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The Boomers Can Beat Team USA (And No, I’m Not Popping Crazy Pills)

August 8th, 2012 SB Tang No comments

At 22:15 tonight, the Boomers take on Team USA in an Olympic quarter-final.

This is an awesome Team USA side. They are well-coached by Coach K, respectful of their international opponents and have substantive experience of FIBA rules and international knock-out play.

But, if the stars align tonight, they can be beaten.

For all their manifold strengths, Team USA have a number of obvious weaknesses:

  1. They only have one true centre — Tyson Chandler, who has an unfortunate tendency to get into foul trouble in FIBA play.
  2. They only have two elite perimeter shooters — Kevin Durant and James Harden. And Harden hasn’t shot that well thus far this tournament, although, to be fair, his court time has been pretty limited. I was surprised that they didn’t include a specialist, pure shooter in their squad ala Michael Redd in 2008. Although Redd’s services turned out not to be required, he was always there in case Coach K needed him to bust open a zone defence.
  3. As is so often the case in sport as in life, one of their greatest strengths is also one of their greatest weaknesses — Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba took control of the gold medal game in Beijing against Spain with his clutch shooting — remember his four point play with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter and USA leading by just 5, followed up by his index finger to his lips in the direction of the raucous Spanish fans? Classic. However, Bryant’s now four years older and, thus far in this tournament, he has looked more like the early model ball hog Kobe derided in countless Youtube clips than the clutch shooter who won Olympic gold in Beijing and led the Lakers to two NBA championships. In Team USA’s last pool game against Argentina, the BBC’s excellent commentary team of Michael Carlson and John Amaechi highlighted an incident which should unnerve every single sports fan in America. USA were in control of the game. Kobe was having a poor shooting night. Carmelo Anthony, fresh off his record-breaking shooting feats against Nigeria, went into the low post. Kobe appeared to order Anthony to vacate the low post position so that he could occupy it. Kobe went into the low post, tried to take on about three Argentine defenders and had the ball stripped from him. According to Carlson and Amaechi the looks exchanged between Kobe and Anthony were, eerrrm, strong, to be put it politely.
  4. Oddly, despite having only two elite perimeter shooters, they’ve demonstrated a willingness to keep heaving up bricks when they’re not shooting well: see, for example, the Lithuania game.

    Unfortunately, the Boomers aren’t that well-placed to exploit Team USA’s lack of tall timber because:

    • Andrew Bogut’s out injured;
    • Nathan Jawai and Luke Schenscher weren’t picked;
    • Aleks Maric hasn’t been in the best of form — he’s technically still a starter but looks to have lost Brett Brown’s confidence as he’s not playing starter minutes; and
    • Aron Baynes, at only 6′9, doesn’t quite count as tall timber.

      On the up-side, by going with more mobile, more athletic players such as Baynes, who has demonstrated a surprising, and dare I say, NBA-worthy, level of athleticism, Boomers coach Brett Brown has been able to play suffocating, lock-down perimeter D — a strength incidentally shared by Team USA.

      The obvious way to exploit the second, third and fourth weaknesses of Team USA is to employ a zone defence and try to turn it into a half-court game. The two equally obvious problems with this strategy are:

      1. we don’t have enough tall timber to pull it off: see above;
      2. it hurts our offence — our problematic end of the floor thus far this tournament — which looks much better when we’re in transition out in the open court, which is unsurprising given that Brown has gone for a mobile, athletic squad.

        So, should we instead opt for a more open court game in order to extract maximum offensive utility from the speed and athleticism of the likes of Mills, Baynes, Andersen and Ingles?

        Maybe. But then we play to Team USA’s strengths — their squad is also packed with athletic players in the 6’5 to 6′11 height range who love the open court, just that they’re, uuumm, a tad more athletic than ours.

        On balance, it’s worth starting with a zone defence just to see what happens. If Team USA go cold from the perimeter in a sudden-death match, it may prompt Kobe to attempt to seize control with tunnel vision shooting and then who knows what might happen to Team USA’s team harmony and chemistry.

        Here are the very narrow set of hypothetical conditions under which the Boomers could win:

        1. We start with a zone defence.
        2. Team USA start bricking from the perimeter. Admittedly, this would be a once-in-a-millennium event for Kevin Durant but, hey, it’s possible.
        3. Kobe tries to take over with obsessive-compulsive levels of shooting but keeps throwing up bricks.
        4. Mills, Andersen, Ingles and Dellavedova shoot the ball like the English sky drops rain — heavily, relentlessly and accurately. Early into the third quarter in the Boomers’ fourth pool game against Great Britain, we were down about 15 points and had been stone cold from the perimeter all tournament. I seem to recall the Boomers’ team three point percentage in the first couple of games being in the teens! But, suddenly, the whole team, led by Mills and Delly, caught fire from beyond the arc, the Boomers steamrolled Team GB and I finally understood what Starbuck was talking about when she answered Commander Adama’s question, “what do you hear Starbuck?” — “Nothing but the rain sir”.

        That’s a lot of ifs. Realistically, the probability of all those ifs happening in one game is no more than 5 per cent. But, in sport at the highest level, that’s still a decent chance. Better than nothing at any rate.

        Good luck to the Boomers!