Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thoughts on the U.S.A. Gold Medal in the FIBA World Championships

I was cleaning up my old drafts and found this post about the 2010 World Basketball Championships that was never published. Enjoy my thoughts about the team and the players from three years ago. Goodness how some of these guys have grown - I will always remember watching them come together for this run and how fun this team was.

First of all, this was Kevin Durant's coming out party. I know he's good. He's been good for a while. But I don't think he's ever been this good. Sure, making the playoffs last year with the Thunder was huge. Getting in your reps with a defender like Artest against a championship-caliber team is something great youngsters have to go through. But this was something else. You could see it in his eyes during the gold medal game against Turkey. How he glared at the fans. How he celebrated after a long three. How he laughed off the pitiful Turkish defense after burying another, longer three. Not that the Turkish defense was bad. Their extended zone was a problem for teams all tournament, and this team played with intelligence and class (well, outside of maybe Turkoglu). But they could not match up with Durant, and Durant knew it. And he feasted. He looked a lot like Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, when they got that look in their eyes that said: "I got this. They can't guard me. Let me take us home." It's arrogance and leadership and confidence. I think this will be a real turning point for him, the point where he learns how to win.

Another thing that I loved seeing from Team USA: the ball movement. In early games (especially against Brazil), you would see the team swing the ball crisply around the perimeter, passing up long shots to probe the defense. Guys seemed to be driving the lane with purpose: even the younger guards (Westbrook, Rose) seemed to cut down on the senseless forays into the paint. A couple hard dribbles, kick out, rotate the ball, reverse, etc. Durant beating zone defenses by himself helped, but they always identified the hot hand. That can be a tough ask for a talented young guard, and it's what separates many from a Chris Paul or John Stockton or Magic Johnson. Those guys know how to manage a game, constantly have a mental ledger of who needs the ball, who can go a few more possessions without, and who gives the team the best chance to win.

Speaking of the young guards: they are fun to watch, aren't they? I forgive them for the hotheaded rim runs they do put on due to the sheer athleticism they exhibit through such displays. Yeah, Rose probably played with too big a chip on his shoulder, causing him to run through a few too many guys, but you know what? I like that he doesn't feel he belongs. He is a bona fide superstar in the league, was a superstar in college, and a superstar in high school, and yet he's here with something to prove. I think all this stems from the whole training camp competition between Rose, Westbrook, and Rondo. Rondo couldn't handle it. I hope he's back. But for Derrick and Russell, this is a valuable time to learn how to play in a system and how to not be the man all the time. But when they do have the ball in their hands? Look out, world.

The final thing that stood out to me about this USA team in particular was the coaching. Coach K pulled some rabbits out of his hat. Small-ball lineups, multiple guards, trusting Lamar Odom at center... he really tried something different, and I loved the way the team played. Each guy knew his role. Guys would come off the bench and fly on defense. I loved watching Iggy whenever he was in the game. He was so infectious. It seemed like these guys really bought into Coach K, bought into Team USA, and in London, that will matter when the All-Stars are there. Some of these guys will make it to London, and I'm so happy for them.

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