Friday, August 31, 2007

Team USA Rocks Argentina

Team USA beat Argentina 91-76 to improve to 8-0. In the official standings, they are listed as 7-0 because the Virgin Islands didn’t make it out of group play, and therefore that win was discounted under FIBA rules. That’s confusing, so I’m counting all of the games.

In a possible preview of Saturday’s gold medal game, Team USA easily controlled Argentina, building another insurmountable first-half lead. The game was decided in the first quarter, when Kobe Bryant single-handedly outscored Argentina 15-13. Bryant finished with 27 points and four steals in 23 minutes.

Like LeBron James a day earlier, Bryant toyed with the opponent with a series of magnificent drives to the basket and smooth long-range shots. Similar to their trouncing of Brazil, Team USA put away Argentina with more ease than expected. It’s increasingly evident that an in-form Team USA is unbeatable. The final score isn’t indicative of their dominance, as the point spread never sunk to single digits after midway through the first quarter.

To Argentina’s credit, they did outscore the Americans in the second half. In nitpicking Team USA’s performance, they once again attempted too many careless, dangerous passes after accumulating a comfortable lead. They were vulnerable to Luis Scola, who scored 20 points in only 18 minutes. That could spell trouble when Scola is just another one of the stars alongside Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, and company next year. Scola couldn’t carry his team tonight, but with help, it’s obvious Argentina is still one of the main threats to Team USA. After one of their best quarters in the tournament in the first quarter, Team USA also wasn’t able to sustain the high level of play to truly demoralize their rival.

Michael Redd scored just three points on 1-5 shooting in 13 minutes. 20 Second Timeout crunched some numbers:
“In fact, Team USA was outscored 28-15 when Redd was in the game and outscored Argentina 76-48 when he was off the court.”
After starting the tournament in such impressive fashion, Redd has struggled shooting the last few games. Thankfully, the beauty of this Team USA is that different players step up on different nights and they’ve been able to effectively ride the hot shooting hand of different players early in games, from Redd to James to Bryant last night. As long as it's detected early who in fact has the hot hand, it's a solid formula for success.

Redd is far too good of a shooter to continue in this funk much longer, especially with the short three-point line, so watch for him to break out in Saturday’s all-important semifinal game against Puerto Rico.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

James Leads Team USA Over Uruguay

Team USA improved to 7-0 after defeating Uruguay 118-79.

Carmelo Anthony did not play due to a bruised right heal suffered against Puerto Rico. Michael Redd took his place in the starting lineup, marking his first start. That meant Redd was slotted in the small forward position, and LeBron James was pushed to power forward.

The decision to start Redd, coming off two rough shooting nights and playing out of his natural shooting guard position, reaffirmed how highly Team USA regards him. Redd scored 9 points on 3-6 shooting from the field and 2-4 on three-pointers in 24 minutes. He added two assists, two steals, and one rebound. The most important three games are yet to come, and Redd won’t be displacing Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup anytime soon. But he’s established himself in Team USA’s rotation to the extent that it will be borderline shocking if he doesn’t make the 2008 Olympic team.

James mesmerized in the first half, scoring 26 points on a perfect 11-11 from the field. Blending a deft outside stroke with his patented open-court virtuosity, he left his mark on the tournament and easily vaulted into the top spot of the previously discussed FIBA Americas MVP watch. Apparently Team USA’s staff either thought James played a game’s worth in the first half or felt bad for Uruguay because he didn’t play in the second half. Amazingly, James packed all of his production into just 14 first-half minutes.

Earlier, Argentina escaped with an overtime victory over Brazil. Team USA faces Argentina next in a game showcasing two undefeated teams on Thursday, August 30.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Clippers Sign Patterson

The Los Angeles Clippers have signed forward Ruben Patterson.

Patterson is a solid addition to a team reeling from Elton Brand’s injury. Although not a power forward, Patterson will help a Clippers team with a thin frontcourt attempt to stay within playoff striking distance while waiting for Brand to return.

The Bucks suffered through a disappointing season last year that would have been a lot worse had Patterson not stayed healthy and stepped up with a career year. But the team is going in a different direction, and should be able to match the production of Patterson with the tandem of Bobby Simmons and Desmond Mason.

Five Observations After Team USA's Win Over Puerto Rico

Team USA defeated Puerto Rico 117-78, pushing their record to 6-0 in the FIBA Americas Championship.

LeBron James led Team USA with 21 points on 8-10 shooting from the field and 3-5 on three-pointers. He also added four rebounds and four assists.

Michael Redd scored 15 points in a team-leading 20 minutes off the bench. He made only 1-8 three-pointers, but connected on 5-6 two-pointers for a respectable 6-14 from the field.

Five more observations:

  • If Kobe Bryant wasn’t satisfied with his teammates in Los Angeles before, how do you think he is going to feel after playing in the FIBA’s for Team USA? It’s sure going to be an adjustment going back to the Lakers after spending the summer enjoying Jason Kidd’s pinpoint passing, Dwight Howard’s dominance on the glass, no double teams, fastbreaking with LeBron James, playing twenty minutes per game, and winning by forty every night.
  • Puerto Rico somewhat effectively slowed down the pace in the first quarter, limiting transition opportunities and holding Team USA to 24 points. Team USA had no problem dictating the pace by the second quarter, when they outscored Puerto Rico 39-12. The opposition has been so overmatched thus far that we haven’t seen how Team USA responds in a competitive, slowed-down, half-court type of game. Granted, they force the opposition into shootouts thanks to their swarming, turnover-creating defense. And since they’ve had no trouble scoring in half-court sets when necessary, this shouldn’t be too much of a worry. Still, it should be interesting to see how Argentina tries to stop Team USA’s offensive onslaught on Thursday, August 30.
  • Amare Stoudemire, whom Bill Walton said is trying to add a three-point shot to his offensive arsenal, looked pretty good making one in the second quarter against Puerto Rico. Putting aside the fact that Stoudemire thinking he should spend time working on his three-point accuracy is mildly ridiculous, we should remember that the international three-point line is also a few feet closer than the NBA line.
  • What happened at the free-throw line against Puerto Rico? 11-23 is the stuff that kills gold medal hopes against serious competition. Team USA’s 72.2 percent from the line overall ranks in the middle of the FIBA’s pack. Interestingly, tonight’s opponent, Uruguay, is the only team in the field making and attempting more free-throws per game than Team USA.
  • After six games it's no longer too early to start surveying the FIBA Americas MVP field. Carmelo Anthony, averaging 21.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game might be the leading contender. Every minute on the floor he’s played authoritatively, dunking frequently and often rebounding his own misses. Other contenders include James, Bryant, Argentina’s Luis Scola, and Mexico’s Romel Beck.

