The major basketball story these days is the adventures of Team USA at the World Championships. For coverage of this story, I am going to turn the forum over to Ty Willihnganz of Courtside Analyst. As he noted a few days ago, Ty was not initially impressed after watching Team USA take on Croatia. And now that Team USA has advanced with an undefeated record (and one significant scare against Brazil), Ty has also offered a list of players who impressed (and who haven’t impressed). For those who are not reading Ty’s work (not sure why this would be, but I guess it could be happening), I am going to re-post Ty’s analysis below (if you click on the links you can see that Ty includes pictures with his posts, so it is better to read this work at Ty’s site).
Last night I was watching the early part of Team USA’s opening game against Croatia and I was stunned how easily Croatia was controlling inside play. Then I realized that absent Kevin Love (and a diminished Tyson Chandler, and I guess Lamar Odom) Team USA has no size to speak of. In fact, looking at the playing minutes, the team seems to be actively ignoring the role big men have played in writing the history of the game of basketball. Its a subtle point to internalize, I guess. It must take — what?– all of three seconds of study to uncover.
Man, who designed this team anyway? Don Nelson?? He’s been playing without a center in Golden State for several seasons now, and he’s driven that franchise right into the gutter. Yet the Committee that chose Team USA must think he’s the Frank Lloyd Wright of championship basketball design.
Wow. You cannot argue to me that any representative team of half quality would feature Stephen Curry or Eric Gordon or Rudy Gay on its roster. Those cannot seriously be the best players the Committee could find. What, Randy Foye wasn’t available? (Actually they forced most of the best players off the team for lack of shooting ability).
And what tournament were they watching in 2008? Where did they get the idea that a team of jump shooters would present our best opportunity to succeed? Didn’t they notice that the Redeem Team dominated through superior length and athleticism, not through shooting? Didn’t they see that Kobe Bryant and Michael Redd, the two players who stood outside and played international style, were the least effective players? Couldn’t they tell that the United States last decisive advantage rests with guys of the Charles Barkley type (who every member on the Dream Team — and the stats — say was the best player on Team USA 1992).
The World can shoot with the USA. They love that. They can’t dunk with them. They can’t rebound with them. They can’t handle the length and basket attacking style that only we can bring.
Well, not this unit. Kevin Love has had to come off the bench to save the United States bacon in two games. In Game Two he and Lamar Odom provided the United States with 40% of their rebounds using only 16% of the team’s playing time?
What are you doing Kryzyzweski? Thank God for Kevin Durant.
But the United States numbers so far don’t project well. They are dominant, but not Mega-dominant like most of the successful United States teams of the past. Their overall numbers project to an .829% winning percentage, which would be outstanding for an NBA team, but I’m not entirely convinced either Slovania or Croatia are NBA quality. Consider that the Redeem Team projected out to a 1.450% winning percentage and they were nearly upset.
I’m not saying this US team will be upset. But the only reason I’m not is because I question the overall competition level of a tournament where former Badger Kirk Penney is the leading scorer and Yi Jianlian is number two.
If it weren’t for that caveat I’d say that Team USA is headed for a nose dive.
With a thanks to Basketball-Reference.com’s Neil Paine, who accumulated all of the necessary statistics, I put together a Win Chart purporting to attribute wins and losses to each player on Team USA for every game the team has played thus far (up through Tunisia and including the friendly matches). I also handed out grades to each player for their relative performances so far.
Although the competition was much better at the 2008 Olympics, if you click here you can use the 2008 Gold Medal team’s Win Chart as an international ball comparison.
Grades for Team USA (so far)
Durant, Love (co-Valedictorians)
The dominant players on the team thus far have been PF Kevin Durant, the leader of the team in wins with 1.9, and C Kevin Love, the leader of the team in performance level with an unconscionable +13.07 Marginal Win Score per 40 minutes. Love, despite playing the second least minutes, has somehow produced the second most wins. What a display. He’s just having his way with the competition on the backboard. Yeah, he doesn’t look glamorous doing it, but basketball ain’t about the pretty. And what can you say about Durant? Durant has been impressive on both offense and defense. Who knew he would be such a great defender coming out of Texas? He’s simply developing into a real beast (though watching him I wonder how long his spindly legs can support his mobile game. Are seven footers supposed to be able to play like 6’5” guys?) Love, on the other hand, is putting up a pretty convincing case that he may be the best rebounder alive today.
Westbrook, Rose, and Gay (tri-Salutatorians)
Some players who have played surprisingly well include Derrick Rose and especially Rudy Gay. Each is normally around average during the NBA season when measured by wins produced. But each has been hard for the world to handle so far. Russell Westbrook has really developed into an outstanding player in the past few seasons. He and Durant, along with other Oklahoma players, are the foundation for what could be a scary good team in Dust Bowl. They could be Miami’s chief threat, or perhaps the other way around.
Iguodala, Odom (cum laude)
Remember this grade is on a curve. Iguodala and Odom are each doing okay, but when you consider that each is normally an above average NBA player, and sometimes considerably above average, their individual national team numbers are milquetoast.
Billups, Gordon, Chandler (a “C” is a degree)
A “C” is kind of generous. In international competition, what look like above average win numbers if they were posted in the NBA are akin to below the median numbers when posted against world competition. Tunisia and Slovenia clearly are not NBA timber. Of the three who earned this grade, Chauncey Billups and Tyson Chandler are both players who have exhibited signs of rapid decline in their once very productive careers, and Eric Gordon is a young player who is hard to measure. Coming out of college I projected him to disappoint, in his first season he surprised me with productive play, but last season he slumped backward toward what I expected he would produce (surf over to the NBA Win Chart Pages on the right hand column of this blog if you want to see my exact calculations for each of the players mentioned in this post).
Stephen Curry (NR: needs replacement)
I don’t know what he’s doing on this team, or how on Earth he beat out Rajon Rondo, but Stephen Curry has looked awful. For such a reputed “shooter” he looks like a “non-shooter”. Besides (warning: tirade coming) why would National Team organizers favor players with jump shooting skills?! Those skills are easily replicated. Why not concentrate on loading the team up with players who show either rare productive skills (Love’s rebounding), rare physical skills (Wade, Rose, Westbrook or Rondo), or freakish combinations of skill, size, and talent (LeBron, Durant). Why put guys like Gordon and Curry on the team? Foreign teams can match them. Didn’t Redd prove that? Or how about the Iverson/Marbury disaster of 2004? How many more of these mistakes is USA Basketball going to make?
Danny Granger (See ya next fall… same homeroom)
How low are grades allowed to go? Granger has been awful. If the World Championships were considered his original third grade year, Granger would right now be thinking up reasons to explain to his friends why he has to spend this fall repeating the third grade. What in the hell is Granger even doing on the team anyway? What fool thought he could possibly add more value to Team USA than the monster from Charlotte, SF Gerald Wallace? Still, Granger’s play has been inexcusably putrid. Unless Granger is suffering from West Nile or something, his poor play is hard to explain even by his ordinarily low standards.