Analyzing the Biggest Questions Surrounding the 2012 Team USA Basketball Roster
Every team has its flaws. Yes, even the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball team.
It may be hard to see after the Team USA eviscerated Nigeria by 83 on Thursday, but an upset later on in the tournament cannot be overlooked. Questions linger about this teams lack of size, among other things, but will these issues become more than abstracts?
This American squad may be the most athletic in history, and has relied on suffocating defense and constant penetration as their team principles. Juicy matchups with Argentina and Lithuania await in the upcoming days, though.
Let's explore whether these are concrete issues for this American roster heading into their toughest Olympic stretch.
1. Does Coach Krzyzewski Need a Set Rotation?
In the first quarter against Tunisia, the Americans were struggling to convert in the half court, often settling for low percentage international three-pointers. A guilty pleasure 22-footer is an efficiency killer when the USA has advantages galore with their athleticism and ability to penetrate.
So Coach K made a shrewd move opening the second half with his bench. Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Kevin Love and Andre Iguodala stretched the United States's lead with a 21-3 run, ultimately dropping the hammer on the Tunisians.
The dramatic transformation in that half proves that this team is malleable for any situation that presents itself. The U.S. reserves may not have the same name recognition as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant worldwide, but the reserves' assertiveness will decide whether domination or close games will be the American's calling card.
The answer to this query looks to be a tentative yes, but Coach K will have to be careful of not getting too creative. Leaving the world's most talented players riding the pine is risky business chemistry-wise. This will be a very delicate balance he will have to deal with throughout Olympic play.
2. Is Kobe Bryant the 2012 Version of Jason Kidd from the Redeem Team?
In 120 minutes of Olympic basketball in London, Kobe Bryant has only played in 32 of them. That’s 27 percent for those scoring at home. Even rookie Anthony Davis is playing comparable minutes to the five-time NBA champion.
Of course, Team USA has not needed Bryant’s services because they’ve been steadily handling opponents since they’ve arrived in London. That brings me to my theory: Kobe Bryant has taken on the 'Jason Kidd role' for this young, talented U.S. team.
Let me explain. Bryant has been assigned the task of starting the game and playing when necessary, but so far his impact has been through instilling his attitude and work ethic alongside the younger guys on Team USA. Similar to Kidd's role in 2008.
More importantly, Kobe’s mere presence has raised the level of competition in the U.S. practice gym, which in turn teaches the Russell Westbrooks and Kevin Loves to be consummate professionals and ambassadors for basketball. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had a similar impact on the original Dream Team.
That's what Kobe is here for. Not to play 30 minutes, shoot 17 shots and waste his legs for next season; Carmelo Anthony can do that. Kobe is available when needed, but this U.S. team seems fine without him playing a significant role.
This will be Bryant’s last Olympics. It may not look like much to the naked eye, but he’s doing so much more.
3. Are the Slow Starts Against France and Tunisia a Cause for Concern?
Team USA has had some trouble getting an early advantage, a fad that should not become a trend with the level of NBA talent on their roster.
Down 15-12 early in the first quarter against Tunisia. Up only 22-21 at the end of the first quarter against France. 0 for 14 on three-pointers in first quarters of their first two Olympic games.
While Team USA would recover and have double-digit advantages by the second quarter, the talent level of their competition was not near the international peak in those games. Joakim Noah was unable to suit up for the French and the Tunisians were a 55-point underdog to the Americans heading into their matchup.
The three-point conversion rate was the main propellant for Team USA's opponents, able to get out ahead on some makes from behind the arc. One wonders if, say, a Spanish or Argentinean team can stay within range for three quarters, the Americans could be susceptible to a barrage of three pointers in the fourth quarter. More on this later.
4. Can a Small Ball Lineup Lead the U.S. to a Gold Medal?
This team’s approach was validated by the Miami Heat’s run to an NBA championship. LeBron James and Co. proved that championships can be won on the highest level with a game plan based on pressure defense and athletic prowess, but without a traditional lineup
International play, though, is a different beast. Zone defenses are more prominent than steak and kidney pies in London.
As a result, Team USA’s lack of size could be an issue going forward, especially against big frontlines of NBA talent like Spain (Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka) and Argentina (Luis Scola). Most of these players have more experience professionally under international rules than the entire American roster.
While they may have a roster full of athletes, an organized defense can get Team USA out of sync. In turn, if they lose focus on getting easy baskets at the rim, they could become a low-percentage jump shooting team.
The gold can be won going small, but Coach K and his staff must be tactful. A rotation of James, Anthony, Love, Chandler and potentially Davis should always be in the mix. Having length on the floor willing to bang down low, challenge opposing bigs and grab rebounds is essential.