Yi Signs With Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed forward Yi Jianlian.

Yi was signed to a standard rookie scale contract, on Wednesday, August 29 in Hong Kong, China. Progress was made on negotiations after Milwaukee Bucks management, including owner Herb Kohl and general manager Larry Harris met with both Yi’s family and Chen Haitao, owner of Yi’s Chinese professional team.

“Kohl, Bucks general manager Larry Harris and team vice president Ron Walter met with Yi, Chinese Basketball Association officials and Guangdong Tigers owner Chen Haitao on Wednesday in Hong Kong.”

The commitment on the Bucks end to get Yi to Milwaukee has been impressive, culminating in the trip to China. The next step is to get Yi to his new basketball home.

"We all anticipate Yi's arrival and welcome him and his family to Milwaukee," Kohl said. "We look forward to a successful relationship for many years to come."

It’s a winning situation for the Bucks and the NBA that this matter didn’t turn out to be a Steve Francis-situation when he forced his way out of Vancouver. Preserving the value of the NBA draft is important, and it’s a damaging situation whenever a smaller-market team is pushed around by an individual. The Francis saga was the beginning of the end for the Grizzlies in Vancouver, really serving as the final straw for a franchise already lacking legitimacy. The Grizzlies ended up in Memphis and Francis hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, having recently had his contract bought out by the Portland Trail Blazers after being traded away by the New York Knicks. It’s a huge relief the Bucks avoided such a potentially damaging situation for all parties involved.

Furthermore, Yi alleviated a tremendous amount of pressure for himself. As the second most hyped Chinese basketball player ever and sixth overall pick in the draft, he is already entering the NBA with huge expectations. Forcing a trade to a big-market team and defying the NBA system would have created a very difficult situation.

Bucks management must be lauded for their coolness in handling the Yi situation. In the new, globalized NBA, effective front office communication with players and clubs is more critical than ever. Thankfully, Kohl, Harris, and company delivered in strong form.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Team USA Tops Mexico

Team USA improved to 5-0 after beating Mexico 127-100.

Carmelo Anthony again led the scoring barrage with 28 points. LeBron James added 19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, two blocks and a steal in 21 minutes. James shot 6-7 from the field, 3-3 on three-pointers, and 4-4 from the line.

Michael Redd struggled for the first time in the FIBA’s. While he scored 15 points, Redd lost his outside touch, making only 1-6 three-pointers. Coach Mike Krzyzewski continued to show confidence in the Milwaukee Bucks star however. Redd's 21 minutes led all Team USA non-starters. And even on an off-night shooting, he again outplayed fellow backup guard Mike Miller, who shot 1-6 from the field and 0-4 on three-pointers in 15 minutes.

Team USA played out of sync offensively after a brilliant, 45-point first quarter outburst.

The usually poised Americans occasionally lacked court awareness and focus. Kobe Bryant continued his high-intensity play, but appeared flustered after missing a couple forced shots early and appealing to the referees for help to no avail. Bryant committed three turnovers. Redd, James, and Amare Stoudemire had two each against a Mexico team without one NBA player.

It was the first time this Team USA seemed to play overconfidently. They connected on their requisite highlight-reel plays, but too often made dangerous, lazy passes. Mexico was sharp, but Team USA would’ve been burned for more than their 12 turnovers against a better opponent.

Still, when you score 127 points and allow 100 in 40 minutes, offense isn’t the main problem. Defensively, Team USA looked very mediocre, proving to be vulnerable against Mexico’s pick-and-roll and three-point shooting. Even international defensive stalwart Bryant got crossed-over before fouling Mexico’s Romel Beck on a three-pointer, resulting in a four-point play. It’s not worth singling anyone out though, because this defensive breakdown was a team effort.

Like most 27-point wins, not everything went wrong. Despite Bryant’s rough game, he determinedly got to the free-throw line ten times, making nine. And on a cold outside shooting night for Team USA, they easily withstood Mexico’s 15 three-pointers, cruising to a victory that was never in doubt.

Jason Kidd showed again why he is the perfect Team USA court general, notching seven assists, three rebounds, three steals, and no turnovers in 19 minutes. Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard also were unstoppable in the post.

Four nearly flawless Team USA games made last night look questionable: Did they really figure out how to defend the pick-and-roll after the Greece debacle? Does this team have a problem keeping the pressure on for a full game after accumulating a big lead?

They can help answer some of those questions tonight against a Puerto Rico team rounding into form after a convincing win over Brazil.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Four Things Learned After Four Team USA Games

Team USA concluded group play 4-0 after rocking Brazil 113-76.

Here are four things we’ve learned after Team USA’s first four games:

  • 1. USA is to basketball what Brazil is to soccer, and then some.

The hyped Team USA/Brazil match of undefeated teams resulted in Team USA’s fourth consecutive blowout and a thoroughly humbling first loss for Brazil. Even though Brazil was considered a pre-tournament contender, the wise understood that given the personnel in this tournament, Team USA would win this game. Not many people thought Team USA would lead by 47 points entering the fourth quarter though.

On September 9, Brazil’s soccer team will face the United States in an exhibition match. Brazil is the unequaled world soccer power, with more World Cups won than any other nation. Its players, like Pele and Ronaldinho, are the supreme talents of past and present. Its soccer talent runs so deep that not one player on the solid United States soccer team would make Brazil’s roster, much less be a part of the starting eleven. The real beauty of Brazilian soccer is not only the results, but the flair and ease with which they demoralize their opponents. They lose on occasion, but it’s almost always an upset when they do.

