In consecutive games now at the 2016 Summer Olympics, the US men’s basketball team has looked eerily mortal. Close wins that were just a play or two away from becoming unfathomable losses to either Australia or Serbia have left onlookers puzzled and fearful at the same time, musing there must be something wrong with the team.
Some hold several elite NBA players sitting at home responsible because the void between the US and the rest of the world isn’t as far apart as initially presumed. Others are fretting about a lack of ball movement which has put an onus on the typical offensive strategy in the half court — good old isolation ball. While it would help if LeBron James or Stephen Curry were leading the charge, or perhaps Chris Paul was available to timely distribute to all the team’s weapons, a strong argument exists that Team USA could alleviate most of their scares through the addition of a healthy Anthony Davis.
Through four contests, the offense is averaging 106 points per game on a healthy 48% shooting from the field and 40% from three-point range. In addition, it’s difficult to bemoan the passing when the playmaking is sporting a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. For comparison’s sake, the recent 73-win Golden State Warriors posted a 48.7 FG%, a 41.6 3P% and a 1.91 AST/TOV.
No, the problem has most definitely not been the offense but rather the exploitable defense, and Team USA is aware of this fact. Listen to Mike Krzyzewski explain that opponents are having success because they are eventually finding the defensive breakdown on the floor more times than not.
They continue to look for options through 20 seconds. And, that’s something we have to get acclimated to, because our defense was good, and then right at the end because they continued to work hard together, Serbia, they got open shots. That’s something we have to do a better job of it.
Naturally, this has been by design. Serbia’s head coach, Aleksandar Djordjevic, stated that movement is a great equalizer to the athleticism of Team USA.
“Once you move the ball, they are always chasing somebody. Once you stop the ball, they just go one-on-one, and that’s very tough to beat against athletic players,”
Whether the rotation has missed a cutter to the rim, leading to an easy dump off and score, or failed to get out on Milos Teodosic on the perimeter, Team USA is vulnerable right now to the open shot attempt. Honestly, Friday’s game against Serbia should have gone to overtime because Bogdan Bogdanovic had a clean three-point look. Just stare at all that space around him!
Two years ago, Anthony Davis was an instrumental part of the United States sweep of the opposition in 9 games to win the gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Prior to that tournament, Krzyzewski was effusive in his praise.
“He’s not your normal big guy, because he’s very, very fluid. He can guard probably every position, but what I love most about him is his athleticism and his ability to block shots and finish... For this group, he can be a great rim protector for us, and an amazing ball-screen defense big guy, because of his mobility. He can step in and if necessary, even switch and guard a number of players.”
The 2016 Team USA roster has DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan manning the center position. As we have learned during Krzyzewski’s reign, he prefers to play small against international competition. Do you remember that he preferred Davis and even Miles Plumlee to Cousins just a few years ago?
"In DeMarcus' case, the style we play lends itself to what Anthony does or even what Plumlee is doing. DeMarcus' game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he's trying to make it."
Cousins has improved, but he’ll never be the deterrent Davis is because he simply lacks the mobility and athleticism to cover a lot of ground. Meanwhile Jordan, who more closely mimics Davis’ athletic ability, possesses his own set of wrinkles. His free-throw shooting and inability to stretch the floor have been well documented, but he’s not as adept of an all-around defender. His instincts limit his ability to close out well on shooters, to better stay with perimeter players and to keep the personal fouls to a minimum.
In addition, Team USA has just one true power forward on their roster: Draymond Green. For whatever reason, things have not clicked for him so Krzyzewski has been forced to relegate him to the bench.
Have a look the Vine video again. Bogdanovic was his responsibility, yet Green left him alone on the three-point arc to charge the ball handler near half court. Since that’s not Steph out there, Green had absolutely no reason to do so but he did anyway.
In the last two games, Andrew Bogut, David Andersen, Nikola Jokic and Miroslav Raduljica have combined for 71 points on 29 makes of 38 shot attempts from the field. That’s good for an incredible 76.3 FG%!!! The foursome are a solid bunch, but they’re not world beaters.
To be fair, Team USA has only been together for a handful of games and practices so the expectation should be that the third, fourth or fifth rotation is going to fail. In a number of possessions, either one of the three team’s bigs have made a critical error or someone from the rest of the group is failing in their defensive rotation.
That said, Anthony Davis would have made for the perfect bandaid. Not to the point of solving all the issues singlehandedly but enough to probably prevent the Rio Games from turning into such nail-biters.