Tuesday, August 22, 2006

USA team restoring some sanity to international basketball

After dominating the team many felt was the second most talented in the World Basketball championships, Team USA is now into the round of 16 to play currently undefeated Italy.

Many people were disillusioned with USA National basketball after the Olympics. There were calls for massive re-evaluation of the quality of the NBA and popular heckling had hit its zenith. Many who, being fairly illogical, tried the old "don't make excuses for them" line to cut off any sane explanation of why the best basketball nation on earth was falling short. (By the way I really hate that kind of thinking. Not every reason is an excuse - excuses are only when the reason has no validity. Reasons are part of life. Even evolutionary theory leaves room for the strongest species dying out due to poor luck or unfortunate happenstance).

I was not among this group. I did not feel, as did others, that the rest of the world had "overtaken American basketball". Far from it. What the rest of the world had shown was that the US could no longer whip up a team of random potential-all-star rookies and a couple of known ballers who never play together and who's positions don't necessary correlate to any kind of team composition, have them shoot around for a few minutes during warm ups, and then send them out against teams that have practiced together for literally years and have well-developed player roles.

While the Olympics did prove that we could no longer afford to be arrogant, it did not prove, to a neutral observer, that foreign teams as of yet can take the US at its best. If we get drubbed out of the World Championships I'll be more willing to grant that we're no longer dominant. This time we've sent an intentional team with known players (albeit not all necessarily our best players), and they've made a three-year committment like the other nations have, and they have a proven coach (Brown had some high accomlaids, but hadn't proven much in the long term. His last year with the Knicks proves that there were some gaps).

Also, let's get real. Basketball is a five man sport, and as with so many sports, is kind of fickle. On any given day a team with better chemistry and decent players can beat a team with great players who are off a bit or don't compliment each other on the court. With only 5 players on the court, depth is not a factor in the same way it is in, say, soccer. Depth can really help, as this team is demonstrating, but ultimately a really solid group of 5 can grit their teeth and persevere, especially if it's a tourney situation in which losing means going home. There's no reason to hold back.

So I think what would be more telling is to force second and third tier teams to play the tournements - that is, if our goal is to figure out which country has generically "better basketball". My contention is that whereas this USA team will probably win the championships, and almost certainly the next olympics when they've spent some real time together, a third or fourth string US national team against a third or fourth string anyone else's national team would be a skunking. Right now nobody else has much in reserve past what's on their national court. On the other hand, the US has arguably better players not on the team. The leagues leading scorers, Iverson and McGrady, are not on this team. Kobe is out with an injury. Some 20 players were cut for various reasons, all of whom could viably have made the team (it wasn't a cinch going in, and chemistry was a big factor). Point being, it would be an interesting litmus test for the development of a country's skills to say "pick your top 10... ok now you can't have any of them, pick 10 more" and see how those teams would line up again Shaq and T-Mac.

Another factor, and not one to be overlooked, is that the three-point line is shorter. This means that internationals who are used to that line practice it quite often in their leagues. NBA players are constantly practicing from further away. But, now that we've had a team actually practice that distance a bit we're going over 50% from beyond the arc... quite a difference from the Olympic team which was finding the net around 30%.

We shall see. If someone were to defeat this team I would be surprised, although I think the next Olympics will be a better display (since our team would by then have spent comparable time together as the other national teams). Until such happens, I remain unconvinced that world basketball is quite the super force people claimed it to be in the last Olympics.


Blogger a part said...

hey roland,

random question for you. i just finished reading Chesterton's "Orthodoxy", and I was wondering if you knew what his specific definition of Orthodoxy was? i.e. By Orthodoxy did he mean specifically the Roman Catholic Church? The Church of England? Eastern Orthodox? Or was it just a broad reference to Christian tradition in general (I doubt this one very much given his hostility toward Calvin)? Or something else entirely?

anyway, just one of those things I thought an "Orthodox" seminary student might know :). i'll send you my email address right now if that's easier.

hope things are goin well.


5:16 PM  

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