Through five games of exhibition play, Team USA circa 2012 has done exactly what its supposed to do. Win. They have won blowouts against the Dominican Republic, Great Britain and the Marc Gasol-less Spaniard National Team. The games against Brazil and Argentina were closer but I am not sure if the result was ever in doubt. In the five exhibition games, they played against three of the best teams in the world and gained some nice experience in their close games.
After Tuesday’s blowout win against Spain, Team USA has reminded the world why it is the favorite to win gold despite an atypical way of playing the game. One of the glaring weaknesses on Team USA’s roster is the lack of frontline depth at center and the traditional power forward. At times their speed makes up for the lack of height even against teams like Brazil, Argentina and Spain. But at others, their small ball approach can cause worries. Argentina and Brazil were able to get a number of offensive rebounds in their game with scrappy bigs like Luis Scola and Anderson Varejao. Spain has the most skilled big men of them all in Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. In the game yesterday, LeBron and Carmelo did a great job of denying the entry pass into the Spanish bigs but once they were able to catch the ball they got shots over the top of the Americans whenever they wanted.
The biggest concern here is the foul trouble that Tyson Chandler constantly gets himself into. I cannot remember a Defensive Player of the Year who is so consistently committing stupid and silly fouls. Chandler needs to be smarter than what he has shown in the first five games. Yes, Team USA likes playing small ball with LeBron, Carmelo and Kevin Durant in the frontcourt at the same time, but Chandler’s stupidity may be forcing them to play like that more than they would like to. The fouls in the paint when bigs are battling do not bother me. But the silly touch fouls ten feet past the three point line are unacceptable. Chandler must realize there is not a lot of frontcourt depth behind him and he needs to use his fouls wisely.
As far as Kevin Love goes, I am not sure why he is not getting very much playing time. He is by far the best at rebounding that we have to offer, so I am not sure why Coach K is so reluctant to give him solid minutes. He can be especially useful with his outside shooting. If the opposition plays man to man, he can draw the big man out for easier penetration by the perimeter players of Team USA. And being one of the better shooters that we have to offer, he can especially help when the opposition goes to zone. This may be a tactic of Coach K to not show all of our weapons too early, at least I hope it is.
I realize I might be sounding very pessimistic for a team that has not yet been in very serious danger of losing a game, but I am merely pointing out the things that Team USA must work on. The three point shooting is something that has been bothering me since their first game. Yes, the three point line in international ball is closer and therefore easier. But the Americans are looking far too much for the three. And I am not complaining about the uncontested threes that are taken in rhythm on a pass from a penetrating player, but the ones that are taken far too often after one or two passes with a hand in the face; although I do think we could pass up a few wide open looks to get into the lane…unless your name is Kevin Durant. I am basically ok with any three that KD takes. But the pace that Team USA is shooting threes at is troubling. It hasn’t hurt us too much yet, but it is a dangerous game to play living and dying by the three. I can’t think of a more frustrating way to lose than if they had a cold night from down town but continued to shoot threes anyway even though they could have easily gotten to the basket anytime they wanted. I think they need to tread more carefully as far as shooting the three goes.
Now onto the positives. Like every National Team that we put out there, this one has plenty of firepower. I don’t think we have had the same leading scorer for two games in a row yet. Kevin Durant led the way against the Dominican Republic, LeBron against Brazil, Deron Williams and Carmelo against Great Britain, Durant against Argentina and Carmelo and LeBron against Spain. With so much firepower, we do not need to depend on any one guy to have thirty every night. If Carmelo doesn’t have it one night, Durant does and visa versa. They do need to continue to work on better ways to get inside the zone and attack from inside out.
Another thing that makes me giddy about this team is their perimeter, on the ball defense. This team gets after from the moment their opponents inbound the ball. I love seeing Russell Westbrook flying around just causing havoc and he is in a perfect role for this team. He is playing a backup shooting guard more than anything else. He doesn’t control the ball too much which gives him less opportunities to make unwise decisions with it. But he scores when he does have the opportunity and they unleash him on poor foreign point guards who just want to get the ball up the court without being ripped into by Westbrook. Other perimeter defenders like Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Kobe are making life tough on opposing guards. As they get their hands on errant passed and poor dribbling, it allows the US to get out and running which is opposing coaches worst nightmares.
A little pattern has set in as we head for pool play that is starting to bother me. Opposing coaches, players and even the announcers for ESPN 2 are constantly saying that they are not showing the US all of their cards now, so they will be better off when the games really matter. Do they think we are showing them everything? Wouldn’t Team USA have a better chance than other nations of winning all of their exhibition games without having any real strategy? Shouldn’t we have the best coaching staff in the world? I think we have more potential to grow and improve than anyone else when all the cards are down. The Spaniards have been the worst culprits of all. Marc Gasol didn’t play yesterday, not only to heal his wounded shoulder, but so that they would have a built in excuse when they lost. That’s not competing and they should be ashamed for going out and not expecting to win, and more having an excuse ready for when they lost. I am excited for the changes Team USA will make as go further in the tournament and start to lay down all of their cards.
The Americans open up pool play on Sunday against France. Every two days after that they will play Tunisia, Nigeria, Lithuania and Argentina. France will be decent competition with the few NBA players that they have in Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. Tunisia and Nigeria will get bowled over by the US. Although Lithuania does not sport many players that play in the NBA, they are one of the top teams in the world and could be good competition for the Red, White and Blue. They will close out Group play against Argentina who only lost by six to the USA on Sunday, although they were down by double digits for the majority of the game.
Team USA 2012 should go undefeated not only through pool play, but throughout the entire tournament. They should cruise into the Gold Medal game where the Spaniards more than likely will be awaiting them. It will be a fun ride with a lot of ups, and probably not too many downs. But be it by blowout or close game, they will do what they went to England to accomplish. Win.