Team USA Basketball 2012: Storylines to Watch for in USA vs. Nigeria and Beyond
LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the rest of the 2012 Team USA basketball squad have simply demolished the competition so far in the London Olympic Games, but there are still some key story lines to watch.
As the contest against Nigeria looms ever closer, there are certain things revealed in Team USA's matches against France and Tunisia that top-tier teams can take advantage of later in the tournament.
The story lines that are emerging early on for Team USA are ones to keep an eye on, because it could be the difference between a gold medal or another massive disappointment.
Here are the Team USA story lines to watch as the games in London move closer to conclusion:
Inconsistent Starters Could Cause USA Big Problems
Against Tunisia, Team USA's starting five looked miserable during the first half before being replaced. They did improve their play in the second half and later into the game, but against better competition it could cause the squad some serious issues.
Team USA's starting five against Tunisia included Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Tyson Chandler—Not exactly names you would expect to struggle against a team deemed drastically inferior.
Luckily for the starters, the backups came in and took over the game, leading to a blowout.
The starters are going to have to develop better chemistry playing together, and fast. The USA fields the deepest team in London, but mediocre performances from the starting five could make some contests uncomfortably close.
Can USA's 2nd Unit Continue to Pick Up the Slack?
To call the bench players that replaced the lethargic starting five against Tunisia a second unit is an insult, but that is what happens when you assemble the greatest basketball team on Earth.
Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love came in to provide a boost, and they put on a show. Instead of taking jumpers, the unit worked together to facilitate the offense and put away Tunisia with ease.
The starting rotation does not need to change for Team USA to continue to blow out opponents, but the second unit will be a huge factor from here on out.
To have a bench that could possibly win the gold medal on their own seems like an unfair advantage, and the coaching staff needs to take advantage of it while they can.
Which 5 USA Players Are Most Effective on the Court Together?
The last two points now bring up a bigger issue—should the rotation be tinkered with at this early stage of the Olympics?
The backups perform as a more cohesive unit, and have been stunningly consistent to this point. Putting some of them in the starting unit could cause some serious issues to both.
The best strategy from this point forward would likely be to simply go with the hot-hand at the moment. A team as talented as the USA's roster from top to bottom should not have to necessarily rely on certain rotations.
Obviously for certain situations, defensively or at the end of close games, better strategy needs to be utilized. If Team USA is actually in a close game this year, the decision will be a much harder one to make.
For now, what Team USA is doing is working.
Lack of Production from Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is 33 years old and has seen his role reduced with Team USA significantly this year. He is a global icon, and has been the face of USA basketball for quite some time, but this year all of that is quietly beginning to fade.
That doesn't mean Team USA can win the gold without him.
Bryant went 2-of-5 from the field and scored only four points against Tunisia. Combine that mediocre stat line with his developing lack of efficiency on the defensive side of things and it is easy to see why Bryant is not seeing the court as often.
Whatever is wrong with Bryant needs to be fixed quickly. He is being overshadowed by his teammates and is doing little to help further the team's chances of winning the gold.
Heavy Reliance on the 3-Pointer
Team USA attempted 25 three-pointers against Tunisia, connecting on only 10. They still scored 110 points with relative ease, but what happens if the threes are not falling?
LeBron James and the rest of the team are a collection of the most athletically gifted basketball players on the planet. Sitting back and relying on a long-distance shot is not something the team should be doing.
Instead, each player needs to cut to the basket to facilitate the offense. Getting to the rim and taking high percentage shots is basic basketball strategy, but not one Team USA has been employing.
If the shots are not falling, Team USA could be in some trouble. To avoid this scenario entirely, it would be wise to take higher-percentage shots, even if the international three-point line is closer than its NBA counterpart.
Team USA's Handling of Teams with Quality Big Men
It is now widely known that Team USA lacks a roster filled with elite big men, which could be an issue sooner rather than later.
The starting center, Tyson Chandler, has issues staying on the court because of silly fouls. Against Tunisia, he only registered six points and six rebounds, which is not exactly the type of production a team needs from a starter to win the gold.
Luckily for Team USA, backups Kevin Love and Anthony Davis stepped up big time scoring 16 and 12 points respectively. It was not a surprise to see Love perform well with more playing time, but it was great to see a rookie who has yet to play in the NBA come in on the international stage and play great when his team needed it.
Chandler has been a disappointment up to this point, so the play of Love and Davis will be key for Team USA going forward.