Sound familiar if you flip the script, turning soccer into football, and Brazil into U.S.A. basketball? The fact is, despite recent disappointment, Team USA remains the singular basketball world superpower. Their talent level is unmatched, and when the right mix is found, they are virtually unbeatable. They are an even sturdier, prettier superpower than Brazilian soccer, with fewer teams capable of challenging them.

  • 2. Kobe can play team ball.

When Kobe Bryant was in his early twenties, leading the Lakers in assists and winning championships, life was all good in Los Angeles. Somewhere along the way, the sidekick grew up to the master (Shaq), at least in ability and ego, and the rest is history... or perhaps a current event in the NBA.

With LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and company at his side, Bryant has seemingly bought into the team concept now more than ever. Through four games with Team USA, Bryant has stood out as one of the most passionate and team-oriented, making it a habit to jump on the floor after loose balls, play squared-up and arms-up defense, and defer to open teammates on the offensive end.

He knows that these national teams are the greatest teams he’ll ever play on, and it’s refreshing to see that he’s genuinely excited by that fact. He also senses that while the degree to which he can succeed from here on out in the NBA on a team level depends largely on the puzzling pieces surrounding him, he doesn’t have that dilemma playing for Team USA. He knows that restoring basketball glory to the United States is firmly within his grasp, and he’s not going to let that opportunity slip away.

  • 3. Keep this group together, mostly.

I’ve had some different ideas about what Team USA should like look this summer and in Beijing 2008. I will say now, that even though it’s only been four games against less-than-stellar competition, this is a strong mix of players.

In fact, I spot eight virtual locks on this team for next summer’s Olympic team: Bryant, James, Anthony, Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudemire, Michael Redd, Dwight Howard, and Chauncey Billups. Two of Tayshaun Prince, Deron Williams, Mike Miller, and Tyson Chandler should probably be there as well, most likely the first two. That leaves room for only two guys not in currently Las Vegas, probably Dwyane Wade and a post player, like Chris Bosh.

  • 4. Everything looks golden, but...

The wonders of Argentina’s basketball system, rooted in rich talent and dynamic team/player familiarity, isn’t going to be enough this time around. If the Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, Walter Herrmann-led team couldn’t top Team USA while playing for a medal last summer, it would be a lot to ask for the Argentine’s to pull of a victory without the aforementioned stars.

And I’m pretty sure Brazil isn’t going to make up this much ground that fast.

But what isn’t discussed enough is that the these tournaments are decidedly upset-prone, meaning the best team won’t always win. We are accustomed to the marathon NBA Playoffs, that while sometimes are anti-climactic, always crowns the best team. The one-and-done format of international basketball is exciting, but much more kind to the hot-shooting underdog.

Team USA might not lose for quite a while, and won’t lose more than one game in Las Vegas and Beijing combined. But one untimely loss is all it takes.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Redd, Team USA Blow Past Canada

Team USA opened its weekend by defeating Canada 113-63. The fifty-point victory margin fell in between their first two games against Venezuela and the Virgin Islands, which they won by forty-three and sixty-four points respectively. But Canada was easily the most qualified foe of the first three. They entered the game 2-1, losing only to Brazil by eight points.

And Canada hung around for one quarter. They trailed by only seven points before Team USA unveiled a defense so suffocating and an offense so dazzling that even Canadian basketball savior Steve Nash would have been rendered helpless had he suited up. Because with all due respect to Nash, Team USA was another level.

Team USA
notched 37 points in the second quarter, a particularly impressive mark considering the international game’s 10-minute quarters.

Carmelo Anthony and Michael Redd again piled up points in bunches. Anthony led all scorers with 25 points. Redd added 19 points, shooting 6-14 from the field and 5-10 on three-pointers.

Redd, who also totaled three rebounds, two steals, and one assist in the game, came off the bench but led Team USA in minutes played, with 22.

Team USA also continued to loudly proclaim a fact that unfortunately needs repeating: Americans can in fact shoot. The three-point shooting (15-30) was great, but more encouraging yet was the free-throw shooting (20-22) prowess displayed, particularly by big men Amare Stoudemire (6-6) and Dwight Howard (2-2).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Around The Blogosphere, Plus Reaction

The following are some intriguing recent posts from around the web along with my reaction:

The Bratwurst: Patterson to Boston?

Excerpt:
“Patterson will be a much better fit for Boston than the other players they are apparently chasing now that Reggie Miller figured out that he has no business suiting up any longer. James Posey is a moderately better defender than Patterson but nowhere near the offensive player, and Dahntay Jones has no business being in the NBA. He was the worst player on Memphis last year, which really says something.”
Reaction:

The Celtics indeed would be wise to pursue Ruben Patterson, who quietly had a very strong season in Milwaukee last year. It’s true that his career year did happen to coincide with his contract year and he’s had disturbing off-court problems, but he’s always been a competitive, tough player. And at 32 years old, his game and character have seemingly matured. From the Bucks' perspective, with Bobby Simmons, Desmond Mason, and hopefully Yi in the fold, there is reason to believe Patterson won’t be sorely missed, but the article does accurately point out that he was the team’s most consistent player last season.

Loy’s Place: Patterson, Posey or Jones?

Excerpt:
“Patterson was also convicted of misdemeanor assault outside a Cleveland night club in 2001 and arrested in 2002 on felony charges of domestic abuse that were later dropped. Patterson has said his struggles with alcoholism were the culprit for his past problems and reiterated to the Bucks staff that he's moved on. Harris agreed. Now, maybe it is just me, but we just got a player who had a drinking problem off the books and I don't feel like spinning the wheel and taking a chance on another.”
Reaction:

Okay, so Celtics Nation isn’t completely sold on Patterson. Even with all the new talented faces in Beantown, it’ll take both time and cooperation to create the necessary chemistry to produce a juggernaut. So it’s understandable there would be some hesitancy in taking in someone with Patterson’s past troubles. But there isn't much about the Celtics offseason that says "not going for it," and this might be the gamble that puts them in charge of the East. Plus, isn't mortgaging your franchise's future to take a shot or two at the Finals and then signing an inferior player (Dahntay Jones=not the answer) because you're scared off by some old off-court troubles kind of a risky thing in itself?

