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USA-Canada: Sizing Up the Point Guards

As you may or may not have heard, Team United States of America played its first game, a friendly versus overmatched Canada. There's plenty of coverage around the internet (Chris Sheridan's ESPN piece is awesome) and you can actually watch the whole game for free on ESPN360 if you so desire. U.S.A. romped, but admit it, that's not the reason a lot of you tuned in. The real reason wears #13 for U.S.A. and #3 for his other team. By the way, my answer to the suddenly popular question "Olympic Gold or NBA title?": NBA title. Hands down.

I decided to use an old coaching technique in evaluating players- add up all the good things, and subtract the bad ones. So I give you Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams, play-by-play style (if you're in a rush, skip to the end of the bullet points):

  • Play #1: Chris Paul enters game, inbounds to Kobe who promptly throws it away. CP 0, DW 0.
  • Play #2: Deron Williams covers a 6'5"ish guy who shoots a three right over him. Misses. CP 0, DW -1.
  • Play #3: Deron Williams sprints back up court, and smartly draws foul. CP 0, DW 0.
  • Play #4: Chris Paul drives hard to his left, draws the defender, alley-oop pass to 'Melo. Beautiful. CP 1, DW 0.
  • Play #5: Chris Paul brings up, passes to Kobe who ball-hogs his way to an awkward looking miss over two defenders. 'Melo cleans up for two. CP 1, DW 0.
  • Play #6: Chris Paul tries to go over a Canadian screen. He fails pretty badly, leading to Canada's Anderson drilling an open three. CP 0, DW 0.
  • Play #7: Chris Paul lobs ahead for Chris Bosh. Bad pass but Bosh recovers. Still, I'm holding this against CP. CP -1, DW 0.
  • Play #8: Same play, I'll let Rick Kamla say it: "Chris Paul for three. Unhh." CP 0, DW 0.
  • Play #9: Deron Williams nearly throws it away, but 'Melo recovers well. The NBA'ers are pretty much snatching it right out of the Candians' hands. I'm holding this against Williams. CP 0, DW -1. By the way, Kobe finishes that play by hitting a 30 foot three at the shot clock buzzer.
  • Play #10: Chris Paul all the way to the hoop with a Canadian dude draped all over his body. No foul called and he can't hit the floater. Bosh is there for the follow. I'm scoring this one as a Zero. CP 0, DW -1.
  • Play #11: Chris Paul comes over on Help D, poking the ball away. Bosh nearly gets it but fumbles it out of bounds. Score one for CP3. CP 1, DW -1.
  • Play #12: Deron Williams drives and makes a great kick out to Paul. Paul fakes once and draws the foul, heads to the line.. However, I'm scoring this one for D-Will because his vision and swing pass made it happen. CP 1, DW 0.
  • Play #13: D-Will with another nice play. Keeps his head up, and basically runs a 5 on 5 fast break, finding Michael Redd for a wing triple. CP 1, DW 1.
  • Play #14: Carl English (Canada, obviously) drains a triple in Williams' face. But honestly, there was no way anybody was guarding that shot. CP 1, DW 1.
  • Play #15: CP throws it out of bounds on the baseline, expecting Williams to cut to the hoop. I'm thinking I take away a point from each... yeah, that sounds good. CP 0, DW 0.
  • Actually, I just went back and watched it. Carl English was literally holding Williams in the corner. If this were the NBA, that's a personal foul. So I'm giving both their points back. CP 1, DW 1.
  • Play #16: Paul runs a fastbreak, finds Williams who finds Boozer. But a  traveling call on Deron negates it. CP 1, DW 0.
  • Play #17: A Canadian dude runs up the court with time winding down. Chris Paul gets in his face, contesting his pull up jumper heavily. Nicely done. CP 2, DW 0. That's the end of the first quarter.
  • Both Paul and Williams go to the bench to start the second, giving way to a Kidd-Redd backcourt.
