Film Study: The Poor Offensive fit of Team USA

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The Issue with Building Super-Teams

Ever since 1992’s Dream Team, USA has prioritized packing their national team with as many superstars as possible. This seems like a solid enough strategy, but as I’ve discussed in great detail, it’s an ill-advised course of action. The main reason for this is that we simply don’t know how to discuss “the best players” without being biased towards big-time scorers. We want to take the highest ratings in 2K and call it a day, but basketball doesn’t work that way.

Four years after the “Redeem Team” reestablished world dominance (kinda…we’ll talk when you’re older), the U.S. assembled one of the greatest collections of NBA talent outside of video games: prime LeBron, almost prime Durant, post-prime Kobe, prime-ish Chris Paul, prime Kevin Love, prime Carmelo Anthony, prime Tyson Chandler, prime Andre Iguodala, prime-ish Deron Williams, pre-prime Westbrook, pre-prime James Harden, and baby Anthony Davis.

Their dominance peaked with a stupid 156-73 win over Nigeria which birthed the myth of “Olympic Melo.” However, this team also struggled with a 99-94 win over Lithuania and a 107-100 win over Spain in the championship game. This is the game on which I want to focus.

Too Many Cooks for Team USA

After a solid first quarter, Team USA struggled to establish offensive consistency. The 2nd quarter is particularly painful to watch as superstars continuously watch superstars isolate and miss. Here’s an example of Kobe running a weak pick and roll with Tyson Chandler as Paul, LeBron, and Durant watch.

Here’s Kobe posting up with 14 seconds on the clock and force-feeding Durant a bad three.

Again, Durant, LeBron, and Paul just watch.

Look, I know some of you think I’m a Kobe-hater because of my last article, so here are a couple non-Kobe examples. This first one looks like an okay play. Deron Williams drives right into the Spanish zone. However, look at the lackluster ball movement preceding it. Team USA literally didn’t run a play.

LeBron has made a career out of high-post offensive sets. This is not how they usually look. Durant saunters to the top of the key. Ultimately, Paul ends up with an open triple because of a dumb Spanish double team.

This next play is pretty indicative of how the U.S. beat Spain. First, they try and beat the zone with the passing urgency of a frat boy’s intramural squad. Then, Melo takes a heavily contested triple, but LeBron is there to clean up the mess. I didn’t count, but they scored the majority of their 2nd quarter baskets off free throws and put-backs.

Honestly, I have so many examples of bad offensive possessions that I could do this for a thousand more words. Keep in mind that I only took clips from the 2nd and 3rd quarter. Two quarters worth! Not a season. Quarters.

Okay fine, here’s one more Kobe example in the worst out-of-bounds play in the history of basketball.

Please watch that clip again and look at the shot clock. 17 seconds left. 17 seconds. That was the play.

The One Good Offensive Play from Team USA

I really want to emphasize how I’m not cherry-picking here. I’m not sure if Team USA scored in transition these quarters, nor was there a play that showed offensive superstars maximizing their talents. Here is the actual best offensive set that I saw. It’s actually pretty solid.

A couple of observations. I love this play because literally every offensive player is involved. Paul, Kobe, and Love involve themselves with a confusing array of screens. LeBron is in his famous high-post position. Durant is the recipient of a wide open lane. Just beautiful .

For those complaining that this is a midrange shot, keep in mind that Durant is mind-bogglingly good from that range, and historically, he’s on the short list of players that should have midrange plays drawn up for him (Dirk also comes to mind).

What’s the Point?

Ultimately, I want people to consider skill-sets more seriously when constructing teams. Simply putting “1st-best” offensive players together doesn’t guarantee a high-functioning offense. Certain players like Curry actually add value when surrounded by high-level talent, but guys like LeBron, Kobe, and Wade? It’s a bit more complex for them. Here’s a good summary of what I’m talking about:

Even though it’s sacrilegious, it is necessary to cut some of the greatest “first-best” players of all time to make room for guys who can fill those roles better. Is Draymond Green better than Kobe? No, but is Draymond Green better at taking three shots in a game, setting hard screens, and playing all-league defense on five positions? Yes, and it’s frankly not even close.

Is it Okay to Cut Kobe Bryant From an All-Time Team? – Cody Houdek, 2019

Over the next few months, I plan on constructing multiple hypothetical teams from players in different years. In honor of the 2010s coming to a close, I’m going to start with a cliche all-decade team, but it won’t simply be an acknowledgement of the most decorated players from the decade. I plan on making some difficult cuts to make sure that the team could mesh for an entire 82-game season plus playoffs. I’ll take offensive and defensive fit along with ego into account.

Can good coaching help any group of highly effective basketball players function at a high level? Probably, but the 2012 USA Olympic team shows that it doesn’t happen naturally.

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