Kevin Durant & Team USA: A Less Dominant Road To Redemption
Team USA has not won a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships since 1994 but is trying to walk a road to redemption that was paved in 2010 by superstars with just three NBA all-stars and no Nike documentary.
With their final exhibition game in the books, how have Kevin Durant and his band of mere mortals done so far?
These metrics were developed by Prof. David Berri of the Wages of Wins Journal to measure how much a player contributes to wins using boxscore statistics. There are two key stats output by these metrics - Estimated Wins Produced per 40 minutes (EWP40) and Estimated Wins Produced (EWP). Forty minutes is used because that's the length of a game in international competition.
An average player provides 0.100 EWP40. All of the stats in this article came from boxscore analysis of Team USA in 2008 and 2010.
This analysis enables an objective evaluation of Team USA's performance and can be used to identify:
- Team USA's new stars,
- Whether the most productive players were chosen for the final roster and
- How they compare to the Redeem Team.
Team USA's New Stars: Is Durant Living Up to the Hype?
As the reigning NBA scoring champion and only member of Team USA that made an All-NBA Team, Kevin Durant was crowned as America's next big superstar on the global basketball stage.
Has he lived up to this hype so far?
After seven exhibition games, Durant has led the way by producing an estimated 1.3 wins in 182.3 minutes with a .285 EWP40. After he led Team USA to an 86-85 win over Spain, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop suggested Durant could be a more traditional superstar for fans to embrace if they have “soured on the new breed powerbroker LeBron James”.
The Wages of Wins Journal classifies superstar production as .300 EWP40, which is three times as good as an average player. Durant falls a little short of that level.
In 2008, LeBron also entered international play as the reigning NBA scoring champion but he was much more productive than Durant with an EWP40 of 0.372 and an estimated 2.8 wins produced in 300 minutes over 13 games against international competition.
If Durant maintained his current production for the same amount of time, then he would only produce an estimated 2.1 wins. A more detailed comparison of Durant & LeBron is available at the Miami Heat Index.
So while he may not be a superstar yet, Durant has definitely lived up to the hype as Team USA's most productive player and is marching towards the horizon of superstardom.
Since he can't win the gold medal alone, the question for Team USA is, "Who's marching with him?"
Team USA's New Stars: The Enigmatic Iguodala
After the first five scrimmages and exhibition games, Andre Iguodala wasn't just marching with Durant—he was leading the charge with .429 EWP40 and an estimated 1.3 wins produced.
Then he played two terrible games against Spain and Greece where he produced -0.164 EWP40 and -0.176 EWP in 42.9 minutes.
Iguodala enters the World Championships as the second-most productive player on Team USA with .261 EWP40 and 1.1 EWP but Coach Mike Krzyzewski might be concerned about which version will show up on Saturday against Croatia—the superstar-caliber version or the negative-production version.
The superstar-caliber version gives Team USA a formidable small forward to pair in the frontcourt with Durant. In 2008, Carmelo Anthony posted .258 EWP40 as the starting forward opposite LeBron James and Iguodala would provide the same presence if he can maintain his current level of production in the World Championships.
The negative production version probably means more minutes for Rudy Gay, who's productivity has been above average with .136 EWP40 and .5 EWP, but less than what you would expect from a star player (which would be .200+ EWP).
Team USA's New Stars: Russell Westbrook, The Super Sub
- He was the second-most effective scorer in terms of volume and efficiency,
- He was the most effective at getting to the free throw line and
- He created more possessions per 40 minutes than any other guard (on average).
Russell Westbrook was the only player with more than 100 minutes played that provided superstar-level production before the World Championships.
He averaged .320 EWP40 with 1.0 estimated win produced in just 119.8 minutes (six players received more playing time).
Here's how Westbrook compared to the other guards on Team USA's roster after the completion of scrimmage and exhibition play:
The table below compares Westbrook's stats to the rest of Team USA's backcourt.
|Statistics||Average Guard||Russell Westbrook||Derrick Rose||Eric Gordon||Chauncey Billups||Stephen Curry|
|Points Per Shot||1.02||1.08||1.06||1.23||1.02||1.04|
|Adj. Shooting Percentage||50.9%||53.8%||52.9%||61.7%||51.0%||52.1%|
|Free Throw Percentage||69.1%||71.4%||66.7%||84.6%||62.5%||83.3%|
|Free Throw Attempts||3.3||7.0||1.6||5.2||4.6||2.6|
The interesting thing about Team USA's guards is that the backups (Westbrook & Gordon) have outplayed the starters (Rose & Billups). If Team USA goes into halftime of any game with a deficit, then it will be interesting to see which guards Coach K starts in the third quarter.
Either way, Westbrook could be this team's version of Dwyane Wade. Well, a poor man's version of Dwyane Wade. Wade averaged .653 EWP40 in the 2008 Olympics and led the Redeem Team with an estimated 4.1 wins produced in 13 games.
