Meet Makram Ben Romdhane. He’s the big threat to the United States’ men’s basketball team tomorrow.
It’s easy for us to just dismiss Tunisia because Team USA is probably going to beat them by at least 50 points. This is not a talented or deep enough country to compete with the American players. But Tunisia will have to find ways to score and Makram Ben Romdhane is probably their best bet for accomplishing that.
His nickname, according to the London Olympics website, is the Gladiator, and it seems to make a lot of sense if you watch him play. When you think about how teams have scored against Team USA so far, there have been a fair amount of points inside.
Against Argentina in the warm-ups, Luis Scola was the main threat before the three-point shots started raining down to make the game close. Against Spain, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka were scoring against a smaller frontcourt inside before Team USA broke away for the easy victory.
And when the Olympic pool play started on Sunday, Boris Diaw, Ali Traore, and Kevin Seraphin were taking Team USA inside before we pulled away for the easy victory. While Tunisia might be best suited to just jack three-pointers all day and pray for rain, they’re going to try to establish their best inside presence against a small-ish USA team.
At 6’8” and roughly 230 lbs, the 23-year-old PF is a bit undersized, even against an American team that loves to go small. He loves to run the floor and play an athletic style of basketball. He has a surprising spring to his bunny hop and can throw down on smaller players.
Here’s the problem though: he doesn’t have a ton of diversity to his portfolio.
Makram loves to go to his right in the post. He has a good drop-step over his left shoulder and can bully guys his size out of the way to get a good shot off. He just doesn't have a ton of lift, unless he's attacking the basket without any resistance. He also doesn't seem to be able to go left at all.
So how does he do that against Tyson Chandler? In fact, even against a lesser defender like Kevin Love, how does he get the space needed to get a good shot off inside?
His best bet is to get into a pick-and-roll game with someone like Amine Rzig or Marouan Kechrid. Although Kechrid is very undersized and likely to be completely harassed by the American perimeter defenders, he’s a decent enough passer to get Ben Romdhane a couple of baskets off PnR plays.
Realistically though, Team USA is going to destroy this Tunisian team, not because of American arrogance or dismissing teams around the world, but simply because this isn’t a Disney movie in which everybody has a chance to accomplish their goals. Kechrid is probably the only guy that can even begin to handle pressure against Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and any other rabid perimeter defender Coach K will unfairly unleash on Tunisia.
Kechrid is a 31-year-old, 5’9” guard. Amine Rzig, the leading scorer from the game against Nigeria, is a 6’6” shooting guard in his early 30s that the USA could defend with Andre Iguodala and probably leave him scoreless for the entire 40 minutes.
I’m not trying to dismiss these guys in any way, but they’re regular people. Regular people can’t compete against the top basketball stars of the world. Even if Makram Ben Romdhane is a decent prospect inside, he’s not an NBA-caliber player. His best bet for having some nice stats is to pray for the US to get off to a slow start defensively, as we’ve seen lately.
It's weird to say a 6'8" athletic guy is a regular person, but compared to the NBA stars in this game, he really is. And regular people can't make the NBA unless they've found a way to make their life like the movie Like Mike.
If this happens, he can get a couple of dunks inside early and be efficient for the first few moments of the game. Otherwise, I have a hard time wondering how he announces his presence inside if he can’t seem to get the ball cleanly.
Eventually, Team USA will call off the dogs and ease up on the defensive pressure to ensure nobody overexerts themselves and gets injured in a blowout victory. Maybe then we’ll get to see Ben Romdhane get a few more buckets. He should rebound decently throughout the game. He likes to be physical and he likes to jump.
But this is something that can easily be destroyed by putting LeBron James on him and daring him to a feats-of-strength contest.
Makram Ben Romdhane is technically the biggest threat to Team USA on Tuesday, but really their own boredom and sense of charity could end up meaning just how impressive he looks on the court.