US Olympic Basketball Team 2012: What Russell Westbrook Can Learn from Coach K
The United States is expected to successfully defend their 2008 Olympic gold medal in men's basketball, and a significant key in that endeavor will be head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Coach K will have some challenges, starting with the fact the London roster was only just finalized. Team USA was expected to be announced on June 18, but a rash of injuries prompted USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to delay the decision till Sunday, July 7.
One key member of the team is point guard Russell Westbrook. He was/is expected to be a reserve, but is currently seeing expanded duty as Chris Paul recovers from a sprained thumb.
The extra work will give Westbrook an opportunity to demonstrate he is a capable leader for the team. While he is accustomed to playing with Kevin Durant, the U.S. men's basketball team will bring a whole new array of issues and egos for Westbrook to deal with.
Coach Krzyzewski will certainly run point with the players off the court but will also be invaluable with helping Westbrook do the same on the floor.
While Westbrook is very good at driving with the ball, he is prone to mistakes. This has led to turnover issues in his short NBA career.
There should be very little pressure on Westbrook to create scoring opportunities for the Americans, as there are several high-powered scorers on the team.
Coach Krzyzewski is a master game-planner and will be able to help Westbrook embrace his new role with the team. Expect Westbrook to focus on quality passes and not getting out of position to deliver a pass if a run at the rim is thwarted.
Westbrook's 3.6 turnovers per game this past regular season was just more than double his steals per game. Look for Coach Krzyzewski to get these numbers closer to being even.
While closely tied to the first point, look for Krzyzewski to rein in Westbrook's enthusiasm.
Differences in the International game will be discussed, but one of them will flash early scoring opportunities for the guard. Westbrook will need to be patient and run the offense.
There will be ample time to let plays develop and wait for scorers to get open. Instead of Westbrook looking to force the ball early, Krzyzewski will work with him on ball movement and not always looking for early scoring opportunities.
Perhaps the biggest issue that will be in front of Westbrook is all the room that will be in front of Westbrook. International rules dictate an elongated lane the closer one moves from the free-throw line to the basket, and this creates several differences from the game most Americans are accustomed to.
It mitigates the advantages from a big center, particularly one who isn't mobile. They are forced to be farther away from the basket while on offense, and there are more three-second violations in international play.
The other difference this creates is that quicker players who can penetrate are rewarded. The lane is usually more open, and the athleticism and shooting prowess of the forwards on the U.S. team will dictate that the opposition stays with their man on the perimeter.
Westbrook will be tempted to drive and shoot early and often, and Krzyzewski will need to work on plays that send the ball back out to the perimeter. Defenders will be ready to collapse on Westbrook. So long as he stays in position to keep passing lanes clear, Team USA should have ample opportunity to take uncontested outside shots.
LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant will also be playing with a closer three-point arc (20'6" vs. 23'9" in the NBA). The Americans should be able to put on a shooting clinic, so long as they can adjust to the slightly larger ball.
Given Westbrook's difficulties with long-range shooting, expect Krzyzewski to work with him on drawing in defenders and opening up opportunities for his teammates.
While defense is possibly the best part of the OKC star's game, life will be different in the Olympics.
The international court is a little more than two feet shorter than the NBA version, which makes it easier for teams to get back and defend.
Westbrook will be running a different defense than he's accustomed to, as the lack of the NBA illegal defense rule allows teams to run more zone defense.
Westbrook's athleticism will allow him more of a cushion than he's played with the last four seasons. Look for Krzyzewski to work with him on jamming passing lanes and forcing turnovers.
While Westbrook is accustomed to playing with Durant, Durant's ego pales in comparison to some of the players joining these two Oklahoma City Thunder players in London.
Having spent the last 30-plus years at the helm of the Duke basketball program, Coach K has dealt with some of the biggest egos in the game.
Part of the process for Westbrook is simply spending time and getting to know his new teammates. He's embraced that part of the process, as discussed in an interview with The Oklahoman.
Just having an opportunity to play with the group of guys that's going to be on the team, an opportunity to represent our country. It should be fun.
It's crazy, because you really never know how they are as people. You kind of just see them on the court and don't say much. Well, I don't say nothing. But you don't talk to them as much. When you get an opportunity to hang with them outside of it, it's kind of cool.
Look for Krzyzewski to spend time mentoring Westbrook on the finer intricacies of how to run the floor and keep his teammates happy—or, at least content with their offensive opportunities.
The player who could have the biggest issue with the new star is Chris Paul. Westbrook figures to take a fair amount of playing time, particularly if there are lingering concerns with Paul's sprained thumb.