Team USA Basketball 2012: 10 Things We've Learned from Early Exhibitions
Team USA remains the gold medal favorites in men's basketball for the 2012 Summer Olympics and rightfully so, because they are the deepest and most talented squad across the board.
Still, there's always room for improvement no matter how great, and after three exhibition games, the U.S. cannot afford to take any steps backward.
With two more pre-Olympic exhibitions remaining against Argentina and Spain before the Summer Games tip off, the Americans can separate themselves with additional strong performances. Up to this point however, let's take a look at 10 things we've learned from Team USA leading into the week before London.
View Team USA's exhibition numbers at USA Basketball.
Rebounding Still a Minor Issue
Tyson Chandler is the lone primary center for Team USA, and he's totaled just seven rebounds in the three exhibition games.
So it's clear that the U.S. needs a stronger impact from Chandler in the paint. Additionally, the rest of the team has to increase production here as well.
In the previous two exhibitions, Team USA has been out-rebounded, and only Kevin Durant has hit double-digits (10 versus Dominican Republic).
Now, by no means is the minor lack of rebounding a significant issue, but it's one that will only help the U.S. take its game to another level. After all, the Americans were losing to Brazil through one quarter before dominating thereafter.
And for the athleticism that resides on Team USA, there's no reason why they can't completely control the interior throughout each contest. It's one area where opponents with solid big men could certainly take advantage to potentially pull off the upset.
Defense Could Still Improve
Although the Americans have allowed only 206 points through three exhibition games, it would help if the defense really locked it down.
For starters, we know that rebounding must improve, and that alone will prevent opponents from having any glimmer of hope to winning.
Against Brazil, the U.S. allowed a better shooting percentage from the field and beyond the arc while also letting Great Britain connect more from downtown. Thus, contesting and blocking more shots couldn't hurt and limiting free-throw attempts.
The Brazilians shot 75 percent from the line (although they did have 11 less attempts), and the British were 22-of-28.
Better opponents will definitely capitalize stronger with free throws and working inside, so improving defensively will just let the U.S. control the game tempo more consistently.
Offense Is Beyond Explosive
The fun thing about Team USA is their ability to willingly score at any time.
Virtually everyone on the roster can beat man defense and possesses the skill set to drive the lane, connect from the outside and draw fouls.
Considering their total of 311 points in three exhibition games, we can fully expect the U.S. to roll against any defense that is presented through the Olympics. When a team has true scorers like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, there's no telling how much the Americans will put up.
A distinct advantage here comes in playing defense-oriented teams, because Team USA will simply push the pace all game long. Regardless of how the Americans perform defensively, the offense will burn the scoreboard every time.
Have Yet to Face a Legit Challenge
From an individual perspective, Great Britain's Luol Deng has been the best player the U.S. has faced in their exhibition matches.
Deng went for 25 points, four rebounds, four assists and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the line.
However, America blasted Britain 118-78 and was already leading 55-37 at halftime. In the previous game, Brazil had jumped out to an early lead before the U.S. allowed only 42 points in the final three quarters.
As for the Dominican Republic, Team USA held them under 60 points and was winning 50-17 by the half.
In other words, the U.S. has yet to face a legitimate medal-contending opponent and until they do (if they do), we won't know how truly elite this team is.
Have Yet to Reach Full Potential
The bright side of not having faced a formidable opponent is it prevents someone from reaching their full potential.
Well, this current Team USA has the best set of talent since the 1992 Dream Team, and although that's a stretch by itself, we'll continue to learn about the 2012 team's ability as the games progress.
So technically what we've learned is that we haven't learned of this team's ultimate potential. Obviously this remains to be seen, but after three smashing performances, it's clear there's something special about the 2012 Dream Team.
In this sense, patience must be possessed because the next two exhibition games against Argentina and Spain will be a bit more telling.
Kevin Love Should Start
Kevin Love deserves to start, period.
In fewer total minutes than Tyson Chandler through three games, Love has scored more points, grabbed more boards and recorded just as many steals.
