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5 on 5 - Team USA Vs. the World (Part I)

After watching these exhibition “friendly” match ups with Canada, Turkey, Lithuania, Russia, and Australia, I am convinced that Team USA will win the Gold Medal. I have to be honest I am guilty of buying into the hype, of drinking the soft spoken, fatherly Coach Mike Krzyzewski cocktail of team basketball, of listening and reading about the great USA players saying the right things about team work, defense, and unselfishness. However, the “Road to Redemption” looks bumpy and maybe a little scary, kind of like a road in the mountains with a great view, but a very steep drop off if you make a wrong turn. For this Olympic tournament, I am fired up, hopeful, and a little star struck; but, I am frightened and would not be surprised at Team USA coming home with another Bronze. Here is my 5 on 5. The 5 reasons Wade and Company will win the Gold, and in the next post, the 5 reasons they could lose it:

1. Team USA will win because of their overall depth and talent. Depth will be a factor as the games become more physical and the stakes become higher. In FIBA rules, five fouls is a disqualification. This is a great rule for the shorter 40 minute game. (The 48 minute NBA game needs the extra foul.) Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince are barely getting much playing time, but they are great players. Prince looked disinterested in his end of game minutes against Australia. He was beaten badly on a back cut for a late wide open lay-up, but if needed Prince’s big game and playoff experience will be huge for Team USA. Boozer’s physical presence and ability to make free throws are huge assets for this team. Coach K is going to have to play two big men together at some point in this tournament, and Boozer is a solid professional that will rebound and finish strong around the rim.

2. Carmelo Anthony has the total package of offensive skills. For some reason, Melo is overlooked by many basketball fans, sports writers, and analysts. He is a natural scorer that gets to the right spots to catch and shoot. You absolutely have to be ready to catch and shoot without the dribble in international basketball. In transition or against a zone defense, Anthony, a natural scorer, knows the right areas on the floor to get open shots. He is far better at this than Kobe or Lebron. You hardly ever see Bryant or James spot up, catch, and shoot without a dribble. Carmelo also is very effective shooting the pull up or mid-range jump shot off the dribble. He is the best Team USA player to run a set play for if you need a big basket late in the game. In a close game, who Coach K goes to on the offensive end will be a key to winning the Gold Medal. Melo is that go to guy.

3. Coach Krzyzewski’s emphasis on ball pressure on the perimeter. Team USA is quick and athletic. They have been generating easy offense from steals, deflections, and turnovers. International teams run continuity offense based around passing and cutting. Great ball pressure makes finding the open cutters more difficult. The danger is that Team USA cannot gamble, get out of position, and let the opponent penetrate into the lane. Guys like Chris Paul, Carmelo, and Deron Williams cannot get beaten off the dribble. If that happens, the Internationals will slice them up with penetration and great three point shooting. If Coach K can get everyone to pressure the ball at the same level, Team USA will win the gold.

4. We have great players that are playing unselfish basketball. Most of the time when the Team USA guards have penetrated into the lane, the team has gotten easy dunks or lay-ups. Drop off passes, kick outs, and one extra pass have been the standard operating procedure for all the players. When the ball movement is good, Team USA is impossible to guard. Chris Paul and Deron Williams have been distributing the ball. Against Australia, Paul even was able to get into the lane and score a few baskets when the defense sagged and played the passing lanes. Team USA has adjusted to international pick and roll defense. The offensive man setting the pick is open rolling to the front of the rim. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh have scored many easy baskets after setting solid screens. Team USA cannot rely on jump shots only. They have to get to the rim, score or get fouled.

5. The players have their pride at stake! They play hard for each other. There is a hunger and desire to win. The mixture of young up and coming guys with veterans like J-Kidd and Kobe Bryant is working well. Kidd is maligned as old, but he is very important for team chemistry. Most of these guys are established stars that do not need the big stage for endorsements and respect. Kobe Bryant’s commitment to defense has been a shining example. He has taken on a positive leadership role. Coach K and his staff have done a great job at selling these guys on the “Road to Redemption” mind set.


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