FIBA 2010 World Championship: USA Remains Its Own Biggest Challenger
I know it's already been said, but...
Team USA's toughest opponent in winning the 2010 FIBA World Championship will be itself. That's not to suggest that Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, or even China don't possess the wherewithal to defeat the Americans, but rather that Coach K's squad possess a few defensive flaws that may make it susceptible on its own.
Although it may not seem so after Kevin Durant and company ran past the Angolans on Monday in a 121-66 drubbing in Istanbul, Turkey. Even that game, however, revealed problems that may become more apparent in the semifinals and finals (assuming USA has no trouble with the Russia/New Zealand winner).
The first problem even evident in the Angola game is USA's ability to close out on 3-point shooters with any type of urgency. Angola, playing without its top scorer, relied heavily on quick possessions with ball reversals and penetration. On the possessions they were successful, especially in the second quarter where the African nation scored 25 points, their American defenders were often caught sleeping on penetration.
Plenty of Angolan scores in that quarter came off kick-outs for an open 3-pointer. Despite being much smaller than Team USA, Angola drained slowly contested 3-point shots over its lankier opponents. Four of Angola's seven threes in the game came in the second quarter.
Overall, the backside of Team USA's defense seemed flat footed and slow to react back to its man on a reversal.
Closing out from the backside does not appear to be a problem against an undermanned Angolan team, but the U.S. can't afford such easy looks against the likes of Turkey, Spain, or even a Slovenian team again (though it is highly unlikely they will meet again).
Speaking of Slovenia, they were able to highlight another, more concerning problem for this American squad: interior defense.
They only have one center personnel wise, Tyson Chandler. Lamar Odom and Kevin Love take up most of the time at power forward. Both Odom and Chandler have been in foul trouble on more than one occasion (five fouls merits disqualification in international play).
But that isn't the main concern with the interior defense; it's the number of times the Americans allow cutters and easy passes into the middle-third of the floor.
In defensive transition, no team is better in pressuring the ball and getting back to pick up the sidelines. The problem has been allowing post players to run right up the middle of the floor and feel no pressure from a USA defender. With the speed of its guards, Odom and the other posts are going to have to pick up those "rim runs" much earlier, or it could spell easy baskets and more fouls against a team like Spain or Argentina (where Luis Scola is averaging nearly 30 ppg).
The same problem became apparent in the half court against Slovenia.
Running a four- and five-out style motion, Slovenia continuously cut into the lane for easy looks. Even with ball pressure out on top, the Slovenian posts were able to slip on pick-and-rolls and catch the ball deep in the American defense.
After every entry pass, the guards would use one of those posts playing outside the arc in the middle-third as a screen to cut right down the heart of the lane. Time after time Team USA was caught playing too tightly on that screen and a deft pass caused a quick defensive retreat.
Luckily for Team USA, Slovenia did not shoot well from the outside that game (5-24). But against Australia in the knockout round, the Slovenians shot nearly 50 percent from deep (16-33) in a blowout victory.
Team USA is talented, energetic, and have a coaching staff that past USA staffs might marvel. The dangers, however, that seem so minuscule against teams like Angola and Slovenia could become huge problems against the world elites. It's obvious, which is not to suggest that it hasn't already been eating at Coach K and his staff despite the comfortable wins thus far.
Team USA will walk into the semifinals after Thursday night, but should they continue to execute poorly on the defensive end, might run into an international squad prepared and equipped to shoot it out with them.
No one's as talented, leaving their biggest challenger their own defensive discipline.
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