Friday, September 01, 2006

Keep Dream(ing) Team

I laid on the couch in shock after the final horn sounded. I looked at the clock and it read "2:25am." I had just stayed up till damn near 2:30am to watch the USA fall short of the gold medal in the FIBA World Basketball Championships. Their defactors this time, Greece, a team that had won the coveted Euroleague championship earlier this year and a team that has no one on their roster that plays in the NBA.

After such a dominating display in pool play, it was believed that Team USA was on its way back to dominating international play while being led by their three young tri-captains: Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade. But in the semifinal game against the Greeks, the American's largest weakness was exposed...guarding the pick and roll. You would think that after a long 82 game season plus the playoffs (for some of the players) the likes of Anthony, James and Wade would be great at guarding this simple basketball nuance. That was not so. After outscoring the USA by 10 in the second quarter, Greece used the basic pick and roll to pick apart the USA in the third quarter en route to an astounding 14 for 18 shooting from the field. Some of this had to do with the fact that Greece played well but a lot of it had to do with the fact that the Americans DID NOT correct their mistakes.

A lot of it can be blamed on the NBA's dumb "3 second defense rule." This keeps the players from playing fundamental help defense when guarding such things as the pick and role. But in international play, the rules a bit different, yet they are not quite fundamental like NCAA basketball (trapezoid lane, no goaltending when the ball is on the rim...etc) they are MORE fundamental than the NBA's rules. The NBA rule book does not prepare the USA players for international play at all.

I read an interesting article defending this year's team saying that we don't realize how hard NBA players actually play. I do realize it and I respect them for that but after last night I know the whole saying "the game doesn't start till the 4th quarter" is completely true. Team USA really started playing in the last 6 mins or so when they were down double digits. By then it was too late, the Greeks confidence had skyrocketed out of the roof and everything they did was going to be successful. There were too many mental errors that caused me to shake my head. Kirk Heinrich passing up an open 3 point shot and travels instead, Heinrich fouling a Greek player while he was shooting a three, Joe Johnson fouling the same guy as he is shooting a three, Chris Paul trying to go behind his back against a full court press, LeBron James shooting numerous contested 3 point shots, Coach K not playing Dwight Howard when he almost had a double double in the first half...I could go on for days. This team was supposed to be better than the team that won the bronze at the last olympics because it was comprised fo superstars as well as role players. They supposedly had better shooters yet they went 9-28 from the 3 point line with LeBron James attempting 4 by himself. They were supposed to be a better defensive team. After giving up only 69 points during the medal rounds, they gave up 101 last night! Team USA was outplayed, out coached, and out classes in every respect of the game.

As I think back to 1992 and the effervesvent Dream Team I realize how much the NBA has changed. Long gone are the days of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Larry Bird, and Christian Laettner (the best player in college basketball that year. When you look at those names you immediately think of the talent but you also think of how much those guys know about the game of basketball. They were all experts in the little tricks that only seasoned veterans know, yet with the exception of Magic and Larry, all of those guys were in their prime. They all were so good and knew the game so well that they could've had one week together and still go out and dominate the competition.

Now, I can hear people saying "Competition internationally has gotten better over the years." I do not ignore that point but there is no team out there right now that has a player thats worth mentioning in the same breath of any of those players (even Christian Laettner was the truth in his final season at Duke...admit it). And the thing that that Dream Team had and others lacked is an identity. They knew who the leader was. I have this Michael Jordan video that I used to watch religiously growing up and there is a part in it that covers his stint with the Dream Team. He admits that it was tough to keep all the egos in one bag but with a leader like Magic Johnson, things were much easier. Magic was willing to take that role as the leader and hold everyone accountable and that's something this year's team lacks. Magic didn't have to score a bucket to have a positive effect on Team USA's performance. His leadership skills transcend the courta and go beyond basketball. Who is going to do that on this team? Dwyane Wade is the only player on the team with a NBA championship. The next closest person is Carmelo Anthony who has a NCAA National Championship.

That Dream Team had legends who were known globally. LeBron is known globally and is probably the most recognized player on the team but he is not a legend. But I'm not saying we need legends. I'm saying we need to comprise a team of guys that understand the game. We need guys that can fit certain molds that those guys on the initial Dream Team fit. Carmelo already fits the MJ mold when it comes to scoring when the team needs a basket. We need a leader on and off the court that's going to be vocal during the game. Chuck Daly, coach of the first Dream Team, never had to coach because Magic was always up directing traffic. During the entire game yesterday the only guy standing up was Coach K. All the rest of the players sat back in their seats, half heartedly applauding their fellow teammates. We need the toughness that Charles Barkley played with. He struck fear in the hearts of opponents with his physical play. But most importantly we need a team that understands that the little things win one possession ball games.

The fact remains: you cannot put a team together for a month and expect to win against world class competition these days. Basketball has gone global, international teams scout Americans all year long and are more hungry than our all stars. Greece was hungrier last night .

