Monday, September 04, 2006

The Bronze Age

The US team rebounded to win the bronze medal at the world championships on Sunday. They beat Argentina by 15 to claim their tenth consecutive medal at the world championships. The win can be attributed to a game plan that finally played to the strength of the team. They had attempted a total of 68 three pointers over the previous two games and had made 23% and 31% respectively. They limited their three point attempts in this game to 17 and shot 44% from behind the arc. The played to their strengths by driving to the basket and drawing contact from the opposition. They caused Argentina's best player, Manu Genobli, to spend the entire 3rd quarter on the bench. The US had stretched a one point half time lead to ten, by the time Genobli got back in the game.

The coaching strategy employed by Coach K in the previous games, which relied on turnovers and three pointers was finally adjusted to take advantage of the superior athleticism of the US team. They constantly attacked the basket and had Argentina in foul trouble by the 2nd quarter. Dwayne Wade scored 32 points to lead the team and he Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James started together for the first time. Lebron played much of the game at point guard and ended up with 22 points and seven assists. Carmelo Anthony added 15.

It still amazes me that it took until the bronze medal game for Coach K and the rest of the staff to figure out that this team could not win against the better competition by firing up three pointers. Until Kobe and Michael Redd join the team, they do not have a consistent outside threat, therefore the strategy employed against Greece was inherently flawed. It was also a bad strategy against Germany, but they did not have the athletes to pull off the upset. The defense was also better prepared to handle the pick and roll. Greece, which employed the pick and roll almost exclusively against the US in the semi-final and scored 101 points, managed only 47 against Spain in the final. The Spanish players clearly knew how to handle the pick and roll and therefore rendered the Greek attack virtually impotent. The US could have done the same thing if they had been prepared to defend the play. Thankfully the coaching staff finally realized that they would have to employ a different strategy in order to win.

The US will now have to compete in the tournament of the Americas in order to qualify for the Olympics. It's probably just as well that they have to compete again in order to qualify for the Olympics. They will have new players, since there were a number of players who could not take part in the world championships for a variety of reasons. This competition has certainly shown that the US cannot win on sheer talent alone. They still need time to come together as a team and to have their roles defined on the court. Clearly most of the players are capable of dominating a game, but all of them need to understand what their place is on the team. The coaching staff must also do a better job of scouting the teams that they will play. They have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team and understand that they need to adjust their strategy depending upon the competition.

I still think that the US will have the most talented team in any competition it enters. If the coaching strategy and talent can get on the same page, the US should not have any trouble qualifying for the Olympics and they should be in a good position to win there as well.



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