Bucks Fans: Yi, Ilyasova, and Markota in Turkey

Excerpt:
“China fell 96-76 to Serbia in their second game of the EFES World Cup 6, with Yi Jianlian once again the best player on the court for the Chinese. Yi tallied 17 points and 9 rebounds on 8/12 shooting from the field and 1/2 from the line."
Reaction:

Yao Ming isn’t playing for China in this tournament, meaning Yi Jianlian is the go-to guy. It also means China has trouble keeping up with some of the talented teams in Europe, like Serbia. Individually though, Yi impressed, as his statline and the video highlights in the linked story attest to. He certainly has a smoothness to his game that makes it easy to see why Milwaukee Bucks brass is so enamored with him.

Sports Illustrated: Brazil blasts Venezuela

Excerpt:
“Machado hit four of the 3s in the first half when Brazil (2-0) took a 43-36 lead. Leandro Barbosa, who plays for the Phoenix Suns, picked up his play in the second half, scoring 12 of his 15 points as the Brazilians pulled away. A layup by Tiago Splitter with 3:07 left in the third quarter gave them a 68-45 lead."
Reaction:

As one of the few threats to Team USA in the FIBA Americas, it’s worth tracking Brazil. They topped Venezuela 101-75, a twenty-six point victory. Impressive, but not quite as dominant as the Americans forty-three point crushing of them a couple days earlier. The Team USA/ Brazil showdown takes place Sunday, August 26.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Team USA Dominates Virgin Islands

Team USA ran its record to 2-0 in the FIBA Americas Championship after demolishing the Virgin Islands 123-59.

Michael Redd and Carmelo Anthony again led all scorers, this time with 22 points each. Redd shot 7-12 from the field, 4-9 on three-pointers, and 4-4 on free-throws. Redd was instrumental in Team USA’s supercharged first quarter, scoring 15 points in just 5 minutes. As a team they scored 42 points in the first quarter, exactly twice as many as they scored in the first quarter against Venezuela.

Redd’s deft outside touch is garnering him praise. Dubbing him "the missing piece," SportsIlustrated.com's Chris Mannix gushes about Redd:
“Shooters, as you may have noticed, are a valuable commodity in international competition, where zone defenses are less the exception than the rule. With teams stuffing the lane to avoid surrendering easy baskets, the perimeter is usually unguarded territory. Problem was, the United States recently didn't have anyone who could capitalize on it.

Enter Michael Redd. The Milwaukee Bucks' sharpshooter has not just taken advantage of the breathing room on the outside -- he's staked his claim to it early in the FIBA Americas tournament. He scored a team-leading 39 points through two games, including a 15-point flurry in a little more than five minutes during the first half against the Virgin Islands on Thursday night.”
NBA.com's Jeff Dengate also takes notice of Michael's "Redd Hot" play:
"Yes, folks, five first-quarter minutes of Michael Redd and fans not wearing red, white and blue might as well have headed for the exits. Nothing to see here but a Team USA practice for the next 30 minutes of game clock, at the end of which the scoreboard read: ISV 59, USA 123. And for the second straight night, Redd tied Carmelo Anthony as the team's top scorer, pouring in 22 tonight."
While the performances must be considered within the context that Venezuela and the Virgin Islands are two of the poorest teams in the competition, Team USA and Redd look like a match made in basketball heaven so far.

The combination of the close three-point line and the defensive attention his teammates demand means Redd's torrid shooting is likely to continue. And just as Kobe Bryant is the established and deserved starting shooting guard for Team USA this year and next, Redd is working fast to sew up the backup role.

It’s still early, but if Team USA is serious about developing a real team, they must find room for ultimate role-players Redd and Tayshaun Prince (13 rebounds in 19 minutes against the Virgin Islands) on next year’s Olympic team. I'd be more comfortable entering Beijing with Prince as the 11th or 12th man than I would be with Anthony as the starting power forward. Just as I'd be more comfortable with Redd as a backup guard than Gilbert Arenas.

Team USA next plays Canada on Saturday, August 25.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Team USA Trounces Venezuela

Team USA opened its FIBA Americas Championship schedule by defeating Venezuela 112-69.

Venezuela, ranked eighth out of ten teams in The Painted Area’s tournament preview, didn’t provide any sustained competition from the opening tip.
Michael Redd and Carmelo Anthony led the scoring with 17 points each.

Redd shot 7-12 from the field and 3-5 on three’s in 20 minutes off the bench. He also added three assists and two rebounds. He played the part of perfect ingredient off the bench, and continued performances like that will make him a prime contender to make next year’s Olympic team.

Jason Kidd set the tone in the first quarter, orchestrating Team USA’s poised offensive attack. He played a step ahead of everyone on the court, swiping the ball from an unsuspecting Venezuelan and delivering perfect no-look passes to Americans sometimes slow to react. Kidd’s superior court presence stood out, essentially putting the game out of Venezuela’s reach in the first five minutes.

Kobe Bryant’s much-anticipated debut for Team USA also went smoothly. Bryant lived up to his vows to play the team game first, dishing out a team-high five assists, along with 14 points, five rebounds, and three steals in just 16 minutes.

Sure, it was only Venezuela, but this version of Team USA reminded more of the classic Dream Teams than recent disappointments.

Up next is the Virgin Islands.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More On Redd, Team USA

Truman Reed, a special to Bucks.com, interviews Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd, focusing on his busy summer and experiences with Team USA.

An excerpt:
“Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski is head coach of the USA Senior Team program, and is being assisted by Syracuse University’s Jim Boeheim, the Phoenix Suns' Mike D'Antoni and the Portland Trail Blazers' Nate McMillan. They are working with an All-Star cast, but each one of its members have sacrificed their ordinary roles for the greater good of this team and their country, Redd said.

