Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The World is Flat...

When I told Rob I'd do a column on the Olympic Men's Basketball competition, I quickly decided it would have to be two columns. One column would deal with Team USA and the other column would handle the rest of the contending countries in the competition. Because, for better or worse, that's what this competition comes down to...America and everybody else. Now I'm not saying that I think the USA is a lock to win the gold, far from it actually, just that Team USA is on a completely different level in terms of popularity, press and worldwide fame than all of their counterparts, possibly combined.

I tackled what I felt were some of Team USA's problems in the last column and thus far my fear about a lack of pure shooters on the team has proven justified. Tomorrow morning, Team USA will face a Greek team that is well equipped to exploit two of America's other major weaknesses, pick and roll defense and half-court offense. This, among other reasons, is why Greece is one of 3 or 4 teams with a realistic shot of upsetting America and taking the gold medal. How about we get to the list then...

Greece: Not a single player you've heard of, unless you remember Vasilis Spanoulis from his one year with the Houston Rockets, but they might be the best "team" in the entire Olympics. Spanoulis is Greece's best player and will be guarded by Kobe Bryant tomorrow. He's a combo guard that is the table setter for Greece and America will benefit greatly if Kobe is able to disrupt Spanoulis and force him into turnovers. As a team, Greece will look to slow the pace down and make the game a physical, grind it out game. Defensively, they are the epitome of a team playing to the edge of the rules (think Miami Heat circa 1996) and I wouldn't be surprised to see them draw a technical from Carmelo or Kobe. On offense, Greek will look to victimize America by using the pick and roll by employing a lineup that uses three point guards, (one of whom is 6'7") often at the same time. Don't be surprised if you see the Greeks run three consecutive pick and rolls in one possession. Don't be surprised if America is losing in the 4th quarter tomorrow.

Argentina: We all know the story with Argentina. They play exquisite team basketball and take advantage of the slightest lapse in concentration by their opponents defensively. They can score with any team in the world and have one of the most decorated players in international basketball to lead them. As a result of this, they are the defending Olympic champs and have a history of playing extremely well in international competition against America.

However, this Argentina team is not as formidable as the squad of 2004 or 2006. Their core group of players has gotten older (Pepe Sanchez retired) and there has not been an large influx of young talent. With that said, Argentina is still amongst the most physically talented teams in all the world. Led by Manu Ginobili, Argentina also boasts a very solid frontcourt with Luis Scola and Fabricia Oberto. Scola was the MVP of last year's Tournament of the Americas and is one of the better scoring big men in all of international basketball, while Oberto is a terrific defensive anchor in the middle as well as one of the world's biggest floppers. (Of course, he's no Manu) While Argentina is one of the favorites in this competition, I get the feeling that this team is one the downslide collectively, due to age and some extended NBA seasons, and doubt we'll be watching them in the gold medal game.

Lithuania: Probably not a real threat to America based on the way they were handled by Team USA during the exhibition schedule. However, Lithuania has already upset Argentina and boasts a team full of experienced and fearless competitors highlighted by elder statesman/leader Sarunas Jasikevicius and the newest, brightest Lithuanian star Linas Kleiza. A very good team, but a team that's caught in between generations right now, and thus not fully capable of competing at the level we saw in 2000 or 2004.

Russia: Another team that I don't see as a true gold medal threat but one that is certainly capable of pulling off an upset or two that throws the tournament on its ear. Watching Andrei Kirilenko play in the summers for Russia must drive Jazz fans crazy (well, that and the incest). He's spectacular for this team, doing a little of everything and then taking over offensively in crucial moments in a multitude of ways that you rarely out of him in the NBA. It makes you wonder if Jerry Sloan burns him with cigarettes every time he commits a turnover or something. The team's next best player is a black guy from Pittsburgh who played at Bucknell (J.R. Holden) and is a hero in Russia after he beat Spain with a buzzer beater to win last summer's European Championships. The team is coached by an American who has installed the Princeton offense and managed to resurrect a national program that was in shambles when he took over 8 years ago. Talent wise, there are a few failed NBA players like Sergei Monya and Viktor Khryapa that also supply some scoring punch but they aren't going to carry this team very far on their own. Bottom line: The ruskies will go as far as Kirilenko takes them.

Spain: Without question, this is by far the most talented team outside of America. By my count, they boast 7 players who play/played in the NBA with an 8th on the way in wunderkind Ricky Rubio. I also have to award them the mantle of biggest group of douchebags now that they managed to steal the title from Argentina, thanks to this photo.

On the court, Spain likes to push the pace behind Jose Calderon (the best PG in this tournament outside of Team USA and a possible future All-Star) and score points in transition but they also have the biggest frontcourt in the entire competition with the likes of Pau and Marc Gasol as well as Jorge Garbajosa protecting the rim. On the perimeter, Spain shoots it better than any other team in this tournament. Both Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernanadez are terrific coming off screens and creating offense for themselves or teammates and Raul Lopez provides solid play as the backup PG. Rubio has been somewhat of a defensive ace in the early going for Spain, a blessing considering the deficiencies of Navarro and Fernandez on the defensive end as well as the fact that, at age 17, many thought Rubio wouldn't find his way onto the Spanish squad. Spain's definitely weaker on defense than a number of the other favorites due to their penchant for gambling and a lack a physicality defensively. However, they possess such a deep offensive arsenal that they are often able to survive these defensive lapses through the strength of their varied offensive attack. Going into the competition, I had Spain picked to meet America in the gold medal match and I still think that's where this will all end up. Actually, I hope thats how it all ends up.

I'll be in the comments in the morning to guide you through the first real test for Team USA in almost 2 years.

57 comments:

TJ said...

That Spanish team frightens me, and it's not just the terrible haircuts and racist team photo.

