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Mike Krzyzewski runs a tight ship, but negates Team USA's greatest strength in the process

Aug 30, 2010, 7:35 PM EDT

odom_splitter_team_usa.jpgTeam USA is filled with hyper-athletic and versatile players, but the squad’s greatest strength is not its speed, its leaping ability, or the varied skill sets of its players. Above all else, the Americans’ greatest asset is their depth. While a team like Spain may have as many as eight NBA-caliber players, the American squad is loaded with NBA talent at every position. Even without the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, et al on the roster, Team USA has more talent from top to bottom than any other squad in the tournament.

Yet thus far, in games against Team USA’s most skilled opponents, Mike Krzyzewski has turned to a top-heavy rotation heavily dependent on its starters. It’s an understandable tactic for most NBA and NCAA teams, but given how talented this roster is? And more importantly, how roughly congruent every non-Durant talent on the roster happens to be? It’s ludicrous.

It would be one thing if those on the floor for Team USA were playing particularly well together, or were in some sort of offensive rhythm. That certainly wasn’t the case against Brazil though, as the U.S. team committed turnover after turnover, botched their pick-and-roll coverage frequently, and lacked any fluency whatsoever on either offense or defense. Some players performed better than others, but aside from Kevin Durant, no one on the court made themselves essential.

Tiago Splitter was able to post and score over Lamar Odom easily, while Team USA’s greatest Splitter deterrent, Tyson Chandler, collected dust. Odom grabbed rebounds but little else, while Kevin Love, a far more accomplished rebounder and a more efficient scorer than the version of Odom that showed up on Monday, sat on the bench. Chauncey Billups clanked another shot and Derrick Rose lost control of his dribble, all while Curry and Gordon, two perfectly capable two-way guards, watched with fresh legs.

What’s a bit more distressing: this isn’t the first time Krzyzewski has used such a rotation. He did the very same thing against Spain. In an exhibition game. In the match-ups with Spain and Brazil, Team USA’s starters averaged 158.5 out of a total 200 minutes. Against Croatia and Slovenia, the starters averaged just 100 minutes.

Now, it’s easy to point to the lopsided differential in both of those contests (particularly in comparison to the close games against Spain and Brazil), and explain away that discrepancy as a garbage time byproduct. However, in doing so, you’d be ignoring the way in which Team USA has built leads in the first place. Though Rose, Billups, Iguodala, and Odom have all played well at times, they didn’t run up the score early and then rest while the subs finished the job. Krzyzewski’s squad has been most successful when relying on a deep rotation to build and maintain leads throughout the game.

Forget about the starters’ endurance. This is about Team USA having the best lineups on the floor to give them the best chance to win every game. Sometimes those lineups will feature Billups and Odom, albeit likely for shorter stretches. At other times, it may be Love or Gordon in a particularly good rhythm. Everything should be fluid with Team USA’s rotation, because Durant aside, there are no standouts to demand floor time.

  1. blackout1020 - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    I’m pretty sure he wasn’t hyping up Kevin Love. The point he’s making is that they are interchangeable. Kevin Love as well as the other bench players are more than capable of coming in and providing fresh legs when the starters are becoming winded and struggling. That’s all.

  2. Uptown - Aug 31, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    The problem isn’t so much the rotations (although why not use your depth?) – but more of what the rotations don’t do on offense or defense. Team USA only guards if it has to and on offense, 4 players stand around and watch the player with the ball dribble around (maybe toward the basket, but maybe not). Brazil played solid defense and had Team USA running around like chickens with their heads cut off on offense. They had great offensive movement and great passing – played like a team – imagine that.

  3. eugene - Aug 31, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    I’m sick of Coach K, can we use some other good college coaches? Why does he keep getting the job? He’s not the only good coach in the country.

  4. tc - Aug 31, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    when splitter gets to the NBA this year …he’ll be an ok player good skills sets but nothing compared to top NBA PF and centers …he’ll put in a few 15 point games for about 3 -4 years and then make a humble return back to his original stomping grounds….not hating just dont over think what he did to Lamar Odom …its not the best test …although Odom isnt bad he’s just not a great defender

  5. Anonymous - Aug 31, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    What hype about love? He simply said Love is a more accomplished rebounder and smoother scorer than Odom has shown? That’s hardly hype? Is one not allowed to say a white player does something better than a white player? That’s ridiculous!!

  6. Rick - Aug 31, 2010 at 9:40 PM

    This article shows why you are a two bit hack and Coach K is the coach. How many games have you won? Thought so. Kindly shut up.

  7. Carlos - Aug 31, 2010 at 11:58 PM

    geo – you’re saying that Coach K only has success when there are no teams that have multiple NBA guys… It’s a little early to tell from this year but the Butler squad Duke beat did have two guys who will be NBA players (Hayward is there now, Mack will be there next year)
    The last time they made the Final Four they lost in the semi-finals by one point to a UConn team that put Gordon, Okafur, Boone, Villanueva, and Armstrong into the NBA.
    In 2001 they won it all, beating an Arizona team that had Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton, and Loren Woods all of whom are playing or played in the NBA. In the semis they beat a Maryland squad that had Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, Chris Wilcox, and Lonny Baxter… all guys who have played in the NBA. Along the way they beat UCLA and Dan Gadzuric, Earl Watson, and Matt Barnes.
    In 1992 they won it all, beating a Michigan team that put Eric Riley, Chris Webber, Jimmy King, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose in the league. In the semis they beat Indiana with Alan Henderson, Calbert Chaney, Greg Graham, and Eric Anderson.
    In 1991 they beat UNLV with Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, and Elmore Spencer.
    In 1990 they beat a UConn team with Tate George, Chris Smith, and Scott Burrell and Arkansas with Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller.
    In 1989 they went to the Final Four after beating Georgetown with Alonzo, Mutombo and Charles Smith.
    Want me to go on???
    In fact, K’s record in that regard is exceptional given that: a) there aren’t many teams out there with “multiple NBA guys” each year and; b) beating those teams is no small accomplishment.

  8. chris - Sep 1, 2010 at 1:18 AM

    Mahoney: “Forget about the starters’ endurance. This is about Team USA having the best lineups on the floor to give them the best chance to win every game.”
    Wrong. This is about building the best team, for eventual Olympic gold.
    Coach K knows how to do that.

  9. nivek - Sep 1, 2010 at 3:27 AM

    Maybe the Lakers can trade Lamor Odam and Luke Walton for Carmelo Anthony. Why do the Lakers hold on to Luke it’s clear to see he’s dead weight!!

  10. BWN - Sep 1, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    @geo59: Guess Gilbert Arenas/Richard Jefferson/Luke Walton don’t count from the 2001 Arizona team that Duke beat in the title game?

  11. Ken - Sep 2, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    It appears ‘Geo’ has gone to hide under a ‘rock’…

  12. Buffalo Braves - Sep 10, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Luke is the one player Phil can count on to consistently run the offense. That being said the Lakers haven’t reached the point where they wish to buy out his contract, especially since his back is still suspect. Perhaps next year after Phil completes his 4rth 3-peat and fades into the sunset.

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