“Everybody has,” Redd said. “It’s been terrific to see the unselfishness these guys have shown. There are no egos. I think that permeates from our leadership – the coaching staff and the veterans on the team, guys like Kobe (Bryant), LeBron (James), Jason Kidd. It really has helped our team.”

Preparing For Venezuela

SportsIllustrated.com’s Chris Mannix notes four keys to Team USA success in the FIBA Americas Championship.

His first key involves featuring Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd:
“Play your shooters

What do the numbers 31.4 and 36.9 have in common? They are the three-point shooting percentages of the U.S. teams in the '04 and '06 international competitions, respectively. This summer, however, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has two of the NBA's most dangerous three-point shooters in Michael Redd (career 39.2 percent) and Mike Miller (39.8 percent). Coach K also has a proven clutch shooter in Chauncey Billups, who also has the potential to extend or break a zone defense and open up the floor for the U.S. slashers.”
That brings up the discussion about what Team USA’s rotation should be. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has already indicated that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony will start throughout the tournament:
"I think the three guys you could say would start every game would be Carmelo, Kobe and LeBron," Krzyzewski said. "And then we would look at other people. The main thing is just so they can develop a feel of playing with one another."
Bryant and James are excellent, if not obvious picks to start. And since Team USA’s opponents aren’t going to have a lot of quality post players in this tournament, starting Anthony at power forward is reasonable.

My Team USA depth chart:

C- Amare Stoudemire
PF- Carmelo Anthony
SF- LeBron James
SG- Kobe Bryant
PG- Jason Kidd

6- Dwight Howard
7- Chauncey Billups
8- Michael Redd
9- Tyson Chandler
10- Deron Williams
11- Tayshaun Prince
12- Mike Miller

The trouble is that since this Team USA roster is so good, and the competition is so limited, it might not matter what the lineup looks like. That’s problematic because they won’t have such a luxury in 2008. Anthony could shine playing power forward this summer, but not next summer. Since it’s assumed Team USA will secure an Olympic spot, the real order of business this summer is to figure out who fits where next summer.

On another note, Team USA’s first opponent, Venezuela, is coming off a rough showing in the Stankovic Cup, where they went 0-5, including a loss to the U.S. D-League Ambassadors. Turns out, they didn’t take that particular defeat in stride:
“The Venezuela national team blamed the loss on the referees' poor judgments made at "the key moment" in the fourth period when the score gap was only five points.

"We would not lose the match if it was not for them (the referees)," said Gabriel Alejandro Ruda, coach of the Venezuela team.”
What is like being basketball referee right now? In any event, Team USA won’t be leaving any doubt about this game.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Redd, White, And Blue

USABasketball.com reports Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd is part of the 12-man roster that will represent Team USA in the upcoming FIBA Americas Championship.

Seattle Supersonics forwards Kevin Durant and Nick Collison were the two players cut.

The roster:

“Named to the USA Basketball Senior National Team were Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets); Chauncey Billups (Detroit Pistons); Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers); Tyson Chandler (New Orleans Hornets); Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers); Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets); Mike Miller (Memphis Grizzlies); Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons); Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks); AmarĂ© Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns); and Deron Williams (Utah Jazz).”

Update: Bucks.com likes my headline, or great minds think alike. Or something. They now have a "Redd, White and Blue" headline.

Update #2: Same "Redd, White and Blue" headline in the Team USA NBA.com blog.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Redd Impressive For Team USA

John Schuhmann, blogging about Team USA for NBA.com, gives a rundown of roster hopefuls, and notes about Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd:

“Redd has shot the ball pretty well in camp. No one on the roster can get a shot up quicker than he can, so he's obviously a key weapon off the bench. If there weren't as many injuries, he might be battling with Mike Miller for the designated shooter's role, but with only 14 healthy bodies, there looks to be room for both of them on the roster.”

USAToday.com’s David DuPree also reports on Redd and Team USA. The article reveals encouraging quotes from Redd, coach Mike Krzyzewski, and particularly managing director Jerry Colangelo:

"One of the biggest drawbacks or limitations our teams in the past have had in world championships and the Olympics has been lack of shooters," Colangelo says. "And Michael Redd is a terrific shooter, no question about that."

"It makes all the difference in the world, and that's pretty evident when the shooters like Redd are out there on the court. The more shooters you have, the easier it is for everyone else. Michael enjoys shooting. It's his job, and it's a nice job to have."

Redd, while still not a sure thing, appears to be a very good bet to make the team’s final 12-man roster. Team USA starts play against Venezuela on Wednesday, August 22.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ranking The Dream Teams

Okay, there really only was one Dream Team. We all know the story. 1992. Barcelona. MJ. Bird. Magic. Sir Charles. +43.8.

To this day it’s uniformly considered the greatest basketball team ever assembled.

Since then, there have essentially been eight different versions of Team USA, with the current senior team training in Las Vegas, Nevada for the this week’s FIBA Americas Championship soon to be the tenth overall.

For ranking purposes, I'm only considering Team USA's that featured different groups of professional players that played in competitive tournaments. Judging by that criteria, there are nine to compare:
  • 1992 Olympics
  • 1996 Olympics
  • 2000 Olympics
  • 2004 Olympics
  • 1994 World Championships
  • 2002 World Championships
  • 2006 World Championships
  • 1999 FIBA Americas
  • 2003 FIBA Americas
There is a lot of hype surrounding 2007's Team USA, and rightfully so. But where will history rank this team? The Olympic team next year is of greater importance than this summer’s team. And it should challenge the top three. But it’s too difficult to forecast that roster, and the games must first be played.

Ranking the Dream Teams:
This is the team that we can in large part thank for the rest of the world falling in love with, and ultimately becoming very good at basketball. The Dream Team that traveled to Barcelona, Spain showcased not only the greatest collection of basketball talent the world has ever witnessed, but revealed what happens when maximum individual talent conforms perfectly to the concept of unity.

