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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. Andy Prough - Aug 30, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    The NBA world is becoming aware of what the Spurs are getting this year with Splitter. Could be the biggest foreign addition to the team since Ginobili. Will the Lakers be able to handle a front line of Duncan, Splitter and Dejuan Blair? If they can stay healthy all year, they could put a lot of pressure on the Lakers in the playoffs.

  2. Cannon510 - Aug 30, 2010 at 8:26 PM

    Is it me or do white media members love kevin love and hype him up more for someone who’s a poor man troy murphy that can’t guard anyone? This is almost as bad as all the Steven Nash love when he won two MVPs in a row.

  3. Tress - Aug 30, 2010 at 8:58 PM

    Cannon510 I totally agree! White media loves to hype up the white boys.
    Splitter had 13 pts and 9 rebs. Lamar had 8 pts and 9 rebs. 5 pts difference.
    Kevin Love is a far more accomplished rebounder?? Please!
    Your hatred is so obvious!

  4. Tress - Aug 30, 2010 at 9:02 PM

    Very easily
    Pau, Bynum, Artest, Odom –Yes!

  5. mbt shoes sale - Aug 30, 2010 at 11:08 PM

    The Lakers be able to handle a front line of Duncan, Splitter and Dejuan Blair? If they can stay healthy all year, they could put a lot of pressure on the Lakers in the playoffs.

  6. Bill S. - Aug 30, 2010 at 11:49 PM

    Love can rebound and score with the best of them. He’s good for a double double every time he touches the court. He’s much better than Odom for heaven sake. Where do get the idea that he is getting special attention from journalist? Plus, your comment about Nash is way off base. That guy was a player…period. Much better than Kidd, Parker, Billups, etc…

  7. Tom - Aug 31, 2010 at 12:42 AM

    Disagree with the author. You play your best players for the matchups that present themselves. Coach K has said that this team is still learning how to play together. You can’t get there by constantly rotating players. He is trying to establish a core group. Give the hall of famer and our nation’s coach a little credit, you don’t think that he’s considered using his bench more? He has, just not in the two games you point out. In every other game played, he used his bench. Against quality opponents, he is trying to establish rhythm and chemistry with a core group plus subs for rest time. You don’t know what you are talking about and you will look like an idiot when they win the world championship.

  8. Chrisss - Aug 31, 2010 at 1:11 AM

    Maybe Love can score and rebound with the best of them but he can’t pass, has little to no defense and can’t block shots. He only has part of the package.

  9. Craig W. - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    As a veteran Laker fan, I can tell you that you should not be passing the ball to Lamar Odom down low or letting him bring the ball up the court when you are in a close game and there is a lot of pressure. He is not consistent and you can’t really count on him. Coach K should know this, by this time. If he didn’t, then the Brazil game certainly should have taught him that.
    In watching the game I couldn’t help but agree with Fran F. that Lamar was tired in the 4th qtr. Nope, the coach left him in.
    I certainly agree that sitting Gordon and Curry for the entire game didn’t make much sense when our other guards – who are poorer 3pt shooters – are chucking them up.
    We seemed to be standing around a lot on offense, then going 1-on-1 against a zone. We didn’t play smart and we didn’t coach smart in this game.

  10. geo59 - Aug 31, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    This article is fairly accurate. My concern is not with the starting lineup of the players. My concern is with the starting lineup of the coaches. Coach K is a successful NCAA coach. But he’s conservative in every aspect of the word. Even in the NCAA, Duke only has success in years when there are no teams that have multiple NBA level players. Whenever a team like that comes around Duke fades away. Coach K epitomizes the reason that most NCAA coaches can’t make it in the NBA. He’s too conservative, and he doesn’t know how to coach a team full of NBA level talent. He doesn’t know how to let em play. So, why is he the head coach? D’Antoni, McMillen, assistant coaches? The USA will struggle in FIBA with Krzyzewski at the helm.

  11. Oldtimer - Aug 31, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    All I know is the US team is playing Iran on Wed.. We had better win by sixty. Pour it on and rub it in US.

  12. Bluedevil99 - Aug 31, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    Coach K has said in the past that saying “that team has great depth” is like saying “she’s got a great personality”. If you’ve watched Duke over the years, K has rarely gone more than 8 or 9 deep and often leans heavily on his starters, especially in big games. He’s coming off a championship season where he played 3 starters over 35 minutes a game and had only 8 players over 10mpg. Of course, what works in college is not necessarily going to work with pros in international competition. Then again, it’s worked so far.

  13. JCfollowah - Aug 31, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    He did the same thing in 2008, Boozer, Michael Redd, and Tayshaun Prince barely played. Not a big deal.

  14. Craig W. - Aug 31, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    Bluedevil99,
    His philosophy might even work in the NBA, but FIBA is different. Since the game is more physical and the NBA players are not used to the officiating, the players will exert more physical and mental energy than they are used to. Add to that that the quarters are shorter, so the opposition will play “balls-to-the-wall” without worrying about getting tired, and the game begins to resemble a hockey game in its approach to line changes.
    This is not an atmosphere in which keeping players in the game past their accustomed amount of time (Lamar Odom) will help our guys. If he can’t adjust to this pace, then we will be in very big trouble in the next round.