So far Westbrook has been half Wade, half amazing and USA Basketball hopes that will be enough.
For more on Dwyane Wade's performance in the 2008 Olympics, check out the Miami Heat Index.
Team USA's New Stars: A Lot of Odom & a Little Bit Of Love In the Paint
After Durant, Iguodala and Westbrook, the most productive players for Team USA have been Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and Lamar Odom.
The most interesting story is Love. In just 55.3 minutes, Love managed to produce an estimated .9 wins with .671 EWP40. It took Odom an additional 79 minutes to produce the same number of wins (his EWP40 was .257).
Team USA's lack of size has been noted but what hasn't been reported is why Love received so little playing time in the exhibition games. Injuries were a problem, but if Love is healthy he could be the best option in the paint. The center position is the biggest difference between Team USA in 2010 and 2008 (see table below).
EWP40 IN 2010
EWP40 in 2008
If Kevin Love played the 110.4 minutes given to Tyson Chandler (.188 EWP40) and Chandler only played Love's 55.3 minutes, then the average production at center would increase to .402 EWP40, assuming Love could maintain the high-level of productivity provided in such a small sample during scrimmages and exhibition games.
That level of productivity would be comparable to what the gold medal-winning Redeem Team received at center from Chris Bosh (.494 EWP40) and Dwight Howard (.389 EWP40) in 2008. It will be interesting to see how Love is used in the World Championships.
As the table above indicates, there is a dropoff in talent level from 2008 to 2010.
Everyone knows about the Redeem Team stars that chose to sit out the World Championships, but were the right players chosen from the available pool of talent for the final roster?
It's time to review the roster cuts.
Team USA Roster Review: Did Coach K and Colangelo Make the Right Cuts?
The USA Men's Basketball roster was changed three times from three different locations (Las Vegas, New York City and Greece) before it was finalized for the World Championships.
Did USA Basketball management and the coaching staff make the right decisions at each location?
Team USA Roster Review: The Vegas 15
O.J. Mayo, Gerald Wallace, Tyreke Evans and Javale McGee were cut to reduce the roster 15 players after the Vegas training camp.
Evans was lost to injury. Wallace was one of the two least productive players in the USA Basketball Showcase played at UNLV with -0.564 EWP40 (only Brook Lopez was worse).
He won't be missed.
Mayo, on the other hand, was the most productive player in the Showcase with .538 EWP40 and an estimated .3 wins produced. Mayo produced more wins in one game than three players that made the final roster could produce in seven scrimmages and exhibition games - Chauncey Billups (0.2 EWP), Danny Granger (0.1 EWP) and Stephen Curry (-0.1 EWP).
While Mayo played well, apparently he didn't practice well and was "sluggish" according to Chris Sheridan from espn.com.
McGee posted a below average EWP40 of .086 in the Showcase but was still more productive than Lopez, who was the least productive player in the game with -0.761 EWP40, so cutting him at that point was a curious choice but not a crucial mistake as Team USA prepared for the World Basketball Festival in New York.
Team USA Roster Review: The NYC 13
Brook Lopez withdrew from Team USA before the World Basketball Festival in NYC began and was replaced by Javale McGee, rectifying a minor mistake made in Vegas, where McGee was the more productive player.
McGee was then cut, along with Jeff Green, before the team left for Europe.
McGee will not be missed.
His production drastically declined from Vegas to NYC and he ended his run with Team USA with -0.279 EWP40 and -0.1 EWP. Jeff Green may be another story. He outplayed Danny Granger over two scrimmages, ending with .098 EWP40. Krzyzewski did not play Granger against Spain and after six scrimmages and exhibition games he only averaged .018 EWP40.
What did Green do better than Granger in limited action? The table below compares the two players' performances.
|Statistics||Average Forward||Jeff Green||Danny Granger|
|Points Per Shot||0.92||0.88||0.97|
|Adjusted Shooting Percentage||46.1%||43.8%||48.6%|
|Free Throw Shooting Percentage||76.6%||50.0%||50.0%|
|Free Throw Attempts||4.1||3.2||1.6|
Green was better than Granger in every category except shooting efficiency, turnovers, blocks and assists.
In the end, Granger's shooting efficiency probably kept him on the team over Green since there were major concerns about Team USA's ability to shoot the basketball.
Of course, in order for Granger's shooting to help, he will need to find a way to stay on the court and reduce the 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes he averaged during scrimmage and exhibition play.
Granger acknowledged defense is a weakness in his game but only time will tell if Green's defense and rebounding would have served Team USA better than Granger's shooting.
Team USA Roster Review: Will Rajon Rondo Be Missed?
The final cut for Team USA was not a cut at all.