The roster is the most striking ever assembled, doubly impressive considering the legendary players all fell between ages 26-32 aside from Larry Bird (35) and Christian Laettner (22).

Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Chris Mullin were each 29. Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, and John Stockton each 30. These guys were not only the ultimate superstars, they were in prime condition.

The team’s run to gold medal was also the most convincing. Their first Olympic game was a 116-48 trouncing of Angola and they finished with 117-85 win over Croatia. They went 8-0, winning by an average of 43.8 points. It is fair to note that the competition Team USA faces now is far superior on the whole. But don’t overlook the Croatian team they beat twice in 1992. It featured more-than-capable players like Toni Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic, and Dino Radja.
Still living up to the Dream Team nickname, this group featured five holdovers from the original: Barkley, Malone, Pippen, Stockton, and David Robinson.

This is a good time to bring up the fact that Barkley is the greatest of all Team USA performers, and not just for bringing home two Olympic gold medals. In the 1992 Olympics, Barkley shot 59-83 (.711) from the field including 7-8 (.875) on three-pointers. In addition, he led the team in scoring (18.0). He followed that up in 1996 by shooting 31-38 (.816) from the field and 2-4 (.500) from beyond the arc. He also led the team in scoring (12.4) and rebounding (6.6).

On paper this team rivals the original Dream Team. Barkley was joined in the post by Malone, Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and a spry, 24 year-old Shaquille O’Neal.

Reggie Miller replaced Mullin as the designated sharpshooter.

They also rivaled the 1992 squad on the court by easily winning all eight games, culminating in a 95-69 gold medal victory over previously unbeaten Yugoslavia.
Team USA’s most devastating inside-outside duo yet? Try 1994's Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller.

O’Neal
shot 62-87 (.713) from the field, and led the team in scoring (18.0), rebounding (8.5), and blocked shots (1.8). Meanwhile, Miller connected on 30-57 (.526) three-pointers and 19-20 (.950) free-throws.

And this group was tough. Joe Dumars, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, and Alonzo Mourning typified the won’t-back-down grit of this team.

Strong outside shooting also stood out, with Team USA making nearly twice as many (103-55) three-pointers as its opponents, led by Miller, Majerle, Dumars, and Mark Price. Steve Smith, Derrick Coleman, and Dominique Wilkens added to the onslaught for this offensive machine. They averaged over 120 points per game and annihilated Russia 137-91 to win the gold medal.
This is a glimpse of what could have been in the disappointing 2004 Olympics. Unfortunately, the most dominant modern (post-2000) Team USA did not stick together long enough to win anything of great importance.

Key pieces of this team like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Jermaine O’Neal and Mike Bibby were not a part of the Olympic team a year later.

Playing in the FIBA Americas, competition was limited, but strong nonetheless. They started off by dominating a strong Brazil team 110-76. And finished with a gold medal, the prize for a thirty-three point crushing of rival Argentina, whom they had also beaten earlier in the tournament.

Considering this tournament occurred only four years ago, it’s difficult to understand how the stereotype that Americans can't shoot persists. This team was much more selective than its opponents shooting from the outside (158 to 215 attempts), and much more effective (.468 to.363).
Marking Team USA’s final unblemished run to gold medal before the ugly 2002 World Championships, Team 2000 faced the new era of upgraded international competition and still prevailed.

Vince Carter starred, leading the team in scoring (14.8). At some point, as people recognize the increasing relevance of international basketball, performances like Carter’s in the 2000 Olympics (YouTube evidence here) will be properly appreciated. As it stands, players are judged by performances in the NBA playoffs first, NBA regular season second, and college third. With basketball becoming more global every day, performances for national teams must now enter into discussions with great prominence.

In soccer, club play is valued religiously, never overlooked. However, leading one’s nation to glory is unmatched. Basketball is heading in the same direction. Kobe Bryant knows it. LeBron James know it. Jason Kidd knows it. International basketball is already supremely relevant. It’s only a matter of time before we all realize it.

Back to Team 2000. This group jived. Carter, with his explosiveness, outside shooting, and ability to defer, was a perfect fit for Team USA. As was Kevin Garnett. Don’t let anyone tell you those two guys aren’t winners. Throw in the ultimate pass-first point guard (Kidd), a dominant defensive center (Mourning), a deadly outside shooter or two (Ray Allen and Allan Houston), and you have Team USA gold. It’s not really that simple, but it’s not just by chance that this was the last time our basketball heroes made us proud.
Characterized by its defense, something people inexplicably and incorrectly think Americans cannot effectively play, the 1999 team ran the table. The roster was built around defensive stalwarts Garnett, Kidd, Tim Duncan, and Gary Payton. each of whom started all ten games. They were joined in the consistent starting lineup by Houston.

Team USA was never threatened, winning by an average of 31.6 points while defensively dominating, holding opponents to just 66.2 points.
After failing in previous international competitions, Team USA got serious in 2006. And they mostly dominated before coming up a little short against the Greek pick-and-roll.

In a tournament that Team USA came out on top against stars from around the world such as Carlos Arroyo, Yao Ming, Marco Bellinelli, Andrew Bogut, Dirk Nowitzki, and Manu Ginobili, their undoing was their inability to defend the simplest of offensive plays against a team (Greece) with a big player (Sofoklis Schortsanitis), a lot of big sounding names (Panayotis Vassilopoulos), but no real big names (LeBron James).

Aside from that game, Team USA mostly shined, including a forty-point drubbing of Australia and an impressive, face-saving win over Argentina.
The Olympic failure in 2004 was an extension of the 2002 World Championships disaster, in that highly questionable personnel decisions deserve blame, rather than failing basketball talent in the United States.

Gunning guards Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury shot Team USA mostly into the ground.

Youngsters Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Emeka Okafor weren’t ready. In fact, next time someone insists that Anthony be a part of the 2008 team because of his exceptional performance in 2006, ask how Anthony was invited back in 2006 after his dreadful showing in 2004, when he shot 7-28 (.250) from the field.
The low point in USA Basketball, without a doubt. After opening 5-0, the United States lost to Argentina 87-80, ending the 58-game winning streak. To compound the misery, they lost twice more. Team USA ended up finishing sixth out of the sixteen teams, two spots behind a New Zealand team they beat by 48 points earlier in the tournament.

