Last weekend, Team USA announced its roster for London. Yesterday, it played its lid-lifter match against the Dominican Republic, which resulted in a big win.
Some are predicting Team USA as heavy favorites in London in a few weeks; others foresee defeat at the hands of a Spanish team with the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka and perceived better chemistry.
Here are five things that Team USA needs to do to be unstoppable.
First off, there are a few things I think are givens for the United States. I think we can expect blisteringly good guard play, and lots of scoring.
But what is important to me is how they get that scoring. Against the Dominican Republic, the U.S. shot better than 56 percent from the field, including 16 of 20 from Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala alone.
The original Dream Team shot almost 58 percent. All I’m asking for is 50, which is still considerably higher than most of the other teams in contention can hope for.
With an across-the-board tournament average of 50 percent or better from the field, the U.S. will win many games. The U.S. can achieve that by finding open looks against defenses that don't measure up to NBA caliber, and by Kobe Bryant and others avoiding jacking up large amounts of low-percentage shots as they do when they are team carriers.
One of the things we saw at the 2010 Worlds, and again in the Dominican Republic game, was Tyson Chandler (at present Team USA’s only true center) get into foul trouble and see only limited action.
That means seeing someone who isn’t a true center in the middle. While that didn’t seem to be much of a problem against the Dominican Republic, it could very well make a difference in a semifinal game against Brazil or a gold medal game against Spain.
Chandler going whole quarters without fouling (while playing) could certainly help the U.S.
Keeping Chandler out of foul trouble segues into my next point: win the battle of the boards.
Team USA won the rebounding battle against a Dominican Republic squad that was not devoid of bigs, fielding competent players in Al Horford and Jack Martinez. In 1992, Team USA averaged more than 36 rebounds a game, albeit anchored by Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Charles Barkley. Team USA led all teams in rebounding at the 2010 Worlds with more than 41.
Winning the battle of the boards obviously entails getting strong rebounding performances from Chandler, Kevin Love and (in the limited minutes he’ll get) Anthony Davis. But Team USA also has the potential to get strong rebounding performances from non-traditional positions, such as Iguodala, who is a legitimate 4-by-5 threat.
The combination of being outshot and outrebounded by the United States (who would be needing less second-chance opportunities, but getting more and stopping you from getting the second-chance opportunities you need) would make winning almost impossible.
If you are outshot and outrebounded, your only window to winning is to force more turnovers than your opponent. Therefore, to be unstoppable, Team USA needs to close that window by winning the turnover battle as well.
Against the Dominican Republic, the U.S. won the turnover margin by a factor of two, and the points-off-turnover margin by a factor of three. While we can’t expect that big a win in the turnover margin in all games, winning it by a factor of one-and-a-quarter or one-and-a-half would be nice.
One key to winning the turnover battle is to get lots and lots of steals from the number of steal threats Team USA can throw on the floor. The other is for turnover-magnets Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams to hold onto the ball better.
As keeping the big man out of foul trouble ties in to winning the rebound battle, so playing lockdown press defense ties in with outshooting opponents and winning the turnover battle.
With five players (one at each position) who have made All-Defensive Teams, an extraordinary collegiate defender in Davis and a deep bench, the USA has the athleticism and skill to press often, as they did against the Dominican Republic.
Obviously, the point of a press defense is to steal the ball in the backcourt, and convert it to a fast-break dunk or layup. If that doesn't work, you can at least control the tempo and force the other team to take and miss low-percentage shots.
Bottom line: There are five things that the U.S. should do to be completely unstoppable, four of which they've already proven they can do.