16 years ago feels like such an eternity doesn’t it? Back when I was about four, Michael Jordan and the rest of the Dream Teamers destroyed the idea of competitive basketball by completely blowing out every team they faced. They were living legends that mesmerized everyone, including their opponents who often asked for their autographs after the game. At the time it seemed like it would take forever for opposing teams to catch up to them.
Nevertheless, catch up they have as Team USA finished a bitter third in the 2004 Olympics. After that, the big news was that America would finally ask its players for multi year commitments in order to be able to be better equipped to handle the much more cohesive European and South American teams.
Well team USA finally played an exhibition game this year right before the Olympics. They ended up beating Team Canada (who didn’t actually qualify for the Olympics) by a score of 120-65. Still it was a more up and down game then the score suggests so let’s see what they did well and what needs work:
What Team USA did well:
- Shoot the ball: Team USA made 16 of their first 20 shots and while there was certainly a lot of lay up and dunks, there was a fair amount of jump shots. With international teams dedicated to playing zone to neutralize Team USA’s superior athleticism, this is going to be a huge key in the tournament. Against Canada, America didn’t disappoint by going 44 for 67 by the time the final buzzer sounded. This is going to be something to keep an eye on though as many of the shots that went in from the perimeter that weren’t shot by Michael Redd weren’t super clean as they bounced off the backboard and rim a few times before going in. Thus, while it was a strong point tonight, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for this team to have a few off nights. It will be interesting to see how this team reacts when that happens.
- Perimeter Defense: This was the highlight of the game as Team USA used the physicality of these games to their full advantage by hand checking whenever they wanted (which again is completely legal in an international game as opposed to the NBA) and constantly creating turnovers in the perimeter. Kobe Bryant will get a lot of the press for leading the perimeter defense and even getting a highlight dunk off a steal in the backcourt, but also impressive and less highlighted were the efforts of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Jason Kidd. The opposing point guards were constantly hounded by their full court press, and had to change direction repeatedly in order to avoid turning the ball over again. Even Carlos Boozer got into the act by helping Williams trap a Canadian guard during the final possession of the game. In the end, Team USA totaled 43 points off turnovers, most of which were created in the perimeter.
Where Improvement is Needed:
- Passing: This shouldn’t be a huge problem as the tournament goes on, but Team USA did not look very cohesive (Especially in the first half) of the game. Everyone seemed too willing to make the extra pass rather than read the situation and react from there. Thanks to Canada’s ineptness in this game, it didn’t hurt them too much, but those 19 turnovers are going to kill this team against more serious competition.
- Rebounding: At first glance, this should be a strength. After all, Team USA out rebounded Team Canada 38-24. Still many of those rebounds occurred in the second half when the Canadians morale dropped and they weren’t able to will themselves to the rebounds as they did in the first quarter. In the first half, they Canadians were able to play Team USA tough on the boards despite not having Samuel Dalembert who is their best rebounder because apparently his posse clashed with the team and all were dismissed from the team. Even so, Canada out offensive rebounded Team USA by a 10-8 margin. Dwight Howard who is the best rebounder in the NBA should be able to get every rebound he wants against a team of Canada’s level. Instead, there were several times where Joel Anthony would take him down low and then grab his own miss. Speaking of which, the biggest weakness that is apparent in team USA is:
- Interior and Pick and Roll Defense: According to ESPN’s analysts, 42 percent of all of Canada’s shots were uncontested. After reviewing the game tapes myself, this stands out even more. Luckily for America, Canada shot 20-60 for the game. Still, it should be noted that that Dwight Howard was especially bad at this. Joel Anthony who only went 1-6 in the game was actually able to get whatever position he wanted against Howard, and grab a pair of offensive rebounds over him. With such little big man depth, Howard, Carlos Boozer, and Chris Bosh have to better protect the interior. To be fair, the whole team has to do a better job of defending the pick and roll, but the main culprits who have trouble defending their own men and showing up late for rotations are those three. Again it didn’t stand out as much now, because Canada lacks the talent to do much with their better positioning. This will end up being a recurring theme for Team USA because they are hindered somewhat by their lack of size and big man depth, but their athleticism has to make up for it. You can bet that Argentina, Spain, or Greece will not make the same mistakes or waste as many opportunities.
- Dwayne Wade looked good during his first game in quite a while. While he still lacks a little bit of lift of his jumper and he didn’t elevate nearly as fast as he used to on his dunks or layups, against Canada he was able to do whatever he wanted when he had the ball. Having Wade off the bench will be a boon as he looks ready to go and hungry.
- Speaking of Samuel Dalembert and his posse, it consists of his wife, his coach, and his coach’s wife and that’s it…how exactly did they cause enough trouble to get Dalembert kicked off the team? Whatever happened, look for Canada to be looking for a new coach and to reinstate Dalembert next year, because in the end he is their best player.
- Joel Anthony had a weird game in that he went 1-6 and played only 16 minutes, but by the end of the game, the Heat have to be ecstatic about what they have in him. Like many international players (see Milicic, Darko) Anthony won’t play as effective in the NBA as he did in major international games, but even so, he definitely played well in his match up against Dwight Howard. He consistently fought for position, grabbed his pair of offensive rebounds, and set good screens. He should be a valuable role player of the bench this season for the Heat.
- Way too many ads for Team USA during the game… I think every country has received the email that Team USA is going to play this year. Please stop.
- Jason Kidd had 0 assists in his 16 minutes of play. Just putting that out there. His leadership is supposed to be invaluable, but when your point guard gets you zero assists and zero points maybe its time to give Deron Williams and Chris Paul even more playing time.
- Lebron coming back will help, because he actually shores up the frontline for Team USA. Apparently, Lebron is 260 pounds right now. If he didn’t sacrifice too much quickness, I think that will allow him to guard any player on any team other than perhaps Yao Ming of China.
- Can’t wait for the Olympics!