Monthly Archives: July 2012

Kevin Love humanizes Team USA through Instagram

Candid

Kevin Love found himself on the outside looking in on Team USA’s rotation as the Olympics approached. His minutes were few and he was relegated to the bench. For a player with his skill set, Love was supposed to be a valuable contributor to Team USA with their lack of size and his ability to rebound and stretch the floor on offense. Yet, in the exhibition games leading up to London, Love was an after thought.

However, in the first game of group play against France, Love got and seized his opportunity. In just over 14 minutes, he totaled 14 points, seven of them in the third quarter, on five of eight shots, including a three pointer, grabbed three rebounds, and  had a steal. Where Love is invaluable to Team USA is with his outlet passes. These allow this wing laden team, replete with speed, to get out on the fastbreak where they are virtually unstoppable.

This was the break that Love needed. His role on the team should be increased as Team USA gels through group play. Yet, Love’s real contribution to the Olympic experience may not be on the court at all.

With the continuing explosion of social media, Love has nominated himself as the unofficial photographer of Team USA and began uploading photographs to Instagram. Love isn’t the only member of the national team on Instagram, he has just been the most prolific ‘grammer during the Olympics.

Much of his photography, when not focused on sleeping teammates, has given fans a behind the scenes look into the day-to-day lives of the team and coaches. Coach Mike Krzyzewski crouched in a yoga pose in the practice gym, pre-opening ceremony attire, and Chris Paul playing horse have been some of the more memorable photos.

In a way this allows fans to have a more intimate relationship with the team and players. Love has brought anyone who follows him into their personal lives, humanizing some of the best basketball players in the world.

This trend is sure to only grow as social media connects more and more people. Instagram was already a major facet in the lives of some NBA players last season, but it could see a rapid explosion after Love’s visual culture immersion. The Olympics are about the human effort and the bonds we all share, Love is simply expounding on that contact.

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Team USA should win Gold Again

To get you ready for the Olympics, here is a small post about Team USA. A Beef Slider if you will.

With the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympic Games being held tonight, it is just mere hours until Team USA tips off to start their defense of the gold medal.

Much has been written about the perceived weakness, namely frontcourt size, that could be trouble when facing some of the taller teams in the Olympics. Those teams are Spain and Brazil. However, this incarnation of Team USA was built this way on purpose. Yes, several key big men, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, opted out of the summer games because of injuries that needed to be tended to, but there are quite a number of big men that Jerry Colangelo and Coach K could have brought with them to London. The fact is they didn’t. They have opted for a different style of play.

Much like the Excelsior, this manifestation of Team USA is a great experiment. Yet, the two brains behind the current upsurge in U.S. basketball have experimented before. In 2010, the United States fielded a remarkably similar lineup, small that is, at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey. As is the case with the current Olympic roster, Tyson Chandler was the only true center in Turkey. All of this is by design.

Big equates to slow and lumbering in basketball terminology. Therefore, this team is versatile, lengthy, and quick. Very quick. In their five friendlies leading up to the start of the Olympics, Team USA used those qualities to harass the opposing ball handler the length of the court subsequently creating turnovers. In the open floor, offensively, is where this team shines.

In the half court the offense has stagnated at times against larger frontcourts as the paint has been walled off. If jumpshots aren’t falling then Team USA could be seen as struggling but they will recover. This is an incredibly deep team with superstars subbing in all over the place, Anthony Davis aside. 

Buy into the the worries about size that some have put out there if you wish. It’s your right to doubt this team even if it is unfounded. The 2012 version of Team USA should win the gold medal. Will they blow out every team like the Dream Team did on their way to the gold? Probably not, international competition is vastly superior today than it was in 1992. That said, the U.S. should have convincing wins across the board as they step onto the highest podium. They are the best team in the world.

Here is a full schedule of all the basketball games in the Olympics.

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Kobe Bryant talks mad shit to Kyrie Irving

So on one hand there is Kobe Bryant, 5 time NBA champion, NBA MVP, and Olympic gold medalist. Hell, he is known just as much for his rings as he is for his “shhh” (the 2:02 mark) against Spain in 2008.

Young Kyrie Irving is known for being Uncle Drew. That’s it. (I’m kidding. He’s a good player. But who watches Cavs games? All that comic sans rots the eyes.)

$50,000 is in the table. Kyrie is not Bow Wow. One-on-one. Hopefully, that video surfaces soon. I want to see it.

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Blake Griffin to miss Olympics

As Team USA was blowing out the Dominican Republic on Thursday evening, Brad Turner of the LA Times reported that Blake Griffin had suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee. Griffin will be forced to undergo surgery, likely within the next week, which will keep him out of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and off of Team USA.

The injury occurred Wednesday while Griffin was scrimmaging with Team USA in Las Vegas when he twisted his knee. After the incident, he was taken to Los Angeles to be looked at by doctors and have an MRI. Griffin injured the same knee in the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The time-table for his return is roughly eight weeks, yet at this point that is up in the air. Andrew Bynum had similar surgery a few years ago and it took more time for him to heal after the surgery, keeping out of the beginning of the NBA season.

Anthony Davis will replace Griffin on Team USA’s roster.

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Conceptualizing Team USA

Hybrid

At this time we have no idea what kind of rotations that coach Mike Krzyzewski will use for Team USA. He has a roster loaded with talent especially in the fields of athleticism and speed. Therefore, fans of basketball should be in for a treat once Olympic basketball tips off in London.

The roster has been set. Lineups, however, are a whole other animal. With a team so repeat with talent, finding the right combination of efficient chemistry could take time, yet, with the summer games set to begin in a few short weeks, time is of the essence.

