Several people have asked me to comment on the announced roster of the US Senior Men's Basketball Team set to compete in Beijing. The way I think about it is this. The biggest stars in the NBA tend to be guys who can score frequently by getting shots in the paint either through low-post play or through dribble penetration. We also know from bitter experience that our international foes will try to counter our scorers by playing a zone defense designed to pack the paint. We also know that big-time NBA stars aren't necessarily top-notch defenders. Conclusion -- you want to focus on guys who can shoot from outside and who can defend.
It's not that those are the only important skills. But Kobe Bryant fits comfortably within that framework and he's also got more to his offensive game than that. So you've got Kobe. Then you need to ask, what do we want Kobe to do when he drives and finds the lane swarming with foreigners? Well, we don't want him to kick it out to Jason Kidd, who's a poor shot. But Deron Williams? Now we're getting somewhere. I think the ideal lineup, from big to small, would be something like Tim Duncan, Shawn Marion, Tayshaun Prince, Kobe Bryant, and Deron Williams. That's a lineup that could space the floor extremely well and defend superbly.
The problem with the roster they've assembled is that it doesn't include Marion or anyone with an Marion-like ability to defend the power forward position and shoot from outside. At the same time, the team includes non-shooters Jason Kidd, LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade on the perimeter. Those guys are both good players, obviously, but it's kind of suboptimal. Wade and James are such huge stars that it's hard to see doing without them, but I'd feel a lot better with Marion instead of Kidd (we don't need three point guards anyway). It also continues to baffle me that Mike D'Antoni isn't the coach of the team -- he has experience coaching NBA players and he has experience coaching FIBA-rules basketball; since we're asking NBA players to coach a FIBA-rules game that sounds like what we're looking for. Coach K has experience doing neither of those things.
More broadly, I think the discussion around this topic needs to pay more attention to the fact that the rules are different. You need to design teams that can beat true zone defense. The closer-in location of the three point line changes how effective some people are. And if you've been playing the game one way professionally for years, it's difficult to just switch to a different set of rules -- especially when your opponents are more familiar with those rules.
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