For five days, I’ve been fortunate to travel with Team USA Basketball and Nike as they put on the spectacle known as the World Basketball Festival in Washington, D.C. For something that started back in 2010 in NYC, this event has evolved into a celebration of performance and culture that surrounds the game of basketball. Now in 2012, the World Basketball Festival has expanded the circuit to London, Paris, Barcelona and D.C.
WBF 2012 in D.C. featured the USA Basketball Men’s and Women’s National Teams as their training and practice was open to the public, especially the service men and women in the DMV area. Nike and Converse held community events at Barry Farms and BannekerPark that included refurbished basketball courts, free concerts and brand experiences with the general public. Good times were had, connections were made, and now we’re ready to see if Team USA can bring home the gold in a few weeks.
Of course, the shining moment of the event was attending Team USA’s exhibition versus Brazil at the Verizion Center on Monday night. Yes, USA won 80-69, and the score wasn’t indicative of how the game played out.
The USA struggled. Brazil defended well. There are things to work on for Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Such as…
1. Is Team USA really big enough? Yes, I know this narrative will be beaten into the ground as a constant concern for this 2012 version of USA Men’s Basketball, however let me just throw a few quick facts out there for consumption.
Team Rebounds: Brazil 38, USA 30
Top Rebounder: (BRA) Anderson Varejao - 13. (USA) LeBron James - 6
Points in the Paint. Brazil 32 (16/25), USA 40 (20/38)
Two sub-points here. One, Tyson Chandler had ONE rebound in almost 20 minutes of action. Two, many of USA’s points in the paint came on fast breaks and backside alley-oops, which are of course, phenomenal. However, its not helping USA dodge the fact that they got beat up down low. Call me crazy but…should Coach K consider a lineup with Chandler and Kevin Love starting on the frontline? Or even Chandler and Anthony Davis? Just a thought.
2. About those alley-oops. It’s clear to me that we’ll see at least 238 of these in the Olympic Games. Its astounding to sit there and watch LeBron, Durant, Carmelo and any of the risers on USA run the baseline as one of the point guards penetrates the top of the key to throw the lob. Now imagine if Blake Griffin was healthy…yikes.
3. So many three-pointers. I like stats, so I’ll share a few more with you.
57. That’s how many three-pointers Team USA have taken in two games.
19. That’s how many they’ve made. 33% from deep in two games versus teams with lacking wings to properly defend the shorter FIBA defined stripe. Look at USA’s roster, you tell me how many great shooters are really on that team.
Okay, I’ve got 3 players. Kevin Durant. Kevin Love. James Harden.
None of those players are in the starting lineup, and two are heavy in the rotation in Durant and Love. Plus, Love and Durant are both bigs on this squad, which hurts the team from a rebounding perspective. I’m not saying that the team shouldn’t shoot the three-ball, because their point guards are getting them some phenomenal looks from range. I’m just saying that shooting the three isn’t exactly a strength. Getting consistent buckets from closer range will be a point of focus for Coach K moving forward, as I’d expect to see more Kobe and LeBron on the block, and Durant out wide to help spread the floor when things collapse.
4. Marcel Huertas gave USA fits. My compadre Jose Romero had some fine words on Huertas’ performance on Monday night.
He dished out 13 assists for the game and made 5 of his 8 shots for Brazil, which led by 10 points at the end of the first quarter of Monday night’s Olympics tune-up game for both teams, until the Americans cranked up the pressure on defense. Marcelo Huertas is the starting point guard for Brazil, but he’s overshadowed by the team’s NBA players – big men Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao and speedy two-guard Leandro Barbosa. But the 29-year-old Huertas showed he could hang with the best in the world. Huertas was asked after the game why he’d never played in the NBA. He said it had to do with contract issues with his European clubs and a lack of offers.
“I’ve never had like a real offer, because it seems the (contract) buyouts were always a huge number,” Huertas said. “It’s hard. Maybe in the future. I don’t know if I can still make it because I’m 29 years old right now and it’s not easy to come to the league whenever you’re older. Maybe… there’s still hope at the end of the tunnel.”
We’ve seen point guards come in and do work against the USA in the past, and eventually get themselves in the league soon thereafter. (Ricky Rubio for $200, Alex.) Huertas moved the ball with ease on USA (would’ve been nice to see Russell Westbrook guard him) and other point guards will eventually get a crack at taking down USA. Can Deron Williams and Chris Paul get the job done?
5. We know who starts, but who finishes for Team USA? In the fourth quarter, while I was sipping my 3rd Amstel Light beer, I noticed Carmelo Anthony standing on the sidelines, looking on at the court as USA eventually finished of Brazil. I wondered, why isn’t he in the game? Then I realized why, Kevin Durant’s in there to close the show.
Its only been two games, but Carmelo’s average at best and Durant’s play overall has been stronger. Yes, the play has been against a haphazard Dominican Republic team, but against Brazil, Carmelo threw up a 1-of-7 clunker of a shooting performance. Call it a bad day at the office, but Durant’s name is clearly being etched in the top 3 in the league along with LeBron and Kobe. That ascension could have Carmelo searching for minutes once the real games start in a few weeks.