Team USA Basketball 2012: Should Coach K Play Anthony Davis More?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
And, as it happens, Team USA is a long way from broke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's machinery has yielded five wins in as many tries, by an average margin of 37.8 points, and produced the best scoring output in the 2012 London Olympics at 117.8 points per game.
Not that the Yanks have necessarily achieved perfection, though they certainly came close against Nigeria. Their level of intensity and focus has swung violently at times, leading to a close call against Lithuania and slow starts opposite France, Tunisia and Argentina.
Likewise, Team USA's defensive effort has been anything but consistent or sparkling. They've allowed their opponents to shoot 54 percent inside the arc, surrendered 36.8 points in the paint on average, have been whistled for more fouls than their competitors and, most disconcerting of all, have not protected the rim with any notable authority.
That would seem to be the natural outcome for a squad with but three big men at its disposal, even if one of them is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Then again, what good are Tyson Chandler's credentials when he's constantly in foul trouble?
Which, inevitably, brings Anthony Davis into the picture. The soon-to-be rookie for the New Orleans Hornets is a high-flying defensive dynamo, first and foremost, whose prodigious length and leaping ability make him an ideal paint patrolman.
It's not as though Davis, the College Player of the Year, averaged 4.7 blocks per game as a freshman at Kentucky by accident, either. He combines jaw-dropping physical gifts with an uncanny awareness of timing and spacing on the defensive end to deflect passes and influence shots, via block or otherwise.
If anything, it'd be a disappointment if the Mighty Brow didn't translate all of that into top-tier rim protection.
He's yet to do that at the Olympics, though not through any fault of his own. Davis has played only sparingly in London—just over 11 minutes per game, the fewest of any American—with his time limited largely to mop-up duty.
However, he hasn't been boxed out by just Team USA's other bigs. Chandler's garnered a shade under 12 minutes per contest, while Kevin Love, an offensive wunderkind who plays below the rim on both ends, has averaged nearly 16-and-a-half minutes of action.
The balance has been allotted to LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who've taken turns moving over to center when Coach K has opted to go small on Team USA's opposition. Such lineups allow the Americans to switch just about everything and get out on the fastbreak, albeit at the expense of their interior defense.
Whether they can afford to weaken their frontline to create such mismatches in the knockout rounds remains to be seen. If the US can force turnovers on the perimeter on one end and let Kevin Durant and Carmelo catch fire on the other, then it won't quite matter who Coach K trots out as the "five."
But quarterfinal opponent Australia sports some rugged size inside and perimeter players (i.e. Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Ingles) who aren't afraid to attack the basket. The same goes for Argentina in the semis, with the added challenge of dealing with the talent and experience of the "Golden Generation."
Assuming the Yanks advance to the gold medal game, they're bound to endure some punishment on the inside from Spain, with the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, or Russia, courtesy of seven-footers Sasha Kaun and Timofey Mozgov.
Does that mean Coach K should prep the Mighty Brow for more playing time in these win-or-go-home games? Does that mean he should reach for Davis at the end of the bench if/when Chandler's in foul trouble and Love doesn't defend the rim?
Should Coach K let Anthony Davis play more?
He hasn't needed to yet, and that's with a squad that has yet to go full-throttle for 40 minutes. The Americans have been saving their best effort for the knockout rounds and, as such, figure to run faster, reach higher and come out stronger in their impending contests than they did in any of their five group-stage games.
Or they should, anyway.
Even if they don't, the Americans have so much depth at their disposal that they should be able to wear down any and every opponent that comes their way.
Davis, of course, is a part of that deep bench, though not necessarily one who should be pressed into heavier duty. Coach K's rotation has worked remarkably well so far and will be expected to yield more consistent results now that medals are on the line.
And...well, if it ain't broke...
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