  • Lol, not CP or D-Will related, but: Carl English repeatedly had tried going one-on-one versus Kobe. Finally Kobe gets mad, just plain takes the ball from him as English tries to be fancy, then slams down on the fastbreak. Ha ha ha.
  • One more non-CP-DWill: Another terrible pass from Kidd as he tries to be fancy. I can't put it any more bluntly: this guy sucks.
  • Finally CP3! No sign of Deron though. Play #18: Paul drives, finds Wade baseline. Wade goes up and gets smashed. No foul call. What. The. Hell. Nice pass from Paul though. CP 3, DW 0.
  • Play #19: Paul tries to thread the needle to Dwight Howard. It's deflected out of bounds, but a more athletic team would've stolen it. I'm scoring against Paul despite the non-turnover. CP 2, DW 0.
  • Play #20: Ahhh, what a drive by Paul. What a drive. Finds 'Melo for the thunderous throwdown. I can't wait for NBA season to start again, and D-West to be throwing down instead of Anthony. CP 3, DW 0.
  • Williams checks back in for the Paul-DWill backcourt look. Also, both commentators have talked about Chris Paul for about 3 minutes non-stop now. This is awesome.
  • Play #21: Deron Williams crosses over, spins, and leaves his defender gasping for air. Personal foul, Canada. CP 3, DW 1.
  • Play #22: Deron Williams schools the same guy again, this time rising for the pull-up 18 footer. CP 3, DW 2.
  • Play #23: Paul finds Michael Redd for the corner trifecta. CP 4, DW 2. Meanwhile, USA is pulling away from Canada rather rapidly.
  • Play #24: Williams makes a hard drive right at the hoop before getting smacked on the shoulder and poked in the eye. He hits both free throws as Rick Kamla admires and comments on DWill's new beard for the second time today. CP 4, DW 3.
  • Play #25: Chris Paul steps up and takes a charge, falling to the ground. Also, I just realized that there's no "circle" under FIBA rules. But yeah, way to take one for the team. CP 5, DW 3. By the way, that's CP's third great defensive play of the game, while Williams really hasn't had one yet.
  • Play #26: CP drives right to the hoop again before kicking out to a wide open Tayshaun Prince for three. Prince misses, but I've been counting "non-turnover" turnovers as negatives, so why not count "non-assist" assists as positives, right? CP 6, DW 3.
  • Play #27: Canada's #7 knocks down our #7- Deron Williams. DWill does a good acting job to sell it, and in doing so, racks up his first positive defensive contribution of the day. CP 6, DW 4.
  • Play #28: CP with the sweet right hand bounce pass to an open Tayshuan. This time Prince knocks down the triple. CP 7, DW 4.
  • Play #29: CP knocks away the ball, Deron Williams comes up with the steal. Score one for both. CP 8, DW 5.
  • Play #30: Williams charges up court, deftly passes to Paul for the layup. Score one for both again. This is getting fun. CP 9, DW 6.
  • Play #31: Bosh steals a lazy inbounds, finds an alert Williams underneath the hoop. Layup. This is getting ridiculous. USA 60, Canada 35. CP 9, DW 7.
  • Play #32: CP weaves through traffic, sprinting the length of the court in about 3 seconds. He starts driving, then finds Williams for the open wing shot at the buzzer. No dice, but an excellent first half. CP 10, DW 7.
  • Halftime. Paul leading Williams by 3, they've combined for a total of 17. In case you're wondering about Jason Kidd, I have him scored as a -2 for the first half.
  • Ho-hum. Ho-hum. You can barely even notice Jason Kidd's presence on the floor. That might as well be Carlos Arroyo out there or something. Kobe's on fire though, and Wade's playing some all-out defense.
  • Play #33: Chris Paul and Deron Williams finally check back in about half way through the third. CP promptly finds Howard on the alley oop. CP 11, DW 7.
