Thursday, July 31, 2008

Team USA vs. Turkey Recap

In what appeared to be USA's first real international test, the Americans put on quite a show. The alley-oops and ferocious dunks were there as usual, but the offensive cohesiveness was something that was missing from the 2004 team. Kobe Bryant, the reigning NBA MVP, only scored nine points but dished out a game-high seven assists. LeBron James, in his first game back from an ankle injury, put up a impressive stat line of 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

Dwyane Wade was extremely aggressive on both the offensive and defensive ends yet a tad overaggressive at times, being called for a couple reaching fouls and an offensive foul in the lane. Nonetheless, he finished the game with 13 points and 3 assists on 6-for-9 shooting. The game ended with a final score of 114-82, the expected annihilation of the Turkish squad that was without Hedo Turkoglu (Orlando Magic) and Mehmet Okur (Utah Jazz). However, the game was much closer than the score indicated. The Turks took the lead from USA midway through the first quarter, which ended with Team USA leading by only one point.

Carmelo Anthony, arguably the best international player in the entire world as Fran Fraschilla said, scored 11 first-quarter points but only six in the remaining three periods. Akyol, a Turkish guard, finished with a game-high 22 points which included 3-for-8 shooting from deep.

From the beginning, Turkey was trying to pound the ball inside. On the defensive end, they were sending double-teams at Dwight Howard in the post. This soon ended when Carmelo went on a little scoring run of his very own, which forced Turkey to lay off Howard and focus more on Anthony. Semih Erden, the big man who was just drafted by the Boston Celtics, played very physically inside and left me somewhat impressed. With his size though, he could have been much more assertive with his rebounding.

The biggest problems I saw for Team USA were simple: team defense and rebounding. Although the Americans out-rebounded their opponents 28-25, the Turks had more than half their rebounds on the offensive end. They got a lot of second-chance points because of either bad positioning or no boxing out. At times, USA would have only one guy crashing for the rebound.

Another minor concern was the fact that Team USA was maybe having too much fun at times. Seeing Kobe at the free throw line going through his routine while he was laughing and carrying on was ridiculous and out-of-place. They should have fun but still remain focused and intense. Finally, Coach K should address some of the defensive lapses that occur. Leaving guys wide-open and being so overaggressive that a good shooter gets an open three are things that can't happen if they want to win gold.

All in all though, I was very impressed with everyone's play (even though I didn't get to see any spectacular shooting from Michael Redd) and the USA coaches should be happy with their team's performance. It wasn't easy to bring all these big-name players together but they seemed to have done it very well. I just hope they don't get too overconfident and arrogant about their play. These international teams are serious about winning gold and beating the Americans. If a team like Spain succeeds in taking us down, it's going to be a long road before USA Basketball gets back on track to win gold medals.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Team USA, Jennings, and Some Summer Basketball

After a month-long blogging hiatus, I am back to give you the news from the sport I cover best: basketball. We have seen many players moving around this summer which has sent Baron Davis and Marcus Camby to LA, Elton Brand to Philly, and Maggette to Golden State to name only a few. However, all of these events pale in comparison to Team USA. Coach Krzyzewski's team has had more pressure put on them than ever before with some even claiming that if we fail this year, we'll never win another one.

Nonetheless, I simply cannot see our boys losing over in China. Jason Kidd and a team-oriented Kobe Bryant are the veterans on a team that has been playing and practicing together since two summers ago.

LeBron James has even gone ahead and guaranteed a win which, as most of us already know, is not always a smart thing to do in sports. If you've read my past blogs, you already know my stance on guarantees. They are extremely dumb and only put more pressure on the guarantor's team.

I would be even more skeptical of James's statement had Team USA not dominated last year at the FIBA Americas Championship, which included an impressive 91-76 victory of Argentina in the final.

The keys for Team USA will be the same as they were last summer. The main one is to play as a team out on the court and not try to do everything one-on-one. Another is to get up and down the court (the way Coach K has been preaching to them about). After all, they usually have the five most athletic players on the court. Finally, they need to play team defense and that goes for everyone, including Carmelo.

Speaking of basketball on a worldly stage, Brandon Jennings, an Arizona commit, has recently decided to forgo college all together and spend his one year out of high school playing over in Europe. Frankly, I think it's for the best. The NBA is becoming more and more European in the way they play the game of basketball which is why a year over there for Jennings can do nothing but good for him. Besides, he was going to be a one-and-done anyway.

In Las Vegas, meanwhile, rookies Jerryd Bayless and Donte Greene were busy lighting up their opponents, averaging 30 and 23 points respectively. Some other rookies that made an impact were Anthony Randolph (21 ppg, 8 rpg), Kevin Love (18 ppg, 14 rpg), and Marreese Speights (18 ppg, 10 rpg). Non-rookies, such as Quincy Douby (22 ppg) and Ramon Sessions (15 ppg, 7 apg, 5 rpg), also made an impact.

At the Orlando Pro Summer League, Michael Beasley put on a show with 28 points and 9 rebounds in his first professional basketball game. However, the man who was taken ahead of Beasley, Derrick Rose, has had a rough start. He sat out of the past two games due to injuries and has averaged 5 turnovers per game.

Also in Orlando, Russell Westbrook has had a decent summer league so far, proving the doubters wrong. For people like me though, he has just reassured us that a ROY award isn't an impossible feat next season.

After all this, you must still keep in mind that a summer league is a summer league and that great numbers in July don't translate to good number in the regular season. They provide only an inkling of what the player is capable of doing at the pro level. Besides, many of these players (especially those playing for postseason contenders) won't even get significant playing time this season.

So there you have it. That's the summer news for professional basketball right now. Be sure to tune in tomorrow night to watch Team USA take on Canada in an exhibition game. It will, hopefully, not be much of a game, but it will still be fun to watch America's best basketball team play. Here's a cool video for you:

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Poll Results: Every voter agreed that Kobe Bryant will go down in NBA history as a top ten player to ever play, but no one thinks he's good enough to be top 5.