Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spain v. Lithuania, Group Play, August 31

What a game. Zach Harper on ESPN's DDL chat was calling this as a better game than Greece/Turkey. After watching it, I don't think any of us can argue. I feel like this game was straight out of the NCAA men's tourney. I mean, this had a college feel. The fans, the atmosphere, the basketball being displayed (hard driving, a lower level of skill than NBA, missed shots, disappearing superstars-Linas Kleiza, anyone?-, tough defense, and sheer grit. And the last-second finish. Great stuff.

Spain, as you may know, had a good lead in the first half, played like the Spain we're used to seeing, got lots of guys involved. Then, somewhere bridging the 3rd and 4th quarters, they fell apart, got tight, and then couldn't get in the game. First, let's give credit to Lithuania. They didn't get much from Kleiza, but guys like Jonas Maciulis and Martynas Pocious really picked it up, getting to the line and getting points when they needed it. Not that Kleiza was invisible: he really kept Lithuania in the game in the first half and in the second, Spain draped Garabajosa all over him and didn't let his defender help at all. The announcer (who was fantastic, I mean, Bill Walton-esque) said that he should have demanded the ball more, and he is right, but Spain really built their defense to stop him. He didn't really help spread the floor, but it is tough in FIBA play when Spain has enough size inside to rotate well on the other 4 guys when Kleiza's defender never leaves his side. So I'll give him a pass because they got the win.

Spain. Oh boy. The first team came out well in the first half. Lots of creative stuff. Even in the 3rd quarter, where they had leads of 18 and 16. And then coach Scariolo took his starters out like he should when he needs to rest his guys. And then the bench (Raul Lopez in particular) proceeded to clog the offense like a toilet, and let Lithuania back in the game piece by piece. And here is where Spain went wrong. Right when you're lead is under 10, you need to think like a college coach, call time, get a couple of your starters back in, and start running good stuff. I'll have to see it again, but it seemed like they were in full-on choke/panic/tight mode. What it seems like to these eyes, is the 2010 Spanish team has a disfunctional soul.

This is the problem: Rubio is a creator. Sure, he's good in the pick-and-roll. But he is a creator that needs a fluid system. Navarro is great isolated at the wing, and in the pick and roll. Gasol is good in the pick-and-roll, as well as in isolation. But the common denominator is the pick and roll. And that's what they ran when the starters came back in. This is the problem: with Lithuania started begging the Spanish perimeter players to shoot over the pick and took away the drive with tremendous help defense, you started seeing a lot of missed layups, guys standing around, not much action besides the pick and roll. So you have a team that wants to create, wants to involve a lot of guys, and only two are in the play. Or you have iso guys that can pass. And that's the other problem. Navarro is kind of Maggette like in that once he's driving, he's gonna shoot. Same with Marc Gasol: he's not the post passer that Pau is. And Rubio isn't a good enough shooter to kind of play off that. He wants to create, but the others are more individual. And when the going got tough, there was no unified strategy they could pursue to get solid points. No KBJ sky hook.

Can Spain get this figured out? Yes. They can get guys moving on the perimeter around the play, maybe gamble and get guys in for offensive boards. But it's harder than it looks, and who knows if they'll be around long enough to try.

The Hightop Fadeaway - A Hoops-Hiphop-NBA Blog, Leandro Barbosa aka The Brazilian Blur breaks...

Fantastic article about Leandro Barbosa:

The Hightop Fadeaway - A Hoops-Hiphop-NBA Blog, Leandro Barbosa aka The Brazilian Blur breaks...

Monday, August 30, 2010

USA v. Brazil Final, Group Play, August 30

Man, we got sloppy in the 4th quarter. Same type of thing that happened in the second quarter against Slovenia, only this time, they had the horses to score and make it extremely close. Even luckily close. Let's look at what happened:

Chauncey Billups. He was terrible in the 4th. I know he scored the layup that got us to 70 points, but overall, it was a disaster. In the 3rd, I was writing on how his veteran presence and moves helped open the floor, but he seemed to sense that and proceeded to chuck up 3's, turn it over, etc. What I think coach K needs to do is play more with Durant/Rose bringing the ball up, allowing us to attack from the get go. I think this will help us bust the zone by initiating the ball differently and will change the pace that we go at.

Turnovers. These were ugly. Some of them, too ugly (see the section on refs). I think a lot of our guys tried to play faster than they should, and some of them tried to dribble through guys. We have had problems with turnovers the last few games, and if it weren't for our defense, this would be a loss. The big knock is that our bench guards, guys with handles (Westbrook, Gordon, Curry) are turning it over. Not good.

The referees. These guys can't ref NBA players. Even NBA refs don't have the skills to ref NBA players. Over the last 3 USA games, there have consistently been bad calls because the refs are not used to the speed these players go at. Most blatant are the travelling issues: I know our guys sometimes raise the pivot foot before the ball is dribbled, and the refs know that, but I think sometimes they preemptively whistle the balls dead 2-3 times a game (especially on KD). I just think our guys are too fast for these refs to watch. Other issues are with block/charge calls, though I can't really complain on this because it is a debated call no matter what league you're in.

