Olympics Basketball 2012: Team USA's True Achilles' Heel? Foul Trouble for Bigs

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2012

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 22:  Tyson Chandler #4 of the US Men's Senior National Team looks on during a Pre-Olympic Men's Exhibition Game between USA and Argentina at Palau Sant Jordi, on July 22, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

The 2012 edition of Team USA does, in fact, have a big-man problem.

It's just not the big-man problem that everyone keeps harping on.

With Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis on the roster, Team USA has enough traditional bigs to adequately defend the rim for all 40 minutes each game.

Brazil's trio of Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao proved a challenge, yes.

And we'll get our first good look at Spain's trifecta of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka against the Americans on Tuesday, which will presumably serve as Team USA's greatest challenge this summer.

But the scrimmage against Argentina on Sunday revealed a potential fatal flaw with the Americans: What happens after their best bigs fall into foul trouble?

Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony all finished the game with four fouls, putting them each one foul away from automatic disqualification. For Chandler in particular, that sort of foul trouble could become Team USA's undoing.

Through four scrimmages, coach Mike Krzyzewski appears to have carved out a nine-man rotation, leaving Love to only earn spot minutes while James Harden and Davis don't even get off the bench.

When Chandler goes to the bench, Coach K will often slide Anthony or LeBron James over to play the 5. At 6'8", both Anthony and James can hold their own in the post, but the arrangement isn't as ideal as, say, having Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum to hold down the fort while Chandler rests.

This wouldn't be so much of an issue if the statistics weren't screaming otherwise.

NBA.com's John Schuhmann tweeted out a few fun facts after Sunday's scrimmage against Argentina, such as: "In the [four] exhibitions, USA has been outscored 116-115 in 58 minutes without any bigs (Chandler, Love or Davis) on the floor."

Team USA is only allowing 80.6 points per 100 possessions with one big on the floor, compared to 99.1 points per 100 possessions with no traditional bigs, according to Schuhmann.

You can talk limited sample size, but two more quick ones for you: Carmelo Anthony's plus/minus rating on Sunday? Minus-19, Schuhmann says.

Chandler's? Plus-24 in just over 13 minutes of play.

The statistics, at least through four exhibitions, scream for Team USA to play with one of its three traditional bigs on the court at all times.

So far, Coach K appears reluctant to adhere to that strategy.

In terms of playing time through four scrimmages, Davis and Harden have, by far, seen the fewest minutes. Each has received at least one DNP, while the other 10 Americans have played in all four scrimmages to date.

Love ranks third in terms of fewest minutes, averaging just under 12 minutes per game.

According to the broadcasters during Sunday's scrimmage, Argentina's roster didn't feature a player taller than the 6'9" Luis Scola, who was recently amnestied by the Houston Rockets to clear more cap space for a potential trade for Howard.

After Team USA opened with a 19-3 run out of the gate and extended its lead to 20 points in the second half, there the Argentinians were, within four points of Team USA in the closing minutes of the game.

The Argentine team played physical, goading Team USA into a bevy of fouls.

Especially with Chandler, that can't happen in the medal rounds if Team USA expects to win gold.

With international basketball only allowing five fouls before a DQ compared to the NBA's six, it's almost as though the American players must revert to a college basketball mindset for the summer.

If a player picks up two quick fouls, Coach K will have little choice but to send him to the bench for most of the rest of the half.

Team USA's depth, of course, will be one of the team's greatest strengths this summer. Having the choice of replacing Chris Paul with Deron Williams and Durant or James with Anthony or Andre Iguodala is a luxury for Coach K.

But unless he extends his rotation in London to include Love and Davis more, James, Durant and Chandler all need to be that much more careful in terms of picking up fouls.

Expect the scrimmage against Spain on Tuesday to teach us exactly how far this team has to go to repeat as gold medalists.