Calling the US national team that is playing in Turkey right now the “B-team” is an insult. It seems as though this slander, propagated by ESPN’s Chris Sheridan, has begun to take hold among many outlets covering Team USA as they are a more legitimate subject material rather than gossiping about Carmelo Anthony‘s future. Why is this a “B-team?” Just because not a single member of the gold medal winning team from the Beijing Olympics chose to participate this summer does not lessen the talent that Jerry Colangelo and company have recruited. Many of these players, representing the United States this summer, are the future of the NBA whereas those on the Redeem Team are either in their prime now or a few years away from retirement. This team is different. This team is young and this team is better than people thought it would be. As Team USA completes its second day of competition at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, answers to the questions that many had about this assemblage of players representing the country.
One of the major concerns that has seemed to follow Team USA around since minicamp, and the injuries that occurred there and since, is the lack of size in the frontcourt. Tyson Chandler is the only true center on the team and does not even start. Lamar Odom starts at center for the national team. Kevin Love is the only other player on the roster who sees minutes at the five spot. This has led many to scoff at Team USA’s frontcourt and make plenty of remarks about their ability to rebound as compared with Dwight Howard, who represented the US in Beijing. What is not mentioned much is that Howard was the only true center on the Redeem Team as Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer are technically power forwards. Therefore, the logical thing to do is compare these players to Howard. A foolish endeavor you say? Shame on you, the numbers tell a different story.
For the basis of this comparison rebounding per 36 minutes from the 2009-10 season will be the main statistic used. As FIBA rules stipulate ten minute quarters, the per 36 minute is closer to the actual time available for a player to log rather than the standard 48 minutes of a regulation game in the NBA. Per 36 minutes last season, Howard averaged 13.7 rebounds a game. 3.6 were offensive rebounds and 10.1 were defensive. To say the least, those numbers are impressive. Tyson Chandler’s recent bouts with injury do not help his numbers. Last season he averaged 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes of playing time. The current starting center for Team USA, Odom, averaged 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last year with the Lakers. Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows what he is doing, obviously, by playing Odom in the starting five position. No, neither Chandler nor Odom rebound at the pace that Howard did last season but they are still potent rebounders. Kevin Love, on the other hand is a completely different animal.
Last season, with the Timberwolves as a sixth man for much of the season, Love averaged 13.8 rebounds per 36 minutes of actual playing time. That is more than Howard and Howard logs many more minutes per game than Love. Kevin Love is a rebounding machine. This next season will be Love’s third year in the league and he is already outpacing Howard and his oft touted and much over hyped stats. (Why do you think that we at the Beef did not give Howard our Defensive Player of the Year Award?)In Team USA’s opener of the world championships against Croatia, Love led all players with ten rebounds. Kevin Durant and Ante Tomic of Croatia had eight. Against Slovenia, Love pulled down 11 rebounds on his way to the games only double-double. Odom chipped in with nine boards as the US dominated the glass with 51 total rebounds to Slovenia’s 24. Love seems to continue to fly under the radar of many despite the constant and impressive numbers that he puts up. Surely, that suits Krzyzewski just fine and scouts may overlook the completeness of his game.
Cohesion is another issue that has been brought up about this team as they have had a relatively short period of time together as minicamp began in July. How does cohesion translate on the basketball court though. It first appears in the defense. A cohesive defensive team will have less blown assignments and therefore will not allow the opposing team to penetrate for easy buckets. Out of 31 made field goals, Croatia only had 14 come from either layup or tip shot. Their last layup came with 17 seconds remaining and the game already decided. The US held them out of the paint and forced them into taking jump shots which lead to Croatia’s 43.7 percent shooting from the floor. Slovenia did not fare much better against the USA’s defense. Like, Croatia before them, Slovenia only had 14 of their 24 made field goals from in close. They were forced to put up contested perimeter shots and were held to 37.5 percent shooting.
Though some have claimed that the roster is undersized, it is exactly what it needs to be. It is a fusion of length, speed, and quickness. These attributes have translated into Team USA forcing a number of turnovers this far. They forced Croatia and Slovenia into 12 turnovers while accumulating eight steals against Croatia and seven steals versus Slovenia. The only time that the US defense has seemed to go lax thus far is in the fourth quarter as it is the only time that the team has allowed 30 or more points to be scored against them. However, by the fourth quarter in both of the games that Team USA has played, the game has been well in hand for the US.
Croatia and Slovenia are not the biggest tests for the US national team as they are ranked 14 and 20, respectively, in the world. Team USA will be tested further as they advance through the tournament and must work on limiting their turnovers and committing personal fouls. As a whole, however, this team has answered some of the more glaring concerns that faced them entering the world championships. Their offensive capabilities were never in question with Durant having lead the NBA in scoring last season but now we all know that their cohesion, rebounding and defense are stout. Do not call this a “B-team.” They are far from it and their blowout victories are proof of that. This is a team full of ‘A’ talent so do not demean them by saying otherwise. If they continue to play at a high level they could be the first American team to bring home the gold at the world championships since 1994. Their next game is Monday against a Brazilian team that is ranked 14 in the world and is the USA’s biggest test in Group B play.