"They knew they were playing the best in the world," reflected Daly after the team won the gold medal with a 117-85 win over Croatia on August 8, 1992. "They'll go home and for the rest of their lives be able to tell their kids, 'I played against Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.' And the more they play against our best players, the more confident they're going to get. Finally there will come a day -- I'm not saying it will happen anytime soon, mind you, but it's inevitable that it will happen -- that they will be able to compete with us on even terms. And they'll look back on the Dream Team as a landmark event in that process." Ladies and gentlemen, that day has come.


Anonymous said...

"That day has come". Bullcrap I say.
I say the refs cheated the US out of the game. US shot 50% from the field; Greece about 63%. US scored 96; Greeece 101. But the refs neglected to factor in the degree of difficulty and artistry scoes into those shots and scores. Had they done so, as NBA marketing requires them to, US would have been declared the rightful winner.

For example, at the end of the 3rd quarter, DWade beat 4 count 'em 4 guys on his wat to the rack. Sure, the 5th defender stripped him and the Greeks came back with a layup. But Flash should have been awarded at least one point or maybe 2 for that flashy move.

khab said...

hahaHAHA haha thas too funny, all i know is that when u have carmello leading a team u bound to lose. they had the wrong players for the olympics, and of course, shaq, kobe, and kidd were all missing. but still that comment about international play umm is bs. the game is exactly the same except for the box being bigger and us bball refs dont call carry, or traveling while international refs do.

Brother Darkness said...

The part about international ball is not BS. It is very different from the NBA and many commentators harp on that during the games. In the NBA there is NO help defense. When you play help defense, you get penalized for Defensive 3 seconds. Therefore, the supposed "zone" defense that they play in the NBA is NOT real zone defense. In the NBA, when the ball is on the rim (or above the cylinder as they refer to it), you cannot knock it off or tip it in. In international play you can do whatever you want when the ball is on the rim. Scottie Pippen was legendary at tipping the ball off the rim to himself during the 1992 Olympics. These differences may seem little but they make a huge difference when you're in a one posession ball game.

As for the Carmelo Anthony part, I will not address that because it is merely a difference of opinion. I had my doubts about Melo and his skills until the second half of last season after the all star game when he rejuvenated the Nuggets with numerous game winning shots or game tying shots. He has faced his critics and showed that, even on a team with superior talent, he can stand out. The kid has a some way to go as a leader but during that game against Greece he was the one guy showing emotion and trying to keep the team composed. Kobe had surgery on his shoulder so he was out. Shaq wanted rest after a long season. I'm not sure why Kidd didn't join in. KG declined, Tim Duncan declined and a lot of others declined. I'm not exactly sure that they took the wrong team, I just think the team they took had no cohesion and no identity.

Anonymous said...

Deep down I find it hard to believe that a team of

1. Kidd/Iverson
2. Ray Allen/Wade
3. Kobe/Michael Redd/Carmelo
4. KG/Lebron/Paul Pierce
5. Duncan/Shaq

would lose a game. The starting line up is made up of veterans, as good as Wade and LBJ are they are still a bunch kids with less than 4 years of experience, The original dream team in contrast was led by veterans who could easily adjust to the international game. Plus not having Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Michael Redd, Kobe Bryant, Sam Cassell, Wally Sczerbiak or any player than can consistently hit the three ball or is a pure shooter is inexcusable, hell even throw in Keith Van Horn if you are desperate, its silly to hope to win with Lebron shooting 4 threes even the Cavs know better than that.

khab said...

"In the NBA there is NO help defense. When you play help defense, you get penalized for Defensive 3 seconds. Therefore, the supposed "zone" defense that they play in the NBA is NOT real zone defense. " help defense isnt meant to be a double team its help u only need but a second to hedge out to stop the player and hedge back in and the 3 second defense rule is only within the 16 foot lane outside of that anything is legal. and melo and lebron and wade even though wade is sick get away with so many calls its ridiculous. melo travels all the time he be taking 3-4 steps sometimes the only person that travels more is manu ginobili but he can get away it cause he plays awkard as hell. lebron stiffarms like he is playing football and he travels like crazy too and carries, i mean he a game against the wizards off the worst travel i have ever seen in a buzzer beater ever in the history of basketball. the move where he went (two steps, pump fake pivot, take another two steps then shoot or some bs). matter afact watch it : i can make a highlight reel off the nba refs not calling stuff on them 3 players. i can make a highlight reel off melo in the last olympics traveling they benched him for walking. and lebron too. neither of them did anything last olympics. the wade wade travels but not as bad but he carries he puts the ball over the defenders hand, he palms it then puts it over there hand. the reason why the lost is cause they dont know how to play ball anymore these international players are out balling them. WHY do u think they are drafting more international players than ever? they are used to the international rules if u want to listen to the stuff u were sayin. so then they must not be ready for the nba right. they know the game better than the nba players point blank period.