  15. Bill - Aug 31, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    USA basketball just won the Olympic gold with Coach K at the helm. Multiple successful NBA coaches (including Larry Brown, who has won an NBA Championship) failed to win in international competition. Check your facts. Coach K is the best man for the job and he, along with Jerry Colangelo, have completely resuscitated our national program after years of underperformance.

  16. jtdukefan12 - Aug 31, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    hahahahahaha kevin can rebound and score with the best of them…. NO!

  17. ACC B-ball rules - Aug 31, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    Wow! Guess that Coach K should find a new profession since he can’t coach a lick. Maybe he could go into the trophy business! Oh yeah, he has a few of those doesn’t he?!?!? Four National Championships, eleven Final Fours, and don’t forget a Gold medal in 2008. Not to mention that he actually has a roster of guys who can read and will graduate! His accomplishments are too many to list and some two-bit blog-o-journalist is hatin on the “K”? PLEASE!

  18. Joey - Aug 31, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Ridiculous article.
    Spain and Brazil are two excellent teams.
    There is most certainly separation between the players on this team in terms of skill level and personal strengths, and K knows this. (It is ludicrous to say it’s Durant and The Rest…yeah right)
    Sample size is wayyy too small to say that the minutes differential has any meaning whatsoever. Typical journalist using statistical trolling.
    Perhaps use this stat:
    Durant’s Mins/Final Game Scoring Margin
    21 / +28
    23 / +22
    39 / +2
    Oh Boy! We need to play Durant less! The more he plays the tighter the game gets!!!
    …Give me a break. By the way, we won.

  19. dean - Aug 31, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    What is this guy watching? Billups scored in double figures and I believed he scored what turned out to be the winning basket. Rose has been unguardable during this tournament. Chandler is a liability on offense. Had it not been for several missed layups in the last quarter, this would have been a 10 point game. I guess you are going to blame Coach K for players missing stone dead layups. George Karl finished 6th with just a good a roster. Larry Brown struggled to get a bronze. This author wouldn’t know a basketball if I threw him one.
    To answer someone’s comment above, I guess UNLV didn’t have NBA talent in 1991 or Arizona didn’t in 2001. Duke can’t help it if Butler upset three so-called better teams. Baylor has several nba type athletes as did West Virginia. Get over it haters. Coach K is the best there is.

  20. MobTown - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Love is known for his outlet passes after collecting rebounds.

  21. Dan - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    He is playing these guys together alot to build chemistry. Most of these guys have trouble playing team basketball. This isn’t the nba where the rules are bent to minimize teamwork and to help guys who can run and jump but don’t have good “functional athleticism” (can’t shoot, can’t see plays unfold, can do things other than charging to the hoop with head down). In the international game where more teamwork is allowed and players aren’t rushed with the shot clock, these guys look clumsy and need work. If a true zone defense were allowed guys like Lebron James would be pumping gas somewhere.
    K Love is a much smarter player than Odom, is able to play within a system while Odom is more of a street ball type of player. An organized defense makes him look like a big goof ball.

  22. Matt - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:14 PM

    Someone above said it correctly when they said the NBA players aren’t “used” to the refs. The NBA is a joke when it comes to calling fouls. If your name starts with KOB, LEB or your last name contains JOR or WAD then you can’t foul out a game and any hint of contact near you is a foul on the opponent. The same thing use to happen with Shaq. Coach K is used to teaching the game of basketball to players willing to learn and players willing to play within a system in order to obtain a better result than individual results would have been. Minimal NBA players understand or would work under such a premise.
    The USA will win and should win and I will be rooting for them to rout everyone they play, but the struggles have more to do with the players than the coaches.

  23. Mike - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    Like 1991 against UNLV? Take a look at their roster and see how many NBA players were on that team.

  24. 4seahawks - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    Who even cares about the NBA or I should say “I got to get mine” league. Overpaid and pathetic excuse for a game. I do like the NCAA level but the pro’s, please!! The NBA will not get any air time in my house until it is brought back to the time of Magic, Byrd and Jordan.

  25. SidJ2002 - Aug 31, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    It’s clear that Coach K is an excellent coach for this style event.
    1. He has many young players on the roster that need teaching.
    2. He is the best coach in the nation at instilling confidence and cohesion in young players.
    3. He has plenty of experience winning with 3-guard lineups (see the makeup of his Blue Devils teams for the last five years). His current team USA roster is packed with guards and small forwards.
    I believe that he is hoping that Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom can provide a veteran presence for this team, and he will ride them in close matchups. He is hoping that they will know how to draw fouls when the team has key offensive possessions, and that they will bring a heady presence and a possession-control style when the outcome of the game is in doubt.
    Can’t blame him for that…

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