  • Play #34: Chris Paul with a smart deflection of the ball out of bounds. Nearly comes up with another steal. CP 12, DW 7.
  • Play #35: CP's in unguardable mode now. Strolls through the lane at will, finds 'Melo who can't connect on the lay-in, but is fouled. This is turning into the Chris Paul Show. CP 13, DW 7.
  • Play #36: Wow, what a move by D-Will. Takes it right at Canada's biggest guy and would've dunked it in his face if he hadn't been hacked. Still, he takes the hit, converts the power layup, and runs back without a foul call. CP 13, DW 8.
  • Play #37: Williams in transition, Redd the corner three. CP 13, DW 9.
  • Play #38: CP to Redd, Redd the corner three. But I'm scoring this one D-Will because Williams penetrated all the way to the hoop and kicked out to Paul. CP merely swung it over another time. CP 13, DW 10.
  • Play #39: Chris Paul drills a triple in his opponent's grill. Probably the first contested three point look by the U.S. all game, but no matter. CP 14, DW 10.
  • Play #40: CP with a bad pass down the baseline. Bosh somehow recovers it but eventually throws it away. Probably Chris Paul's fault and should have been his turnover. CP 13, DW 10.
  • Play #41: Williams with another spectacular drive. All the way to the rim before kicking out to Tayshuan for the long deuce. CP 13, DW 11.
  • Play #42: Paul with some ShowTime dribbling up the court, fakes English out of his shoes, and finds DWill for the open wing three. Misses. CP 14, DW 11.
  • Play #43: Paul the steal. CP 15, DW 11.
  • Play #44: Play of the game! Play of the game! Wow. DWill crosses, goes behind the back, spins his defender clueless, then finishes with an incredible layup on the fastbreak. I feel sorry for his defender who was facing the bench after Williams' last fake. That was nasty. CP 15, DW 12.
  • Play #45: Williams comes over on the help and rejects a shot all the way to halfcourt, leading to a U.S. fast break. CP 15, DW 13.
  • Play #46: New play of the game!  C! P! Threeee! Wooooo! Paul goes behind his back to split two defenders, charges the lane, fakes a behind the back pass, rises up with the right hand, hangs until Canada's center falls to the ground, then drops a fall-away floater. Seriously, that play alone should give Paul the starting job over Kidd. CP 16, DW 13.
  • End 3.
  • Play #47: No CP or DWill action until 4:52 in the 4th when only Williams checks in. DWill with a nice deflection to prevent a fast break layup. CP 16, DW 14.
  • Play #47 (again): Actually, just kidding. Foul on Williams called instead. CP 16, DW 13.
  • Play #48: Williams out of control to the hoop, but gets bailed out by a foul call. No points either way.
  • Play #49: Aggressive move by Williams to the hole, completely shredding the Canadian defense off a nice feed from Paul. Not sure if it's scored an assist for Paul, but by NBA rules, it definitely would've been. CP 17, DW 14.
  • Play #50: CP with a perfect feed to Dwight Howard for the alley-oop but D-Ho fumbles it and loses it. If that were Tyson Chandler... CP 18, DW 14.
  • Play #51: Paul runs the length of the court, finds the red-hot Redd in the corner. Three points. CP 19, DW 14.
  • Play #52: CP hounds Canada's backup point guard into a corner, forces him to the ground, then makes him dribble off his own foot out of bounds. CP 20, DW 14.
  • Play #53: Wow. Michael Redd is unconscious. A catch-and-shoot fadeaway three off the dime from Paul. CP 21, DW 14.
  • Play #54: And the finishing touch: the teammate to teammate connection as Deron Williams finds Carlos Boozer under the hole. CP 21, DW 15.
  • Play #55: One last great play. This time CP and Boozer combined on the trap with the clock winding down. Turnover Canada. Again. CP 22, DW 15.
  • Play #56: Chris Paul dribbles out the clock.

