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Team USA may have a perfect record, but they're far from flawless

Sep 1, 2010, 9:30 AM EDT

chauncey_billups_team_usa.jpgFirst, the obvious: Team USA is currently undefeated, while other quality teams in the FIBA World Championships are not. That’s a credit to every player and each member of the coaching staff. Their next two games are against Iran and Tunisia, and if all goes according to plan, the U.S. national team will remain undefeated going into the elimination rounds. From a bottom-line perspective, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Chauncey Billups focused on that positive after USA’s win over Brazil, though he’s clearly aware of his team’s lackluster play. From Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press:

“We can’t worry about how much we win by, winning the same fashion as
other USA teams. All of that’s out the window,” Billups said. “All we
need to do is get wins. Win every game we can and we’ll worry about
everything else later.”

The only problem is that Team USA can’t afford to focus solely on wins and losses. The makeup of each win matters a great deal, and though the loss column remains spotless, there is some reason for concern. The Americans’ near-miss against Brazil provided a case study in what can go wrong for Team USA. One reliable big can give Lamar Odom a heap of trouble down low. Team USA’s pick-and-roll defense can be dissected. When opposing defenses increase their pressure on the USA’s ball-handlers, it’s like tapping a well of careless turnovers.

Though the Americans still boast a perfect record, their play against Brazil was anything but.

However, as I’ve noted previously in this space, the onus isn’t all on the players. The five on the floor will always deserve the majority of the credit/blame in my mind (after all, successful on-court execution is the key to any win), but the man who controls who sees the floor in the first place is also burdened with the responsibility for those decisions. There are a number of reasons why Mike Krzyzewski decided to stick with his starters for essentially the entire the fourth quarter, but in the end, that lineup scored on just two of their final 11 possessions. That’s on Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Lamar Odom, surely, but it’s also on Krzyzewski.

Once the elimination rounds begin, Team USA won’t have the luxury of adjusting after a loss. They can’t wait until things get worse to figure out how to make them better. One loss and that’s it. Game over, thanks for playing, see you at the Olympics. That makes it awfully important for Team USA to work on their weaknesses now, whether they rest with the players or the coaches.

The Americans are winning, and that’s crucial. Yet their work is far from complete. Even forgetting my gripes about Coach K’s rotations, Team USA’s pick-and-roll D and half-court execution still need improvement. A team full of guards couldn’t run an offense in the fourth quarter, and that’s borderline nonsensical. On paper, perimeter play is one of Team USA’s greatest strengths, and yet in the second half against a Brazil, the USA’s guards looked like a liability.

Maybe Team USA’s preparation was the problem. Maybe it was their execution. Maybe it was Krzyzewski’s shortened rotation. Regardless, Team USA needed two missed layups, two missed free throws, and a quarter’s worth of cold shooting from the Brazilians to squeak out a victory against a good team missing two of its top players. A win is a win and all, but Team USA will have to do better.   

  1. johnmaine - Sep 1, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    It’s college football time, which means an ACC preview. How good will VT be this year?

  2. Trey - Sep 1, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Someone (Moore maybe?) wrote about how nothing has changed in the team USA concept from 2002 and 2004. It’s still an All-Star team. They just have been able to get better players to commit to more than one summer. Until USA Basketball wises up, there will always be issues with the national team despite being a top team in the world.
    Coach K is part of the problem with this. Look at international soccer- national team coaches are full time national team coaches. Krzyzewski does this as a hobby in the summer. Anyone really think he puts as much thought into gameplanning for Team USA vs Brazil as he does for Duke/UVA in conference play? If he does, then the players obviously aren’t listening.
    Its an All-Star coach on his summer vacation coaching an All-Star team, on their summer vacations. We could get so much more from this team with an actual structure designed to do something other than market the team.

  3. ElGatoGrande - Sep 1, 2010 at 11:20 AM

    perfect record—,what more do you want?solve world peace?find the cure for Aids?Win by 50? they play basketball and they are winning-period-

  4. Anonymous - Sep 1, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    I don’t care how much they win by, or really even if they win all their games.
    I do care about watching them play good basketball. It is a shame to watch talented players play such horrid basketball. Not too much to ask for the coaches to install an offensive and defensive gameplan and make the players stick to it. Last I heard they were getting paid to do this.

  5. JC - Sep 1, 2010 at 1:06 PM

    I see we have a bunch of cynical people out there. There was a game plan for the offense and one for the defense. They made an adjustment at half time which worked out. Just because we’re not blowing people doesn’t mean much of anything. We didn’t play that well at all, but we did play some great defense in the second half. Sometimes that how you have to win.

  6. Jon - Sep 1, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    So much for being patriotic. I guess this team is full of muslims from Kenya.

  7. Chuck - Sep 1, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Horrible coached and prepared. The guards look they just got off the playground and keep making the same careless passes and drives. And they couldn’t cover someone in a wheel chair. Rose and Billups men went by them as though they were standing still. Except fro KD, Love and Gay the team is full of holes. Maybe Coach K should channel up John Wooden to get some help because he has done a very poor job against totally inferior teams.

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