And all this happened at home, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

A lot went wrong in 2002. Mostly before anyone played. The lack of focus and preparation was apparent. And there were some nice players on the team: Elton Brand, Ben Wallace, and Paul Pierce. Then there were some, that in modern international basketball, didn’t belong on: Raef LaFrentz and Jay Williams.

Unfortunately, it took such a drastic and devastating blow to USA Basketball for the whole system to be overhauled. Thankfully, the present direction of Team USA leads me to believe a disaster of 2002's proportions is the remotest possibility heading into the FIBA Americas and 2008 Olympics.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Redd Talks About Team USA

USABasketball.com recently profiled and interviewed eight members of the current senior team, including Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd.

The 1999 team Redd broke into the national program with consisted of college players only. Looking back at that team, Redd turned out to be the best pro, with Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin the other success story, though Martin entered the NBA with much loftier expectations as the first overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft.

Highlights of the interview include Redd excitedly talking about playing for Team USA in the Olympics next year, and the intensely anti-American crowds he faced in Europe as a 19 year-old playing for the USA World University Games Team.

Here's an excerpt:

"In 1999 Michael Redd and the USA Basketball World University Games Team traveled to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and eventually won the gold medal with a perfect 8-0 mark. Of course it was the middle of the summer, the rooms were small and featured bunk beds that were a little small for basketball players, there was no air conditioning in the rooms or the arena and the crowds were definitely cheering against the Americans."

"What did you think about the international game when you were playing in the World University Games?
I felt comfortable. I felt really comfortable. Coach talks about how the game is more physical over there, which it is. We were in college, we were kids still. But we excelled, we won a gold medal. I enjoyed it, it was different going overseas. I had been overseas before, but this was different. From the Opening Ceremonies and everything, I'm sure the Olympics will be even greater. I'm looking forward to it. I look forward to playing against the best teams in the world.

What do you remember about the crowds?
They were hostile! We had pennies thrown at us and stuff like that. I remember playing Spain, we beat Spain and it was crazy in there. They were yelling ‘we hate Americans!' and all sorts of stuff, it was bananas. Then we played Yugoslavia in the gold medal game, we beat them and it was crazy during that game. I don't think we're liked very much overseas. They think we're arrogant and we have everything, but we just have to go over there and let our basketball do the talking."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Redd OK After Fall

John Schuhmann, blogging for NBA.com, about Team USA's July 15 practice:
"The scare of the day was Michael Redd going down in a heap after his feet came out from under him on a breakaway dunk. He got up and was OK though."
After writing about the virtues of Redd playing with Team USA this summer and beyond, I'm especially happy to see disaster was averted.

In related news, Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh withdrew from Team USA's summer camp and will not participate in the FIBA Americas Championship due to plantar fasciitis.

Without Bosh there are now only 14 senior team players, meaning just two will be cut. It's looking increasingly like Redd will be on Team USA at the FIBA's.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bucks Preseason Schedule Released

The Milwaukee Bucks preseason schedule is set.

The Bucks open their eight-game slate on Tuesday, October 9 at the La Crosse Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin against the Chicago Bulls.

They will also travel to the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Tuesday, October 16 where they’ll face the Denver Nuggets. The game could mark the first time the Bucks face the Carmelo Anthony/Allen Iverson tandem. Last year, Anthony was suspended the first time they met and Iverson was hurt the second game.

Their other two home games, against the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, will be played at the Bradley Center.

The Bucks play the Bulls, Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Jazz twice each.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Team USA and Michael Redd

Team USA will have another training session August 15-20. It will help determine which of the 17 eligible players will make the 12-man roster for the upcoming FIBA Americas Championship.

A group of ten promising young Americans were chosen to help the senior team prepare.

In an earlier post, I made my picks for Team USA’s 12-man roster.

Included in my picks was Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd. He’s a sensible choice to back up Kobe Bryant given the importance of outside shooting in international competitions. His main competition appears to be Memphis Grizzlies guard and fellow sharpshooter Mike Miller. Some have argued Team USA wouldn’t mind bringing along both.

In a recent blog post, NBA.com’s Dave McMenamin chose Miller over Redd, based on Redd’s relatively poor performance in practice.

An excerpt of McMenamin’s response to a question regarding the Miller/Redd issue:
“The reason I went with Miller over Redd had very little to do with the intrasquad scrimmage at the end of the mini-camp and a lot to do with how both players performed on Friday and Saturday in practice. On Friday Redd looked out of shape and pulled himself from the fullcourt games to go shoot on a side hoop. Meanwhile, on both days, Miller was not only making shots from deep but finishing when he took it to the tin and showing very active hands on defense."
Sure, the July mini-camp/practice was three months before the start of the regular season. And Redd has the upcoming training session to redeem himself. But seeing the Bucks only star described as out of shape any time is a little disconcerting.

Looking past the FIBA’s, the out-of-shape comment brings up the old debate about whether international duty wears on players the following NBA season. This type of chatter commences whenever someone plays international ball in the summer and hits the slightest of a lull a couple months into the NBA’s regular season.

