I love these conversations, and I'd like to share parts of them with you over the next few days. The first of the COUTRAM Conversations: USA Hoops
Coach K has experience running a three guard offense at Duke, and this past season's Blue Devils squad made its bones with a small lineup. So it should be no surprise that the 2008 USA Olympic team only features three traditional big men, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, and Chris Bosh.
Of course, the worry is that since Michael Redd is the only "pure shooter" on the team and Boozer lacks height and Bosh lacks bulk and Dwight Howard lacks a fully stable sternum, USA Basketball has essentially split the baby and decided to go neither big nor sharpshooter. Without four "real" big men, maybe they'll get pushed around. Without a bevy of "pure" shooters, maybe they won't be able to score effectively in an international game that favors a perimeter-oriented offense. Maybe a more fully-rounded team, like Spain or Argentina, will totally outclass our guys.
Or maybe all that's overblown, and it's more likely the USA team is set to dominate. To wit:
-- Michael Redd is not the only shooter on the squad. Redd shot 36% from three this season. So did Tayshaun Prince. You think Kobe can't shoot threes? He shot... 36%. In fact, Deron Williams shot threes the best among all the USA Olympians, at a 39% clip. For what it's worth, too, LeBron shot 31% from distance, and Bosh shot 10-25 from beyond the arc. Provided that Melo and Kidd aren't the ones firing away, the USA team will be fine with its shooting.
-- About the big men, Howard, Boozer, and Bosh. I think they're perfect for this team. Howard is essentially a monster version of Tyson Chandler, making him the perfect pick and roll partner for Chris Paul, and on defense, he's such a shotblocking presence in the lane that it'll allow the others to play their men tighter on the outside. Boozer may be short, but let's not forget that he's always been tough to push around even in the best league in the world, and Bosh may be on the skinny side, but he has proven again and again in the best league in the world that he can work against centers.
To boot, Boozer and Bosh add offensive versatility. Check out their Hot Spots.
Boozer can step out near the line and shoot, and he's positively deadly from the right side of the court. Seriously, just let him set back picks on the block and then pop out for easy jumpers.
Bosh isn't as good a shooter as Boozer, but he is certainly accomplished, and he shoots enough times and with enough success that his outside threat must be respected, making his already-formidable inside game that much more effective.
-- And all of that's before acknowledging that LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are both ridiculously built athletes who will act as big men on defense while forcing matchup nightmares on offense. Specifically, to put James's size in perspective, he recently claimed that he's 6-9 and 260 pounds, or bigger than Elton Brand's listed size. Hell, just look at how LeBron appears next to Boozer, Bosh, and Howard. He's a big man, and nobody realizes it, except perhaps Coach K.
That leads to the titillating possibility of a high-flying, all-world, offense and defense. Consider a lineup of Williams, Kobe, Melo, LeBron, and Big Bad Dwight. The only semi-weakness on that team is Anthony's defense. If you want to give up a little size in the backcourt for a little gain on offense, sub in Paul for Williams. Imagine any of the point guards on this team running the pick and roll with Howard--or LeBron!!!!!--while the third option of Kobe Bryant sits at the three point line, where if he gets the ball he can choose to shoot or attack the rim off the dribble himself. Imagine any of the point guards on this team running the break, with LeBron on the left, Melo on the right, Kobe sweeping out wide to the three point line, and Howard trailing.
What remains unspoken, perhaps because we fear its beauty and fear the pain of seeing that potential go unfulfilled, is that the American team can play with any style on both ends of the floor, and they have the look of a developing basketball hurricane.