When Kiss Cam is the biggest attraction at a game featuring the greatest basketball players on Earth, you have a problem
Team USA Men’s Basketball took the court for their second exhibition game Monday night, fresh off their 54-point tune-up drubbing of the Dominican Republic Men’s National team that barely missed Olympic qualification. Just last week, Kobe Bryant, the unofficial co-captain of this squad, was once again thrust into the center of the sports world, this time claiming that the 2012 version of USA Basketball could defeat the original 1992 Dream Team. However, after Monday night’s near shocking upset, USA Basketball should keep any dreaming off the court. Here’s a breakdown of why Team USA Basketball may be in for some trouble.
1. They Have No Big Men
Of the 12 players who made the team, only four stand at 6’9″ or taller. One of those players (6’9″ Kevin Durant) can in no way be considered a “big” man (by NBA standards) outside of his height, has a lackluster post game (albeit he is a bonafide superstar), subs in off the bench as the sixth man for their one true center, Tyson Chandler, and is then forced to play either the 4 or 5 (power forward or center) against bigger, stronger competition; another (6’10” Anthony Davis, 19-year-old number 1 overall draft pick out of Kentucky) has never played a minute of professional basketball and sits at the end of Coach K’s bench. The only other big man remaining, 6’10” Kevin Love, is inexplicably buried on the bench (he played exactly 5:35) and in limited play has become solely a spot up shooter a la Carmelo Anthony (who missed 6 of the 7 bad shots he took, and two of three free throws, for the record), instead of a banger on the glass as he is known to be.
To be fair, this team is missing some of the key cogs in its front court with the losses of Dwight Howard (best Center in the league), Chris Bosh (one of the top Power Forwards in the league), and Blake Griffin (up and coming superstar Power Forward, phenomenal rebounder). That front court alone has warranted 15 All Star appearances, 4 All-Defensive teams, 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a former Rookie of the Year. However, let’s remember what’s more important than those three: the big guys actually on the roster: Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love and (apparently) Kevin Durant.
The fact of the matter is that our front court got banged, bumped, and bruised by the Brazilians, who boast a front court of serviceable NBA big men Nene Hilario (Wizards), Tiago Splitter (Spurs), and Anderson Varejao (Cavaliers). Their play in the paint limited the American squad to just two blocked shots, as well as out-rebounding their American counterparts (38-30) for good measure. Bryant commented on his team’s performance on the block after the game, noting “We have to do a better job with our rotations on the back side”, but knowing it isn’t enough, as playing a complete game for all 40 minutes of the FIBA competition is vital to victory at this level of competition. At first thought, it’s easy to give the Americans a pass on their performance, because unlike the majority of other international teams, Brazil features a number of NBA-quality players. However, if this is how they play against sub-par NBA big men, what in the world is in store for this team when they inevitably play a rematch of the 2008 Gold Medal Game against Spain? Don’t forget the Spanish National Team features perennial All Stars Pau (Lakers) and Marc (Grizzlies) Gasol, as well as Oklahoma City’s Shot Blocking Machine, Serge Ibaka, who just came off of facing USA’s best player, LeBron James, in the NBA Finals, plays alongside USA Superstar Kevin Durant in OKC, and alone averaged more blocks per game (3.7) last season than the United States managed as a team (2) against Brazil. This front court needs to figure itself out sooner rather than later.
2. They Were Losing By Double Digits
When asked about their offensive struggles early in the game, James admitted “we worried about our offense early on, which messed with our defense” and inevitably led to the end of the first quarter arriving with the USA squad down by 10. President Obama, who was arguably more entertaining than the USA team itself for much of the game, was interviewed at half time and was sure to mention “I suspect that Michael and Sir Charles [Barkley] and others [on the 1992 Dream Team] would point out that they were probably never down at any point in any of their games” and although he finished that statement calling the 2012 team an “unbelievable talent”, the point was duly noted: The Americans were playing terribly and needed to step up their game. Durant also weighed in on the problem, pointing out some obvious problems: “we missed some easy lay ins, some easy 3s”. Exactly. These are the greatest players in the world, and they’re missing easy shots. Don’t get me wrong, it happens. But the point is that going 1-12 from 3pt range in a half and missing seven free throws in a game is simply unacceptable for The Best. Granted, had they even shot a still mediocre 4-12 from three, they leave the quarter with a small lead. Heck, they did outscore the Brazilians 20-5 (FIVE!!) in the next quarter, asserting their dominance. They have not only the potential, but also the ability to destroy their competition. But if they were down 10 to the Brazilians, who missed a number of easy shots themselves, they could just as easily find themselves down 20+ in the gold medal game to a much, much better Spain team, who also feature reliable point guard Jose Calderon (Raptors) and slightly above average NBA journeymen Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro. Don’t forget that the US team is also missing two of the best all around offensive and defensive players at their position in Derrick Rose (PG, Bulls) and Dwayne Wade (SG, Heat).
3. They reminded me of the 2011-2012 Boston Celtics…in a bad way
So much talent, so much experience, so much potential. Great big men who play small (Garnett [until the playoffs]; Chandler/Love), terrific point guards who can carry the team (Rondo; Paul), but sporadically turn up short (only 11 team assists for the game), bad turnovers leading to points in transition (10 total), and despite all the team potential and ability to integrate the inside game, relied too heavily on shooting (which was poor overall for team USA, shooting 40% from the field, 25% from 3). When their shooting failed, so did the team (despite pulling out a win).
4. They reminded me of the Miami Heat…from last year
Too much of this:
…and not enough this:
But seriously, is it that far off? They don’t run an intricate offense, instead relying on transition baskets and, when forced to play half-court, five-on-five street ball which relies on a one-on-one isolation style, hoping for a good back cut to catch the defense off guard. Defense is the same story: all one-on-one, no system, no traditional help. Instead, they rely on breaking up the passing lanes and trying to make transition buckets, evidenced by their impressive 19 steals against Brazil. However, If you slow the game down on offense, make USA play 24 seconds of defense against you, running around off screens, tiring them out, etc. then their transition game comes to a screeching halt and their one-on-one, “hero ball” style of offense flounders before your very eyes. Too much flash, not enough grind.
5. They played the game like an All Star Game…
Most players will tell you that when it comes to the All Star game, the first quarter/half is for fun and show, and the fourth is where you play to win, which is exactly how Team USA played Monday night. Somewhere the Spaniards are drooling…
No offense to Anthony Davis but, well, God Bless America. Please.