|2014 FIBA World Championship Preliminary Games|
|August 20th, 2014|
|Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York|
|6:00 PM Central Daylight Time|
|TV: National Basketball Association Television|
|Injury Report: All players are expected to be ready.|
|Previous Matchups: 2012 (W 113-59)|
|Juan Coronado||PG||Derrick Rose|
|Gerardo Suero||SG||Stephen Curry|
|Victor Liz||SF||James Harden|
|Jack Michael Martinez||PF||Kenneth Faried|
|Edward Santana||C||Anthony Davis|
Back in 2012, the Dominican Republic were a strong squad. They had managed to rope in Al Horford and Francisco Garcia out of the NBA, and they were being coached by John Calipari. But even then, they were still no match for Team USA. The game quickly got out of hand, as the Dominicans simply couldn't hang onto the ball or defend the rim.
In the ensuing two years, the Dominican Republic has lost Calipari, Horford, and Garcia. They still managed to beat Uruguay last year for the right to be here, but even that team featured Garcia and another veteran in Eulis Baez. Now, with the Dominicans making their first World Championship appearance since 1978, they look to have their weakest squad in years.
Still, the Dominican Republic isn't without their threats. Their most featured player is arguably Jack Michael Martinez, a post brawler who will do whatever it takes to get good position and score. He's small in the post at 6'8", but makes up for that with energy and power. Most recently, Martinez hit a buzzer beating shot to send Kentucky's team away at a tournament in the Bahamas.
Their next best scorer is Victor Liz, who is most famous for his ever-present "salute" celebration after big three pointers. He shot 47% from three in the Centrobasket earlier this Summer, and will spend the majority of his time working off the wing. He's best when he's given a little bit of space to create off the dribble, and will shoot most of his shots unassisted. The best comparison I can come up with for him is Kevin Martin, though I'm not too sure how good Liz' defense is.
The other two lynchpins of the Dominican attack will be their point guard and center, since ball movement and post play are going to be so crucial against Team USA. Their point guard is Juan Coronado, and he's one of the most unique point guards you'll come across. His best two attributes are actually his ability to rebound for his position and his ability to steal the ball. His offensive percentages are too low for him to be consistently effective, and he's not one of the better passers I've seen. Still, he can spot up from almost anywhere on the floor comfortably, though it's not a guarantee for his shot to go in.
At center, the Dominican Republic will basically be forced to play a couple of power forwards. The tallest, Eloy Vargas, stands at 6'9". Vargas played for Kentucky in college, and is a decent threat off the pick and roll and when grabbing offensive rebounds. I wouldn't expect him to create a lot, but he did recover from a meniscus injury to be here and shot over 50% at the Centrobasket. The Dominicans' other "big" is the ponytailed Edward Santana. He's really mobile at 6'6", and makes his bank with high-energy slashes to the rim.
Now that you're familiar with the Dominican squad, I can comfortably tell you that they have absolutely no chance to win this game. Brazil was a team that possessed the tools to do it, and there will be more teams that can do it in the future. But the Dominicans simply aren't the right team, even if they were at the right talent level. They thrive on quickness, and the use of a few shot creators to open up things for others. They don't have complex set plays, and they aren't nearly as skilled as Brazil at moving the ball or spacing the floor.
Switching gears a bit, I was able to attend Team USA's practice session in New Jersey yesterday. There, I asked Coach Thibodeau how the practice was focused.
"Right now, we're still building our foundation. So, you do day by day. Some days you work a little bit more on offense, some days zone defense, some days zone offense. We're trying to do a lot of shooting. Obviously, you're trying to get the players' rhythm back. They've been off for part of the Summer. So we're trying to do a lot of shooting and get the players familiar with each other. So they can play off each other. And I think guys are moving along pretty well in that area."
Along those same lines, I attempted to ask Coach K whether the smaller stature of the Dominican Republic gave them more of a chance to showcase their bigs. His reaction....was priceless.
"Well, our big was the leading scorer in the Brazil game. Did you see the Brazil game? ... They're going to be as involved in every game as they were against Brazil. A key component. The best player on the court was a big, Anthony Davis. So we'll keep those guys involved. Doesn't make any difference who we're playing against."
So, there you go. This game won't really be seen as a game, in the traditional sense. Up to this point both coaches have gone deep in their rotations and are looking to sort out all of their talent. This is in direct contrast to the Brazil game, where Brazil basically already had a set rotation and were practicing being a competitive team.
Perhaps the two biggest unfolding stories out of the Team USA camp have to be the developments surrounding Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis. Rose is the old star attempting to find his groove, and sat out the last two training sessions with Team USA. I've stood in a media circle and watched him say that he was "just tired and needed a rest" twice, and I've also been told that it was a planned thing. But I've also heard rumors that he was sitting out due to knee soreness, so there's that.
Anthony Davis, on the other hand, is looking like the league's next superstar. He was the team's leading scorer against Brazil (as Coach K pointed out), and was showcasing a really mean three point stroke while practicing at West Point. Tonight's game could really bring out something special, so be sure to keep an eye out.
Also, the three DNP-CDs from Saturday Night's game in Chicago were DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, and Gordon Hayward. DeMarcus Cousins was out with a knee injury. Cousins reportedly had some offensive plays drawn up for him before the Brazil game, so I'd expect him to play. Still, it's worth keeping an eye on the progress of the other guys.
Prediction: Team USA 121, Dominican Republic 79.
What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!