2012 Summer Olympics: Should the U.S. Men's National Basketball Team Be Worried?
A quick glance up and down the U.S. men's basketball team roster for the 2012 Olympics reveals a glaring flaw: The only player defined as a conventional center is the New York Knicks' Tyson Chandler, and the only players traditionally defined as bigs at all are Chandler, Minnesota's Kevin Love and inbound Hornets rookie Anthony Davis.
Even for an outfit that's typically lined with perimeter talent, that's a pretty striking dearth of quality bigs.
So much so that Team USA's positional deficit—coupled with a few competitive exhibition games—have some already planning for the possibility of something less than an American gold.
Sports are practically built on recency bias and reactionary response, but let's hold the phone for just one second. It's certainly true that the Spanish national team, Team USA's chief rival in the Summer Games, has the weight of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to throw around in a potential matchup.
But before we start preparing the patron nation of basketball for silver medals, let's consider a few things.
This Is a Newly Formed Team
This point cannot be oversold. Many of the other national teams have at least some semblance of continuity in their programs, while the Americans have rotated between their A and B squads over the last two major competitions (the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and the 2010 FIBA World Championships) without much integration between the two distinct units.
This is the first chance that many of these players have had to play with one another in a legitimately competitive setting—and a reintroduction of sorts to Mike Krzyzewski's system and principles—meaning that there was bound to be some lag in their initial performance.
These Are Exhibition Games
Team USA is playing hard, but not exactly going all out. Krzyzewski is spreading out minutes as best he can and fiddling with lineup configurations whenever possible to figure out what works and what doesn't.
Coach K has some incredible options in terms of how he manages his rotation, but in order to best understand the weapons he has at his disposal, he has to try them out in a variety of contexts. Thus we've seen some very different looks and strategies from the Americans thus far—all built on the same universal themes, mind you, but nonetheless requiring a fair bit of experimentation.
Team USA's Greatest Weakness Cuts Both Ways
The idea of the Americans struggling to contain the Gasol brothers with Chandler, Love and out-of-position wing players is hardly preferable, but consider what those individual matchups mean for Spain.
Chandler is a pretty conventional big in terms of his scoring range and skills, but Love is a stretch big in the purest sense—capable of pulling one of the Gasols all the way out to the three-point line, popping out on high screens, and still scrambling inside to compete on the glass. Both Gasol brothers are mobile enough to hang with Love outside, but just forcing one of them to guard him opens up driving lanes.
That said, it's the other options that are even more enticing for Team USA. When the Americans choose to play LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant as a nominal center, that requires that either a Gasol check one of those wing players or that Spain shifts to a zone.
The latter may not seem preferable, but given the potential for high-post passing on this roster—be it from Love, Chandler, James, Durant, Anthony, Andre Iguodala, Kobe Bryant or pretty much anyone available to Team USA—a pure zone shouldn't be too much of a problem.
As for the former: A player like James stands a much better chance of defending a Gasol in the post than said Gasol does of checking him. Team USA has the chance to take its quick, aggressive approach up a few notches by going even smaller than expected against Spain, and while that may seem counter-intuitive given Pau and Marc Gasol's proficiency on the block, forcing a big to guard James or Durant has the potential to make them a defensive liability.
That doesn't necessarily entail pulling the other bigs off the floor entirely (I suspect the combination of James and Chandler will give Team USA the best, most consistent chance against the Spaniards), but it does give this undersized team more options than one might think.
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