Stephen’s Statements A little bit of everything from Stephen Duncan Jr, a Software Developer in Portland, Oregon

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

USA Olympic Basketball: The Problems

So, the men's Olympic basketball team lost badly. Will this Olympic games be the first, since NBA players started playing for the Olympic team?

Sure, it's only one game. But there are serious problems, and I don't know if they can be overcome. And the similarities to the woes of my favorite NBA team, the San Antonio Spurs, are striking.

It all starts with a change in the rules: the zone defense. The NBA only last season repealed the "illegal defense" rule that prevented an effective zone defense. The international game has no rules preventing it, nor does college basketball.

A zone defense allows you to pack a lot of players into the inside, making scoring around the basket very difficult. Unfortunately, almost all the players on the US team excel in play around the basket. We have no outside shooters. The other teams, however, are built for these rules, and have excellent outside shooters, including, usually, the power forward and center positions. This also exposes another weakeness of NBA-style basketball: Our big men are generally not prepared to defend on the perimeter.

So, what do we have? We have Tim Duncan, arguably the best player in the world. But, like he was against the Lakers in the playoffs, he will be surrounded in the paint, frequently effectively triple teamed, and will have a hard time being dominating. Effective: yes, dominating: no. Beyond that, we have guys who can dribble well, pass well off the drive, and dunk very well. None of which helps much against the zone.

The future looks bleak to me. The Spurs couldn't beat the Lakers, because they didn't have consistent outside shooting. The same goes for the US team. The US team would have been better off doing what the Spurs did in the offseason: get a guy like Brent Barry that can shoot the ball well, rather than another athletic around-the-basket superstar. Or even have chosen a guy like Bruce Bowen, who's an expert defender, unlike any of the superstars brought on the team.

The last thing we do have is excellent coaches. But coaches can't turn players into 3-point shooters. But, luckily we have excellent defensive coaches (the Spurs and Pistons were the two best defenses, statisically, in the NBA last season). And, with the athleticism of the players on the team, only dedication and teaching are needed to improve the defense. We can only hope better defense is enough to prevent another game like today's.