So a ton of great stuff there. Let's start with the point guard sets and combinations. We got (1) Jason Kidd only, (2) Chris Paul + Deron Williams, (3) Chris Paul only, and (4) Deron Williams only. On the Kidd only set, the U.S. ran a ton of isolations, mostly through Carmelo and Wade. While those two are superstars, it's not the "team basketball" that so many international teams excel at. Like I commented earlier, it's hard to tell that Kidd is even on the floor. That's how little impact he had on the game. Kidd-only scares me because of how iso-heavy it is.

The CP-DWill lineup probably produced the most ball movement out of those four combinations. Neither one dribbled too much, neither one controlled the ball too much, and both found open shooters time and time again. I'm pretty sure Mike K. won't use the two point guard approach against "actual" competition, given that extensive hand-checking is allowed. But it's amazing how well the two play off each other and it's even more amazing how both their games co-exist so well. I envisioned at least one having to give up parts of his game. Instead, Paul played just like he does for New Orleans, and Williams just like he does for the Jazz. CP3 took on a slightly larger ball-handling role, but it was very even.

Now, Chris Paul-only. CP had 3 stellar plays in the 3-4 minutes he played without Deron. All three involved quick penetration and pass to an open teammate. I felt like the pace was fastest during the CP-only minutes. Overall, I like the CP3-only look. Duh. And finally, DWill-only. This happened for about 1-2 minutes in the 4th. Honestly, I wish Coach K. had played this look a little bit longer. 1-2 minutes is way too short a time period to make any reasonable judgements. So we'll have to wait for USA-Lithuania on Thursday to see how this set works out.

Overall, I'd love to see the CP-DWill tandem more, at least in the friendlies. Whether Coach K uses it in the Olympics will obviously depend on its defensive abilities or lack thereof.

Now, for other random stuff. As you saw above, I scored the game 22-15 for Chris Paul. Here's a slightly more in-depth breakdown of how I arrived at those figures:

# of... Chris Paul Deron Williams
Positive Offensive Plays 17 15
Negative Offensive Plays 2 2
Positive Defensive Plays 8 3
Negative Defensive Plays 1 1

You'll notice that the biggest discrepancy comes in the "good defensive plays" department. To me, that's somewhat surprising, given Williams' size advantage on Paul and given that both were guarding 6'4", 6'5" guys throughout the game. But CP was simply a beast, both playing man D and help D. I haven't checked the box score to see how many steals he was officially awarded, but he was all over the floor on defense. I didn't see that from Williams. The things that's even more encouraging is that both players only had one "bad defensive play" each (ie, getting schooled, taken to the rim). Considering that they were both undersized, and considering that Canada was shooting the lights out from "three," both Williams and Paul gave fantastic defensive efforts. Again, I'm convinced that it'll be the defensive side of things that earns one of the two the backup job. The offense will be there. They're Deron Williams and Chris Paul, for crying out loud.

Okay, now that I've praised CP's defense, I must mention one thing that disappointed me: CP went over the screen every time and repeatedly got burned. He's just too small to consistently beat the screener. While Bosh and D-Ho are superior help defenders, I hope this isn't a deciding factor in D-Will getting more PT. D-Will went under most screens by defensive design. Coach K should consider switching that; Williams is a much better bet to successfully go over screens than Paul.

Other odds and ends: Both commentators repeatedly praised Paul's improved strength, compared to 2 years ago. Interestingly, ESPN has had him listed at 175 lbs. three straight years now. Chris Paul often mentions how he loves playing high paced basketball even though the Hornets are among the league's slowest. If the U.S.'s 120 points in 40 minutes is any indication, he's gonna love the Olympics. And I'm disappointed at how little burn Tayshuan Prince got. If I'm coaching, he's first off the bench (over Wade).

Finally, my last point. My most important one. Re: all the Chris Paul and Deron Williams being star-struck, looking up to Bryant, Wade too much. Nonsense. Total and utter garbage. You know who deferred to 'Melo and Wade's (often terrible) isolations, possession after possession? Jason Kidd. You know who refused to let the offense become a one-on-one fest and made sure to set up every play? Chris Paul and Deron Williams. I was sorta, kinda convincing myself that J-Kidd might be the way to go internationally, given FIBA's wacky handchecking and no-3-second rules. No more. I'm back to declaring Kidd over Paul/Williams an utter joke.