London’s calling, and Team USA is ready to answer the bell.
While we’ve all heard the (seemingly) endless debate over the hypothetical match-up of the original “Dream Team” of 1992 vs. the 2012 version of Team USA, I’d much prefer to focus upon the task at hand. That said, regardless of where you stand on that particular subject, one thing that cannot be denied is the fact that basketball (worldwide) has changed. Some would say, it has evolved. Others would argue the game has declined. I simply accept the change for what it is.
One irrefutable fact is that while International players made up six percent of the NBA in 1992, they currently make up just under 20 percent of today’s NBA. That total doesn’t even include several players such as Sasha Vujacic, Rudy Fernandez, and Andrei Kirilenko (to name a few) that could very well be playing in today’s NBA, but have simply opted for larger contracts/roles with European teams. Point is, the rest of the basketball playing world has completely evolved, and have done far more to “bridge the gap” than most casual NBA fans would realize.
Am I saying Team USA is in trouble? Of course not, as I am very confident in their ability to overcome any/all shortcomings. I also realize this height-challenged squad will have to battle for the Gold medal harder than any team has over the last 20 years. I cannot fault Jerry Colangelo, Chairman of USA Basketball Board of Operations, for the ‘limited’ roster. Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade are all unavailable due to injuries. As is Clippers power forward Blake Griffin. Regardless of the excuse, the United States is the birthplace of basketball, and neither the viewing public, nor the current roster will accept anything less than the Gold.
So what will it take? Teamwork, focus, and an absolute dedication to playing the type of swarming defense that permitted them to blow Spain’s doors off in the second half of their final exhibition meeting on Tuesday afternoon. With the exception of their exhibition game against Argentina, Team USA was able to comfortably cruise to double-digit victories by an average of 26.6 ppg during their 5-0 march towards London. Again, I don’t expect it to be all fun and games once the medal-round begins. I do expect Coach K to get maximum output from this highly versatile group of athletes. What they lack in ‘size’, they can make up for by sending waves of interchangeable scorers and slashers.
Tyson Chandler, the team’s sole 7-footer, must do a better job of staying out of foul trouble. Although, his third foul of the first half is what led the way to Carmelo Anthony’s first-half scoring spree (23 of his eventual 27 points), Chandler will have to play smarter “position” defense in an inevitable re-match with Spain. Marc Gasol, whose negative comments regarding the aforementioned proverbial Team USA vs Dream Team pairing seemed to spark a concerted effort, was unable to play due to a left shoulder injury. With both Gasol’s in the lineup to go along with OKC’s Serge Ibaka, Team USA will need a larger contribution from Chandler. Either way, Coach K is going to have to continue to rely upon stifling defensive intensity from Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Chris Paul. While Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, and Kevin Durant have paced Team USA’s scoring, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see Bryant take a step forward in that category (now that the games will mean something) as well.
*Upcoming Team USA Schedule
Sun 7/29 vs France
Tue 7/31 vs Tunisia
Thu 8/2 vs Nigeria
Sat 8/4 vs Lithuania
Mon 8/6 vs Argentina