Defense: I was actually impressed with our interior defense on Splitter. Of course, if we can't play with him, then Spain/Greece are going to eat us alive, but we showed we can at least play with him. Great defense.

Kevin Durant. Need I say more?

USA v. Brazil 3Q, Group Play, August 30

Chauncey Billups. That's all I can say. He is getting in the paint, getting guys room. He is taking it on the break. He is using veteran moves, not speed, to burn his guy in a game where there isn't much burning. Drawing free throws and getting looks.

Tyson Chandler. Played tough. People (including me) have ragged on him a lot. But he is getting it done on defense, drawing fouls against Splitter, who is sitting with 4 fouls (you can only have 5 in FIBA play).

USA v. Brazil 1st half, Group Play, August 30

Kevin Durant is doing it all. He is keeping us in the game all by himself. All around great, but especially the scoring. Some shots are just ridiculous in terms of difficulty, but he has a knack of making it look easy.

The other guys, not so much. I mean, they're not playing poorly, a lot of our guys are being efficient, but they just can't get any good looks. There isn't a lot of movement with the ball or without the ball, and there are no spot-up open looks.  We need one of our penetrators to get hot and free up the jump/set shooters. We need something to spread their defense out and give our guys room.

Defense has still been good. Tiago Splitter can take us to the paint any time he wants. Brazil is playing very smart against our man-to-man, they haven't turned it over and given us the chance to run.

Second half updates to come.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

USA v. Greece Exhibition, August 25

Russell Westbrook can draw a foul any time he wants.
Kevin Durant is still everywhere.
Our shooters are doing well (outside of Iggy): Billups, Gordon, KD. Adjusting to the international line well.
We might have trouble with screens on the perimeter. We're obviously not showing how we're going to defend it. But these Euro shooters are so good that we have to go over screens and as a by-product, they're able to collapse the defense and get a few good looks.
Our guys know how to run a fast break. It's surprising how many fast breaks are ruined in the NBA.
Coach K knows how to use his guys in a one-game tourney setting. NBA coaches don't understand how to use the whole roster, to get more than 7-8 guys involved to save your key guys. Coach K has gotten everyone in the game.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

USA v. Spain Exhibition, Aug 22

First of all, this was a relatively sloppy game. Sloppy on both sides. Sloppy with TO's, rebounding, defensive sets. With the amount of talent on the USA side and the amount of chemistry that Spain possesses, this could have been much cleaner.

On the other hand, this was a great game. We saw a glimpse of a potential gold medal matchup, we saw what different players could do around each other, and yet, there was enough withheld that when the play is for real, there will be many new things we have not seen.

First, I want to talk starting lineup. I think this is our lineup. I know that some are pining for Rondo, but I think this is our lineup because it combines aggressiveness with wisdom, enough energy to start a game strong, but enough discipline to not get too hot-headed. From the way we see coach K run his teams, he likes players to play through tough moments, and this starting five can do it. Against Spain, Derrick Rose proved he is unstoppable. Sloppy, but unstoppable. And I'm not talking just about the last 2 possessions. He was doing that the whole game. Needs to cut down his turnovers, but I'm glad that Krzyzewski has realized that he is a 2 in this lineup and needs to create for himself.

Which is why I'm glad Chauncey is here. Defensively, he guards the 2, but on offense, he is the point. Good shooting, good passing. What we need. Iggy is the shutdown defender. We put him on their best wing, and let Durant roam. Which saves Durant's legs, letting him kill offensively. And I like Odom, if only for the fact that Chandler is atrocious. I mean, Chandler can't even start for his own NBA team (Brendan Haywood is the projected 5 in Dallas next year). What Odom gives up on defense (Marc Gasol can eat him alive when he wants), he gives you in increased floor spacing on offense. And while no one wants to see him shoot that corner 3 ever again, he is at least a viable mid-range player.

So I like the starting five. And I like Westbrook/Curry being the first guys off the bench. I think we'll miss Rondo (would rather have him than Granger), but Westbrook can play some mean defense and can shoot mid-range. And Curry comes off the bench as instant offense. This guy was on the bubble, and I think he has proven his merits. I mean, he didn't have a great game statistically, but the shots that he made were huge. And when Spain plays for real and puts the zone in, I think he'll be better than Granger/Gordon.

One thing I'm concerned about is Kevin Love's inability to get in the game. He's a great high post, which fits the international game (he doesn't need to be in the key), is a board machine, and is an above-average passer. I just don't know what the coaches see in Chandler. And I know that Rudy Gay has a good all-around game, but I think that Granger is better (we'll see when he fully comes back from injury). Though most of us thought that the coaches were tinkering with the lineup and the actual minutes for the World's will be different than what we saw against Spain, a lot of us thought Rondo would still be around. In 5 days, he went from starter to third string to gone.

Other than that, I think we have a competitive team. It was only an exhibition, but we showed that we can beat Spain, in Spain. We showed we have a guy that you can't stop. And we showed that Kevin Durant can take over any game, quarter, possession, he likes (on offense or on defense). I think we'll be okay: you make the call.