One thing we do know is that Coach K plans to have LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant on the court at the same time for heavy minutes. These players can be cycled through any position that a given lineup has to offer from one through five. They will likely be paired with Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant giving Team USA a college feel with a two guards and three forwards set, forgoing the traditional center.

Team USA does have one center on its roster in Tyson Chandler. Honestly, if Chandler does start a game it will be for appearances only or to compete with the bigs of Spain. Other than that, his role should be limited in London. This is a hybrid team with players who can play multiple positions. Why bow to archaic positional traps? That is not what Team USA is about anymore. 2010 solidified that when the team that won gold at the World Championships started Lamar Odom at center.

Traditionalists may warn that smaller lineups will pose defensive shortcomings in the half court but that is if we assume that opposing teams have fluid, unchallenged ball movement and can work the ball into the post or lane. Reports coming out of Las Vegas, where Team USA was holding practice and scrimmages with the Team USA Select team, noted that the Select backcourt of John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Jrue Holiday were harried from the moment the ball was inbounded and they were tasked with bringing it up court.

This stifling full court defense will be a staple of Team USA. It allows the team to play smaller, more versatile lineups and prevent opponents from easily setting up their offense potentially forcing plenty of turnovers in the process. Smothering the ball as they will could draw comparisons to when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen traded off guarding Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics. Take the ball out of the hands of the playmaker or the opponent’s best player and that team stands little chance.

The key defenders that will be tasked with harassing the ball will be Bryant, though the oldest player on the team he can still muster good defensive possessions, Paul, Deron Williams, James Harden, and most importantly James and Andre Iguodala, whose admission to the final roster was likely based on his defense. Aside from Paul, each of these players can defend multiple positions with James and Iguodala being able to guard anything from a point guard to a power forward. James could also be asked to defend centers. He has that ability.

In fact, that defensive versatility is what makes this team so astounding. Referring back to the lineup of Paul, Bryant, Durant, Anthony, and James, these players can guard almost anyone, towering centers aside. Both James and Anthony proved they could defend power forwards during the NBA regular season and playoffs while Bryant and Durant are suited to guard wings. If their pressure defense works as well as it can, opposing centers could be taken out of the equation all together with ball denial.

However, where versatility is the biggest asset is on offense. Team USA should blaze up and down the court. Key to this will be rebounding. Since the team is relatively undersized it would make sense that Kevin Love should see more playing time on this squad than he did in Turkey, where he was an unbelievably efficient player. His knack for rebounding in volume and his ability to pass into the break plays into the speed that this team possesses. A scenario where Love gets a rebound, hits Westbrook/Paul/Williams with the outlet pass, and the play finishes with a layup, lob, or dunk is very real.

Imagine the above scenario and picture Blake Griffin as the one scoring at the end of the break. Enough said. That is what makes this team so dangerous and why the anticipation for the games to begin that much greater.

Even if a team slows down Team USA, they have a savvy floor general in Paul who can dissect a defense with his passing, and Westbrook to run a pick and roll or find and open shooter. There is no shortage of premier shooters on this roster.

The hardest part, right now, is building a cohesive unit, with interchangeable parts, capable of adapting and excelling in every situation. With a roster as loaded as this one and with the general camaraderie amongst players in the league, not to mention many of these players having played together before, everything should fall into place nicely.

Before Olympic play begins, Team USA will play in several “friendlies” just to wet out appetite.

July 12 vs. the Dominican Republic

July 16 vs. Brazil

July 22 vs. Argentina

July 24 vs. Spain

Enjoy.

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Team USA Olympic Roster Finalized

London calling

The final roster that will represent the United States in Olympic men’s basketball has been set and is comprised of players who have almost all played for Team USA before.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala, and James Harden are headed to London later this month to compete for the gold medal. They are the favorites to win.

Griffin and Harden are the only players on the roster to have not played on Team USA in international competition before. They, along with Iguodala, were the final three players to be added to the roster. They beat out the likes of Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay, who played on the FIBA World Championship team in 2010, and Anthony Davis, the first overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Team USA was plagued with former members withdrawing from eligibility throughout the month of June. Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Derrick Rose, all who were locks to play in London, opted out of play, mostly due to injuries.

The omission of such All Stars led some to be concerned about the United States’ chances at defending the gold. However, with the roster they have assembled for London, those doubts should vanish.

The final three players selected are essentially no brainers. Harden, who had a rather rough time in the NBA Finals, is a good scorer with size who should do well in international competition coming off the bench. He an Gordon are almost interchangeable in terms of scoring ability but Harden is lengthier and has a knack for long range shots.

Iguodala played a crucial role on the “B-Team” during the Worlds in Turkey in 2010. He was the premier perimeter defender on the squad with his defense leading to plenty of transition opportunities for a team that was lightning fast.

As for Griffin making the roster over Davis, well, yeah, of course. If Davis and his propensity to groom himself as an homage to Frida Kahlo had made the roster he would be relegated to the role of Christian Laettner. Griffin is there because he can do this and this and this. Frederick Weis should be glad he doesn’t play anymore.

Though Chandler is the only legitimate center on the team, Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has shown a willingness, especially with the 2010 team, to employ an unconventional or hybrid lineup. This incarnation of Team USA presents matchup options across the board with James’ ability to post up, Durant’s length and shooting ability, and Love’s ability to stretch the floor, opening up lanes for the likes of Westbrook, Williams, and virtually every player on the roster. And as Marc Stein points out, this team has some pretty good jump shooters as well.

Starting lineups have yet to be set but it would not be surprising if Chandler came off the bench depending on the matchups. This is the best team heading into the Olympics. Spain is a close second but they do not have the shear determination to win that Bryant brings to the table. That and the bonuses from all the endorsements.

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