But is there reason to worry? Let’s examine how last summer’s Team USA followed up their bronze-winning effort:
  • Shane Battier: Played all 82 games, in consistent, Battier-like fashion.
  • Chris Bosh: Had career-year in leading Toronto Raptors to division title. Missed some time in the regular season due to knee injury suffered in a game versus the Chicago Bulls.
  • Elton Brand: Appeared in 80 very strong games. Proved this summer that offseason injuries happen in simple, daily workouts sometimes.
  • Kirk Hinrich: Also played 80 of 82 regular season games. Posted career-highs in points per game (16.6), field goal percentage (.448), three-point percentage (.415), and free-throw percentage (.835).
  • Dwight Howard: Played all 82 games. Stepped up with career-year.
  • LeBron James: Played 78 amazing regular season games... And had enough left over in the tank to play 20 more in the playoffs, including a dominant performance or two.
  • Antawn Jamison: Had another very good year, appearing in 70 games. Carried an overmatched and depleted Washington Wizards team admirably in the playoffs.
  • Joe Johnson: Started the season in strong fashion, averaging 27.8 point per game in the first month. Missed time toward the end of the season due to calf strain suffered March 5 versus the Miami Heat.
  • Brad Miller: Never the model of perfect health, Miller did play 63 games for the Sacramento Kings. Had a down year for his standards, but is on the way down in general.
  • Chris Paul: He missed time due to a severely sprained ankle. Still, he played 64 games in an impressive sophomore campaign.
  • Dwyane Wade: When healthy he was one of the league's brightest. But he played only 51 games thanks to shoulder and knee surgery. Came back for playoffs.

In all, that recapping-exercise doesn’t lend much support to the idea that playing international basketball in the summer before an NBA season produces adverse results.

I’d love to see Redd represent Team USA this summer. Helping restore some basketball glory to his country could give him the positive energy to jumpstart his season with the Bucks. If the likes of Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant aren’t too worried about playing, there shouldn’t be much of a problem. And the benefits of playing competitive games with such a great team outweigh the worry that he’ll suffer from playing a little too much offseason basketball.

Furthermore, I stand by my choice that Redd should make the team.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Buck Sign Storey

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed guard/forward Awvee Storey.

“Awvee is a hard-nosed, aggressive player who brings depth to our roster at the guard and small forward positions,” said Bucks GM Larry Harris. “He’s an excellent athlete and a solid defender who will be a good addition to our team.”

Storey, who performed well in Summer League for the Bucks, has bounced around the basketball world, including brief stints with the New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards.

It’s difficult to see him ultimately fitting into the team’s active 12-man roster. If he does slide in, it’ll be a minimal role, focusing on giving energy, rebounding, and defense.

If history is any indication, Storey might serve as an intimidator of sorts, hopefully channeling the intimidation in a constructive manner.

Storey is most noted for his punch of teammate Martynas Andriuskevicius while in the NBDL.

He also was arrested along with Gilbert Arenas on charges of disobeying police.

NBA's Top 2007-08 Games

With the recent announcement of the 2007-08 NBA schedule, writers across the web have profiled some of the most intriguing games of the upcoming season.

I already highlighted five Milwaukee Bucks games. Not that any of us would be missing those.

Marty Burns picked ten compelling games for SportsIllustrated.com

The wild playoffs and busy offseason made for some easy choices. One juicy pick was the Dallas Mavericks at Golden St. Warriors playoff rematch on November 8. He also pinpointed Kevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota on February 8.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein went further, circling seemingly every date on the NBA calendar. Well, forty-two days by my count.

He even picked a Bucks game:

"Feb. 2: Houston at Milwaukee (NBA TV)

Yao Ming -- and the Chinese media armada -- goes to Brewtown to square off with The Big Yi . . . assuming Yi Jianlian is a Buck by then. (On Nov. 9 the Bucks are in Houston, incidentally, if Yi makes it to Milwaukee for the start of the season.)"

Still, a handful of games with interesting, perhaps more subtle story lines, went unmentioned. To avoid overlap, I’ve compiled a list of five games chosen by neither Burns nor Stein:

  • Wednesday, November 21 – Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies

These two franchises, born in 1995-96, are natural, mutual measuring sticks.

The Raptors got a quicker jump out of the gate, winning five more games behind Rookie of the Year point guard Damon Stoudamire.

The trend continues today, with the Raptors coming off a division title and the Grizzlies now the longest of shots for postseason play.

Nevertheless, there are intriguing parallels entering 2007-08. Both clubs are led by star, often overshadowed, power forwards in Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. In addition, this game should offer us the first NBA game pitting two of Spain’s finest guards. Juan Carlos Navarro is headed to Memphis and Jose Calderon is already a valuable component of the Raptors.

  • Tuesday, January 8 – New York Knicks at Chicago Bulls

The Knicks have remodeled yet again, but repeated recent failures haven’t lent much optimism that the latest mixture of talent, now starring Zach Randolph, will suddenly mesh. Talent resides in The Big Apple, but this game, the team’s third consecutive road game following daunting stops in San Antonio and Houston, could be the tipping point of the team’s yearling unraveling.

On the flipside, if the Knicks are rolling a couple months into the season, this classic big-city rivalry could be reborn on this night.

  • Sunday, March 30 – Washington Wizards at Los Angeles Lakers

In last year’s Staples Center showdown between two of the most entertaining players in the NBA, Gilbert Arenas out-Kobe’d Kobe Bryant 60-45 and a came away with a win.

Bryant partially returned the favor by winning both the individual competition 39-37 and the team game in the nation's capital a month and a half later.

Still, Bryant isn’t one to be outdone and Arenas got the better of him last year. Combine the personal rivalry with the fact both stars are coming off frustrating ends to their seasons and you can expect more scintillation.

  • Tuesday, April 8 – Utah Jazz at New Orleans Hornets

The Jazz visit New Orleans, where they called home from 1974-78.

Pete Maravich typified the virtuosity of Duke Ellington's jazz in his five magical years when the Jazz more naturally played in New Orleans.

This present-day game will showcase a couple of wondrous court wizards that would make Pistol Pete proud. Picked third and fourth in the 2005 NBA Draft respectively, Deron Williams and Chris Paul make this a must-see.

  • Wednesday, April 16 – New Jersey Nets at Boston Celtics

It’s difficult to forecast which final regular season games will matter, but something tells me that in the suddenly crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture these two teams could be playing for important seeding down to the wire.

Just in case, check out the first three times they meet, starting Saturday, November 10. Both teams are well-known for their star trios, and lack of depth. But while the Celtics are the chic pick in the East, the return of Nenad Krstic and addition of Jamaal Magloire indicates the Nets might have the more support to surround their Big Three.