So, as expected, Team USA went undefeated after, for the most part, steamrolling their competition. They faced a stiff challenge from Argentina and were down at points to Brazil and Spain, but for the most part it's been smooth sailing heading into the Olympics.
That being said, there are still concerns Team USA has to face. Spain didn't play Marc Gasol, and they evenly distributed minutes among the end of their bench. In other words, they took the game as a training game, while Team USA took it as a real game, only giving minutes to their end of bench guys during garbage time. It's not a knock on what Team USA did, as they should take their record seriously. But, given this and the stiff challenge from Argentina, it should be apparent that every game on the road to the gold won't be a total blowout, and there is a serious chance of an upset.
In order to find out what could cause a Team USA upset, I went through their last two matchups, against Spain and Argentina, and looked for areas where they could be exploited, or an area where they could use improvement. Here's what I found:
Big men who can shoot.Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka all have a pretty mean mid-range shot. And despite Team USA's small size and quicker guards, they were unable to stop Pau Gasol and Ibaka from getting a good deal of uncontested shots up there, especially in the first quarter. Part of the reason is the fact that Tyson Chandler was on the floor, and he'd not very good about guarding players outside of the paint. Another reason is the fact that Team USA likes to pressure, and will often leave a guy like Ibaka because they don't see him as a threat. Or at least, as much of a threat as Juan Carlos Navarro driving the lane.
Pressuring the Middle of the Key. Pressuring can help Team USA to win games, but this certain type of pressure doesn't work very often. International teams love to play as if the lane is still a trapezoid. That is, they love to use one part of the lane and draw pressure, so a guy can run in uncontested on the other side, and get an pass up high for easy points. Team USA falls for this pressure a lot, and could be served well by keeping a better eye on baseline cutters.
Shooting needlessly. Sometimes, it seems that a guy like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James will get the ball on the perimeter in a one on one situation, and just fire up a shot. Their style of play is understandable, especially since they both function as the primary scorers on their respective teams. But when playing for the national team, when one of those shots clank, it looks like bad ball movement. Team USA is packed with all-stars, and there's no real reason to give somebody an isolation set if they're not even going to work for a good shot. This is a big part of their offensive droughts.
Below: Falling asleep playing perimeter defense, playing a slow pace, and some more things!
Falling asleep playing perimeter defense. Argentina mounted a comeback in the late third quarter and through perimeter play. This is unusual, because usually teams most affected by three point shooting are the regimented zone defenses, like that of Lithuania and Greece. Team USA focuses so much on compensating for their size by keeping teams out of the lane that when they're not trapping, opposing three point shooters can get a bit too much space.
Playing a slow pace. Team USA works best when they can throw alley-oops, run up and down the floor, and keep a general sense of urgency going on. Team USA, even when compared to France and Nigeria, is easily the most athletic and fast team in the entire Olympics, meaning that they'll always win this type of game. But when they settle into half-court sets, they let the other team use tactics to their advantage.
Traveling Calls. There were two travels called in the first quarter against Argentina. In international play, travels are called much more frequently, because they give you less slack on whether one of your feet was down when you gathered the ball. Team USA has slipped up a few times (most notably vs. Spain) and needs to keep the needless turnovers down.
Keeping in mind that the FIBA ball is bigger than an NBA ball. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a blown dunk because these guys don't gauge correctly how big the ball actually is. Instead of going for a highlight reel dunk, they might be better served by going up with two hands, or simply laying the ball in.
Fouls. Team USA is pretty scrappy defensively. They're always looking to keep opposing players out of the paint, and they love to steal the ball. As a result, sometimes they'll overplay their competition and cause stupid fouls by reaching in or hand checking them as they head into the paint.
Team USA starts Olympic play at 8:30 AM CDT on Sunday, against France.
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