For anybody who has been watching Team USA's summer has been all about three words - "redemption", "gold medal". And while numerous individuals - players, coaches, and broadcasters - have acknowledged that the world can play basketball there is still a sense that the US can regain the glory days. But there in lies the problem. Those days are long gone. I'm not saying the US can not or should not win gold. Rather the idea that they can cruise, not study their opponents, and just win on their athleticism is a flawed one. And the Australian game was a phenomenal example of everything Team USA is up against. Consider the following points.
1. The Americans cheat on defense looking for steals and fast break dunks. Against lesser teams it works and the US rolls to victories. But consider what Australia did today. The Boomers refused to be intimidated or back down and hung around as a result. In fact Matt Nielsen and Chris Anstey worked a nice two-man game at times, creating easy baskets in the process. If Andrew Bogut had been around to help with depth, scoring, and passing that would have further complicated things.
2. Rick Kamla pointed out at some point in the exhibition run that Team USA's best lineup might be Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James. Those guys will create match up nightmares. At the same time they'll get worked in the post and on the glass as well. In general the US, regardless of the lineup is susceptible to physical play down low.
3. I think it's safe to assume the Americans will shoot better than 16.7% (3-18) from 3-point range. At least I hope it is. However, it's definitely not out of the realm of possibility that an opponent could best Australia's 40% (8-20). Furthermore, I recognize the fact that the 3-point line is significantly closer. However, the Americans are by and large slashers. Outside of Michael Redd who on the US roster is a pure shooter? Just remember there's a reason the Boston Celtics worked like crazy to make LeBron and Kobe shoot from the outside during the playoffs.
4. Patrick Mills blew by Jason Kidd and Deron Williams. Fair enough. The latter is older and the former is a bigger guard. But Mills left Chris Paul behind as well. Now Mills made some mistakes, missed some shots, and the Australians definitely needed C.J. Bruton to run the point and hit some 3s. Still Mills turns 20 in 6 days. He's going to get better. There will come a time when another squad matches an American roster athlete for athlete. And yet the bigger concern should be who plays the game better.
5. Realistically Team USA and its NBA players will have to adjust and mimic their opponents (Hat tip TrueHoop) at some point.
6. In closing, I realize Zyrdunas Ilgauskas stayed home, at last in part, because of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yet that may be more the exception than the rule. Jorge Garbajosa left the Toronto Raptors to represent Spain and Matt Nielsen paid his own way. In the back of my mind I can't get over the fact that some of these international guys want this well beyond rhetoric. Of course I could be way off on this one. The Americans are giving up their free time and working hard as well.
7. Actually one more point. I'm really concerned about the Americans' offense and defense. At times I was reminded of Kobe Bryant versus the Celtics when he settled for deep shots. For stretches he made some, but they're low percentage shots and over the course of a game and definitely a series they simply were not enough. Meanwhile, I learned a great deal about defense from the Celtics this past season. They rotated like crazy, cut down passing lanes, talked, and outside of Rajon Rondo rarely gambled for steals. On top of all that they were physical. Does Team USA do any of that?