basket protection.  His offense hasn’t been much better, as he has been unable to affect the game with his offensive rebounding the way he could in short bursts for the 2010 team.

Offensively he has been just as ineffective as Chandler at finding inside shots off penetration, which is not a particular strength of his game.  And while Love has been hailed in some quarters as a superior FIBA player because of his outside shooting, that isn’t what the team needs.  If he’s just going to stand outside and shoot 3s there are other players who can do that and provide much more defensively.  Unless Love is going to be a dominant rebounder, he doesn’t really have much of a role on this team to my eyes.

Surprisingly enough, I think this team really misses Blake Griffin offensively as a second string center, although I always feared Blake would have the same issues defensively as Love.

Whither Anthony Davis?

This opinion might be derided by insiders as a typical outsiders/fan perspective, but I think Anthony Davis should play more.  Granted, fans and writers often take a grass is greener approach with younger players or reserves; just look at how the backup QB is often the most popular player on the team until he actually gets on the field.  But I legitimately started with the idea that Davis was way too young, inexperienced, and weak to be a meaningful contributor on this team, although I applauded his selection for developmental purposes and simple curiosity to see what he could do.  Since then, Davis’ performance has made me think he should at least get a look as the backup center, especially with Love’s utter ineffectiveness.  Davis has scored 20 points in 23 minutes. There are a lot of inside shots to be had off the wings’ penetration, but Chandler and Love haven’t been able to find the openings to capitalize..  Against Great Britain, Davis was able to get free for alley-oops and inside finishes that Love and Chandler haven’t been able to find.  Defensively Davis is tied for the team lead in blocks with 4, in a third as many minutes as co-leader Chandler.  

Of course, caveats abound.  Davis compiled a lot of his stats against the Domincan Republic’s reserves, who included 16 year old Karl Towns at center.  It could be that Davis has not played well enough in practice to earn major minutes, or that he’s struggled with the plays or defensive concepts.  It also seems clear that he’s a bit of a fish out of water socially on this team.  I haven’t once seen him in conversation with any other player on the bench, and he seems to get only cursory congratulations after his good plays.  During the Dominican Republic game the entire bench was up cheering except for him.  Despite his attempts to own the “Brow” moniker, every impression I’ve had of him is that he’s a very soft-spoken kind of guy, somewhat like Derrick Rose.  This is compounded by the fact that he did not really come up through the AAU system like many of these other players and may not feel particularly at home in this sort of all-star environment.  

While the social life of Team USA would normally be of little interest, I think Coach K could face some political difficulties inserting Davis into the lineup ahead of established NBA stars like Kevin Love or whoever would be playing “center” in the small lineup without Chandler or Love.  (Carmelo Anthony would be my choice to lose minutes there.)  Since Team USA has won all of its games in semi-comfort so far, it would probably be impolitic for Coach K to give Davis meaningful minutes in a close game at the risk of alienating his other players.  Hopefully, this will all be a moot point and we won’t be asking whether Davis could have helped after a close US loss in the medal round.  But I do think his shot-blocking and finishing skills, however raw, are exactly what Team USA needs.

Team USA Needs to Pay More Attention to Defensive Matchups

Without Chandler in the game, Team USA has largely gone with a strategy of switching nearly every screen.  However, that strategy has been somewhat compromised when a smaller guard like Paul or Westbrook gets stuck on a big man, forcing a double team.  Team USA could maximize the effectiveness of its switching strategy by playing bigger guards Williams and Bryant together when Chandler is out of the game, as these players would be at much less of a disadvantage after a switch.  However, the most recent starting lineup featured Paul and Bryant playing with Chandler.  If Williams and Westbrook are going to play together, it would make sense for them to “cross-match” and play Williams on the opposing shooting guard so Westbrook can apply his ridiculous ball pressure to the opposing point guard.  Westbrook’s pressure is much less effective against wings who catch the ball in triple threat.  Westbrook also isn’t used to guarding wings, and Ginobili largely had his way with him.

In fact, Coach K has not been particularly focused on defensive matchups.  He apparently missed the Heat’s championship run, in which LeBron James showed himself an excellent post defender.  For some reason, James was guarding on the perimeter while Carmelo Anthony was matched up with Luis Scola in the post.  While Anthony battled hard, he picked up some quick fouls.  Another time, James was outside while Kobe took the bottom lane position for free throw rebounding.  When Team USA goes small, the strongest and best-jumping player on the floor needs to be the center on defense.

Will Spain Crash the Glass?

Argentina’s transition defense was also pretty miserable, as their bigs’ largely futile attempts on the offensive glass* left them out of position on defense.  Were I Argentina, I would have sent the defense back the moment a shot went up.

*Argentina’s reserve bigs are absolutely hilarious, checking into the game looking like they just got back from a smoke break.  My favorite sequence from this game was the bearded Friederich Kammerichs’ crunch-time attempt to dribble the full length of the floor as 3 Team USA defenders circled like sharks before he finally lost control, dove on the floor, and was able to throw it off Kobe’s foot to save possession for Argentina.  Of course, that did not  remotely compare to my all-time favorite Argentinian reserve big moment from 2007.

However, Spain will have a very interesting decision on whether to fight hard on the offensive glass, as the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka could really hurt Team USA there.  I will be watching closely to see how hard they try to hit the offensive boards.  It’s worth noting that Spain’s problem against the US has always been much more on offense than on defense, so I would probably send them back on D.

We’ll be back with more after the final Team USA tuneup against Spain on Tuesday.


I did note one weird thing about FIBA rules, which is that the game clock keeps running after a made basket but the shot clock does not. A team could very easily take advantage of this rule with, say, 29 seconds left in the quarter on the game clock to just let it run down below 24 seconds before inbounding the ball. It would seem a pretty obvious strategy but I've never heard it anyone talk about it before. Is this something FIBA players regularly try to take advantage of?


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