Now, yes, Love has committed more fouls and isn't nearly as impressive of a shot-blocker, but Team USA needs a more versatile and athletic presence inside.
Love has the ability to score from anywhere, defend inside or contest shots outside of the paint. Chandler, being a true center, won't contribute much offensively, and his lack of rebounding is a big part of why the U.S. has struggled down low (compared to other areas).
On the contrary, Love is more physical, bodes well in the transition and can get the offense more second-chance opportunities while preventing just that from opponents.
All around, he can make a bigger impact than Chandler and is a better fit to the explosive offensive style.
Keep Kevin Durant Starting
After not starting the first two games, Kevin Durant was given the green light in Game 3 versus Great Britain over Carmelo Anthony.
Needless to say, it was the right move by coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Durant put up 13 points in 21 minutes, and despite Carmelo scoring 19 in just 17 minutes, the leader of Oklahoma City has remained consistent. Through the first two games, Carmelo accounted for just 16 points, nine rebounds and zero assists.
Coming off the bench, Durant scored 35 points, made three assists and grabbed 13 rebounds.
Now, he has also received more playing time overall than Carmelo. However, it's clear that Durant can be a better factor in all areas of the game.
Whether it's rebounding, scoring, off-the-ball movement and/or general defense, Durant has proven to be deserving of a starting role.
Anthony Davis Needs More Time
Anthony Davis is one of the more interesting story lines regarding Team USA, because despite being an Olympian, he has yet to step foot on an NBA court.
As the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft, the Olympic Games are basically Davis' opportunity to develop before the preseason. And after getting time in Game 1 and Game 3, his production is worthy of being a more consistent contributor.
In his two games played, Davis has recorded 20 points, four blocks (leads team) and four rebounds and has shot 72.7 percent from the field.
Easily one of the team's more athletic frontcourt players, Davis in the paint solidifies a constant threat to block shots, grab boards on defense while possessing a reliable shot from anywhere inside the arc.
If Team USA is to remain stellar each game with the rotation on the floor, Davis has to be a large role-player of the mix. He's arguably the Team USA's best instinctive defender and transitions good enough for the offense as well.
Any PG Will Do
It doesn't matter who starts or how much time each player receives, because Team USA's point guards are all quite reliable.
Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook have displayed the innate ability to dish the rock around, score at will, cause turnovers and keep the offense moving. Williams has 16 assists through three games while Westbrook has 13, and Paul has 12.
No matter who's on the floor with them, each point man can find a way to move the ball and position their teammates to score. And when needed, all three are reliable enough to score against any defense.
Williams leads with an average of 10.3 points per game, and Westbrook and Paul each have 8.3 and 4.3 respectively. They are what make the U.S. so dangerous because the point man is the one orchestrating the offense and the first to guard on defense.
Combining for 18 of America's 47 steals in three games, these point guards will get the job done at both ends. Regardless of the game situation, the opponent or whichever teammates join them on the court, Williams, Paul and Westbrook will keep the U.S. solid in the backcourt.
Little Inconsistency Must Get Fixed
This is not alarming as it is a need to buff out the rough spots.
In Game 1 against the Dominican Republic, Team USA completely dominated the entire game and won three quarters by 14 or more points. The closest the Dominicans got to the U.S. was losing the second quarter 24-15.
Move to Game 2 against Brazil, and after being down 27-17 through one quarter, America won the second quarter 20-5 and led 37-32 at the break. Now, the U.S. did manage to win the entire second half, but only by six points (three each quarter).
Having more consistency would have totally blown the game out of proportion in the second half instead of Brazil remaining alive until the final minutes.
Yes, this was just an exhibition game; however, no matter who's on the floor, the U.S. has to build consistency in order to start and finish stronger.
Game 3 was much more consistent than the last, but Great Britain did keep close in the second and fourth quarters. Had the British been a more elite team like Spain or Argentina, then those multiple moments where Team USA was vulnerable would have been much more damaging.
The Americans, simply put, are held to a significantly higher standard, and a thrashing performance each game is expected.
Winning may be the first goal, but Team USA's overall talent must hunger for total dominance.
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