Mark said...

Or the lack of daily shaving?

No? Me either...that team is loaded and pissed after losing last summer. I'm looking forward to Saturday morning.

TJ said...

I envision the Gasol boys tearing through the Olympic Village like Akroyd and Martin's Czech Brothers.

Mark said...

Except a foot taller...

John said...

A tough game for Argentina but I feel we have more depth than Croatian therefore we should be able to win this game.

I'm a supporter of Argentina from Malaysia.

Would like you to visit my blog and give me your comment about today's game.

http://mundoalbiceleste.blogspot.com/2008/08/todays-action-las-leonas-tall.html

TJ said...

G:TB, officially reaching all corners of the world, unless of course that's Greg.

TJ said...

OK, so can I get this game on the interwebs or what? Mark, you out there?

Geoff said...

I don't know Thomas...can you? 15-14 USA.

TJ said...

Geoffrey, always so helpful...NBC coming up big with some streaming video...

TJ said...

Geoff, to your comment on the 'House, Kidd has looked horrendous in these games and honestly should be nailed to the bench for the rest of the tournament. He has looked listless on defense, is still a terrible shooter...and honestly, with Paul and Williams pushing the ball up the floor he is not needed one bit.

Mark said...

Dwyane Wade is the best player on the court right now. And this is from a guy who didn't really want him on this team.

Mark said...

Chris Bosh is really good at tapping the ball while its still on the rim which is an area that US big men are usually lacking in.

Mark said...

The passing by the US has been better than I can ever remember seeing from a US team.

Mark said...

Both big men with 2 already...uh oh.

Mark said...

Wade comes back and makes an immediate impact. Its amazing to see what he can do now that he's fully healthy again.

TJ said...

I love this big ole fatty on the Greek squad...

Mark said...

I sound like a broken record, but Wade is killing Greece.

Mark said...

The big fatty has 3 fouls now.

Mark said...

Nice follow by LeBron! He's good for one ridiculous dunk per game.

Mark said...

Much in the same way that Carmelo is good for 5 horrible shots a game.

TJ said...

But he and Michael Phelps are both from Baltimore!!!

Mark said...

Chris Bosh's activity has been great so far. He's pretty pumped about it, it seems.

Mark said...

I bet Michael Phelps plays better D than Carmelo too. Sheesh pal...make it look like you're trying.

Mark said...

By the way, I think I may have severely underestimated the revenge factor in this game. This team is playing really aggressive, physical D.

Plus, they've actually hit a J or two.

Mark said...

Deron Williams' size allows him to switch on the high screen and roll and leads to a lot less confusion on defense.

TJ said...

You gotta think these guys and their egos could not have been happy about that loss two years ago...or about hearing about it everyday leading up to this game...

Mark said...

I agree...I just felt like they'd still find a way to overlook the Greeks. Um...no.

Bosh and Wade were easily the two best players on the court in the
1st half.

Mark said...

So...does Kidd care that he's not really in the rotation anymore? I mean, he has to be able to see how much effective the team is without him on the court, right?

Rhymenocerous said...

Kidd is too busy working out the logistics of how to bang out every female Olympian to care about something as trivial as playing time.

Mark said...

Good point.

TJ said...

That's why he gets the big bucks Mark (Rhyme-o, not Kidd)

Mark said...

LeBron...stop shooting jumpshots!

Mark said...

US needs to pick up their collective energy.

Mark said...

Kobe seems to have gotten his touch from deep back. That will be needed at some point in this tournament.

Mark said...

Not the finest performance from Dwight today.

TJ said...

How about a big round of applause for the woman in front of me at Starbucks just now wearing the Kareem jersey. You just know she works in Geoff's building.

Mark said...

I missed Kidd's early appearance but he's looked good in the early parts of the second half with his activity, defense and passing.

Well, before he threw that pass of the top of the board.

rob said...

kareem abdul-jabbar? the actor?

Mark said...

Wow...back to back blocks by James and Bosh!

TJ said...

Roger Murdock himself rob...

rob said...

that dude could thesb with the best of them.

Mark said...

Alright then, America's up 20 so I'm gonna take a break for a little bit. Blogging a blowout seems somewhat pointless.

TJ said...

Go get a McGriddle...

Geoff said...

Chris Paul...he'll play some defense too. The Greek coach looks like Ricardo Montobaln and Gheorghe had a baby.

Mark said...

Anybody get the feeling that coaches in Europe don't rail against the jump pass in the same manner as American coaches?

TJ said...

Tell me, Mr. Papshmir, in all the world, who is the most effective assassin?

Mark said...

When foreign players yell "and one", do they do it in their native language ("y uno!") or do they say it in English?

rob said...

i think kobe's multilinguality is a distinct advantage for the u.s. in this tournament.

Mark said...

Does Evander even know he's in China?

rob said...

think boozer and prince are psyched about being garbage time afterthoughts?

Mark said...

They had to know that's what their role was going to be most of the time. Boozer's clearly the 3rd big and Prince's biggest strength (D) is not as neccessary with Kobe on this team. So, to answer your question, I dont think its a big deal to them. At least not a big enough deal to make any waves.

TJ said...

They're just happy to be getting Kidd's sloppies...

Mark said...

Spain's up next...get psyched.

TJ said...

13 points, 8 assists, 6 boards and 3 blocks from LeBron. Nice.

Greg said...

You forgot to mention that the Argentinian national character directs their sports teams into being dirty cheating bastards. Don't forget that.

Rhymenocerous said...

Do you think chicks throw themselves at Tayshaun Prince? The guy can scratch his kneecaps without bending down, and his head looks like a watermelon balanced on a broomstick.

Geoff said...

But at least he has a sexy lisp.