12 September 2010

Team USA FIBA Thoughts...

Team USA successfully stormed through the FIBA World Championships in Turkey. Great effort, and a solid coaching job by Coach K lead to a fairly easy tournament, despite being a very young, and seemingly undersized team.

Players who proved they belong in elite company, who might not have been thought of being at that level before the tournament are as follows:

Lamar Odom: LA Lakers
?!? Where was this player for the Lakers? He was the glue that held this team together, his rebounding, activity defensively, and superior athleticism compared to other centers (he played center mostly, in the tournament), were all big surprises. Kevin Durant was, without question, the best player in the tournament, but a strong case could be made for Lamar being the second best player for Team USA. Given that he's about the 4th or 5th best Laker, that's kind of shocking. Even with bigger stars looking for a place on Team USA for London 2012, Lamar should have earned a roster spot, assuming he remains capable of playing at this level (which given that he'll only by 32 then, he should).

Eric Gordon: LA Clippers
His shooting, strength, and quickness all helped to get him significant minutes backing up the 2 guard spot, and being brought in as a third guard when Team USA went small. Because of his strength, and FIBA rules allowing more contact than in the NBA, he was able to guard players a few inches taller than himself. Also, he probably benefitted the most shooting behind the closer in 3pt line. NBA 3s are just out of his range, but he has the perfect shooting touch for the international game.

Kevin Durant: Oklahoma Thunder
Everyone knows "The Durantula" is an emerging star in the NBA, but this tournament should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that he is in the conversation for best player in the league. Given that LeBron will probably play a sidekick role in Miami, Durant should be favored to win the MVP in the 2010-11 season. It's unfair that someone with his length has that kind of shooting touch.

Russell Westbrook: Oklahoma Thunder
Westbrook played his way onto the squad in Las Vegas (as Rajon Rondo played his way off) more for his willingness to play within the system than with superior talent compared to all the other 1 and 2 guards that were available. That coachability, combined with a commitment to playing solid fundamental basketball, make him worth more for his team than his basic physical toolset would seem to merit.

Players who probably played themselves off of consideration for the 2012 Olympic squad:

Chauncey Billups: Denver Nuggets
Older does not mean wiser. Too many times he took unadvisable shots in situations where more ball movement would have been wise. Wasn't great defensively, either, he wasn't terrible, but there a lot of younger players who are better physically and mentally at his position.

Tyson Chandler: Dallas Mavericks
Unimpressive tournament, he had a chance to shine, but against any but the slowest and crappiest big men, he looked lost and a bit lethargic. Dwight Howard will be the starter, and Odom and Bosh the backups in 2012, there's no roster spot left for Chandler, and he doesn't deserve one.

Looking forward to London 2012, I think the players who played well on this team should be rewarded with roster spots. Assuming these players stay healthy, then the 2012 team should be about half players from this squad, and half from the 2008 Beijing team. If I had to pick right now here's my 12 man roster for 2012:

C: Dwight Howard (he's the only true center you need)
C/F: Lamar Odom, Blake Griffin (Lamar's earned it, and Blake will be a monster once he gets back, he grabs the main big forward spot from Kevin Love)
F: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, LeBron James (Melo is a fantastic international player, better at that game than he is in the NBA, and LeBron is LeBron, while Durant, by 2012, might be the best player on the planet)

Other bigs that might play their way on to the squad by 2012, DeMarcus Cousins (he's got huge potential), Robin Lopez, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, and Amar'e Stoudemire.

SG: Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade (Wade and Kobe should still be playing at a high level, while Curry gives you unlimited shooting range to bust up any zone defenses they face)

PG: Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, John Wall (Williams and Rose are locks for this team, assuming they want it, and they're healthy, for the last guard slot, I think after 2 NBA seasons, it might be hard to leave John Wall off this team, he has that much potential)

Other guards that might play, Chris Paul, obviously, but the physicality of the international game means his size will be a liability, so I'd favor Wall over Paul amongst smaller point guards given Wall's superior speed. Russell Westbrook is another option, he's shown what he can do. Eric Gordon might fit, if they decide they need a role player off the bench, rater than another star. That leaves Rajon Rondo amongst top US-born guards, he played himself off the 2010 team by not following coaching instructions as well as Westbrook or Gordon. His inability to shoot also is a bigger liability under FIBA rules than in the NBA, but if he improves in coachability and shooting between now and summer 2012, he has a solid shot at making this team.

The line ups that team could put on the floor together would be frightening. They could go with four shooters and a slasher on the floor with Odom/Durant/Anthony/Curry/Wall, or they could go huge with LeBron defending the opposing shooting guard, and Kobe defending the point, while James handles the ball on offense Howard/Griffin/Durant/James/Bryant, or they could go lightning fast with three guards, and no center, Durant/James/Curry/Williams/Wall.

With that sort of line-up flexibility, that team should be able to create mismatches against any team they face, even with the improved level of play they can expect in London as fewer star players skip the tournament as they did in the just concludede World Championships.

There's a lot to like about the international rules compared to the NBA. I like the closer 3pt line, the 40 minute games, time outs on dead ball situations only, and even the trapezoidal lane. I think the NBA is right in keeping the game from becoming the wrestling matches that they allow under FIBA rules, and even though officiating in the NBA is at times questionable, in international play it is outright criminal.

If the NBA adopted the international rules, while keeping their own style of officiating, I think you'd get the best of both worlds.

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