Team USA enters the FIBA World Championships in Turkey with a lineup that is quite a bit different from the one that beat Spain in the Gold medal game of the 2008 Olympics. NBA All-Stars Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are not participating this year. The USA Team is clearly inferior on paper as many of their best players will not be on the floor. The question is will the USA have enough firepower to beat a team like Spain under international rules.
The main advantage the USA will have will be their athleticism. If they are able to get up and down the floor in transition, they will be very tough to beat. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will employ pressure on defense as well as close on-the-ball defense to generate steals and turnovers to get their transition game going and get their superior athletes out into the open floor. A team can beat the USA with strong point guard play, strong play in the paint and the ability to control the pace of the game. The weaknesses of Team USA are a lack of size and inconsistent long-range shooting. Tyson Chandler will likely start at the center spot while Lamar Odom and Kevin Love will also play the position. Team USA’s three-point shooting will be a major factor for them. If they can get consistent shooting they will be tough to beat. Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger and Eric Gordon are probably the USA’s best long-range marksmen. Billups and Granger have been inconsistent shooting in the USA’s exhibition “friendly” games. Gordon came up big against Greece with 18 points and showed the ability to hit the three-pointer from different spots on the floor. Gordon is also strong, has more of a FIBA off-guard type game and can defend the stronger FIBA off-guards. Stephen Curry will get some time at the point, is obviously a great shooter, and will likely be used to loosen up their opponent’s defenses.
The USA has the most athletic team in the field. Derrick Rose will start at the point and has shown the ability to get past his man off-the-dribble in the “friendly” games. He was voted Player of the Game against Greece after scoring 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting in only 19 minutes of action. Rose will be tough to guard for any opposition point guard. Chauncy Billups will be more of an off-guard in the tournament. Rose will be able to penetrate and kick the ball out to Billups for three-point attempts. If Billups can hit them it will really help the Americans. Russell Westbrook is another great defender who will put pressure on the ball and try to force his opponent into turnovers.
The American athleticism is clearly evident in the frontcourt. The star and go to player for Team USA is clearly Kevin Durant. At 6’10 Durant has the range to hit the three and will most likely be the USA’s best rebounder. He’ll get great mismatches against smaller defenders and should use that advantage to get off shots closer to the basket. Forwards Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala are very athletic, are great in transition and can score from outside. They will use their length on defense to help generate turnovers and get the USA into the transition game. Danny Granger can score from deep but can also battle inside. On this team he’ll probably play more of a power forward role due to the team’s lack of size. Lamar Odom will be the glue to the USA’s frontcourt. Odom is a great defensive rebounder, can handle the ball and will look to get his teammates involved in the offense. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Kevin Love get more minutes than people anticipate. Love is one of the few USA big-bodies and can mix it up with the strong post players of Greece, Brazil, Serbia, Spain and Argentina. Love is also a great outlet passer which will help in getting the USA’s transition game going.
When we were told of the USA’s roster we didn’t thing they had a very good chance of winning the gold medal this year. However after seeing them play we feel they have more of a chance. They may have some tight games against teams such as Spain, Argentina and Brazil. Any game where they do not shoot well from the outside and when a team can prevent them from getting into a transition game will cause them problems. The USA will be in the mix for the championship. Whether they win it or not will depend on many factors. It won’t be easy for the Americans.
The U.S. opens the ‘10 Worlds on Aug. 28 against Croatia, a team it has never faced in World Championship play, but a squad the USA is 3-0 versus in Olympic action. Facing its second European team in as many days, the Americans on Aug. 29 will meet Slovenia, a team it defeated 114-95 in 2006 World Championship preliminary play in their only prior World Championship meeting. FIBA Americas Zone champion Brazil will challenge the U.S. on Aug. 30. The USA-Brazil World Championship series stands at 6-5 in favor of the United States with the two teams’ last meeting in the 1998 World Championship. Following a day off on Aug. 31, the USA resumes play Sept. 1 against Asia Zone champ Iran, then closes out preliminary play with a contest versus Tunisia on Sept. 2, another team that the Americans have not met in World Championship action.
Carl Berman is a Managing Partner of NetScouts Basketball. Information on NetScouts Basketball, their basketball blog, and their International Recruiting Service, can be found at www.netscoutsbasketball.com.