Rajon Rondo withdrew from the team on Tuesday. As one of the few NBA all-stars on the roster, how will Rondo's departure impact the team's performance?
Despite being the second-most productive point guard in the NBA last season, he was only the fourth most productive guard for Team USA.
It seems the six remaining guards in the roster fell into two groups—speedy guards that can run the fastbreak and knockdown shooters that punish opponents in the halfcourt sets. Westbrook, Rose and Rondo were the speedy guards and Billups, Gordon and Curry were the knockdown shooters.
Westbrook and Rose both surpassed Rondo's productivity by a considerable margin. His EWP40 after five scrimmages and exhibition games was just 0.143 while Westbrook and Rose were above .300 and .200, respectively. As the least productive guard in the speedy group, Rondo had to compete with the knockdown shooters for a roster spot.
Gordon assured himself a roster spot with a .299 EWP40. The table below shows how Rondo compared to Billups and Curry.
|Statistics||Average Guard||Rajon Rondo||Chauncey Billups||Stephen Curry|
|Points Per Shot||1.02||1.00||1.02||1.04|
|Adjusted Shooting Percentage||50.9%||50.0%||51.0%||52.1%|
|Free Throw Shooting Percentage||69.1%||0.0%||62.5%||83.3%|
|Free Throw Attempts||3.3||0.9||4.6||2.6|
When Rondo withdrew, Team USA lost its assists leader but it also lost one of its most turnover-prone players (he was second on the team behind Curry).
The turnovers changed one of Rondo's strengths in the NBA, net possessions, into a weakness. He created less possessions per 40 minutes than the average guard and his expected weaknesses remained—Billups and Curry were better scorers in terms of both volume and efficiency. Unfortunately, that was the only thing Curry did above average.
His 3.1 steals per 40 minutes came with the cost of 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes (worst among all guards on the roster by a long shot). If Curry doesn't shoot the lights out and reduce his turnovers, Team USA could end up missing Rondo's defense and passing (he averaged 4.5 more assists per 40 minutes than Derrick Rose, who was second, and no other guard averaged more than four).
Defense Wins Championships
With less star power than the Redeem Team, can the 2010 USA Basketball team reasonably expect to win the gold medal in the FIBA World Championships?
After all, Team USA was not the only squad to lose NBA star power. Germany lost Dirk Nowitzki, Spain lost Pau Gasol, Argentina lost Manu Ginobili, etc. This World Championship team played four opponents the Olympic team faced in 2008—China, Lithuania, Spain and Greece. The differences between these common opponents’ 2008 and 2010 rosters are as follows:
- China – Five players on 2010 roster played 50 percent of available minutes against Team USA in 2008 and 60 percent of available minutes against Team USA in 2010
- Lithuania – Five players on 2010 roster played 40 percent of available minutes against Team USA in 2008 and 2010
- Spain – Eight players on 2010 roster played 71 percent of available minutes against Team USA in 2008 and 83 percent of available minutes against Team USA in 2010
- Greece – Six players on 2010 roster played 61 percent of available minutes against Team USA in 2008 and 69 percent of available minutes against Team USA in 2010
Despite roster changes, both versions of Team USA played significant chunks of time against the same players on China, Lithuania, Spain and Greece so the results of those games should provide some insight into how the 2010 USA Basketball can be expected to perform.
The table below lists the efficiency differentials for both teams against these common opponents.
Efficiency differential factors a team's pace into its point differential and provides a more accurate view of performance.
|Opponent||2008 Team USA |
|2010 Team USA |
|All Four Opponents||+26.0||+32.2|
Surprisingly, the 2010 team actually posted a better efficiency differential against common opponents thanks to terribly weak performances by China and Greece.
The big difference is the defense. The 2010 team only allowed the common opponents to score an average of 70.9 points per 100 possessions while the Redeem Team gave up an average of 96.2 points per 100 possessions.
The sample of common opponents may not be the most reliable measure since there were roster changes but is interesting that the 2010 team was able to perform as well as it did. The Redeem Team's efficiency differential for the 2008 Olympics was +31.1. An efficiency differential that high translates to a winning percentage greater than 1.000 so Team USA should expect to go undefeated if it can maintain that level of production in the World Championships.
Even if the China game is considered an aberration and replaced with the results of the exhibition game against France, the 2010 team's efficiency differential only drops to +18.5 which still translates to a winning percentage greater than 1.000 and the defense still remains 12 points per 100 possessions better than the 2008 Olympic team.
This defensive prowess justifies the decisions to cut defensive-oriented players like Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo for more offensive-oriented players like Danny Granger and Stephen Curry.
The defense for Team USA should be dominant regardless.
So the offense for Kevin Durant and his teammates won't be as dominant as the Redeem Team's but with this tenacious defense their road to redemption should lead to the same golden destination.