by Lang Whitaker

Ten things I noticed during the USA/China game tonight…

1) If I was an NBA owner of any team except maybe San Antonio, Miami or Dallas, I’d go out right now and offer Mike Krzyzewski about $10 million a year to come coach. OK, maybe not that much, but enough to make it worth his while for him to leave Duke and go pro. Why? Well, I’ve never been a Duke fan and, as such, never been a Coach K fan, but wow can he coach. He’s always spot-on in calling plays, calling defenses, subbing guys out at exactly the right time. But what’s really impressive is the way he’s got these guys playing defense. Have you ever seen Carmelo Anthony running all over the place like he has been? Every guy on the team is playing the best defense of his life (except for Bruce Bowen). I don’t know how Coach K is doing it, but he is. And sure, he’s playing with a better team than he’ll ever have in the NBA, but I think it’s still indicative of the kind of success he could have in the NBA.

2) To add on to that last point, I think a big component of having all these guys defending like this is that there’s an element of peer pressure there. Nobody wants to be the guy singled out in practice, the player called out in the tape sessions. So they’re all giving it their best effort. Also, China just wasn’t good enough to compete with the USA, especially without Yao.

3) Who played the best? LeBron, Melo, Elton Brand and Brad Miller were all terrific. In particular, Miller and LeBron looked awesome playing at the same time, trapping together and finding each other on offense. Miller not only had a great alley-oop to LeBron, but he stepped out and drained three three-pointers in the second quarter. Joe Johnson didn’t play as well as those guys, but he did look great at times.

4) Who played the worst? A few guys had bad games. Once again, Gilbert Arenas didn’t seem to play so well, looking lost offensively and just not quite up to par defensively. I also thought Chris Bosh looked a step slow, which might just be the travel catching up with him. Bruce Bowen never really distinguished himself, either.

5) So which two players will get cut? Well, let’s go in reverse…
The locks to make the team are: LeBron, Melo, Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul.

I’d say the second tier, the guys I’d be shocked if they’re cut, are: Joe Johnson, Elton Brand, Kirk Hinrich

The next rung would be: Shane Battier, Brad Miller

And the bottom level are: Gilbert Arenas, Chris Bosh, Bruce Bowen, Antawn Jamison.
Battier and Miller are on the level they’re on for different reasons. Miller didn’t look that great out in Vegas, but he played so well last night that it’ll be really hard to send him home. Battier is there because he’s not on the level offensively or defensively of the other guys. But somehow he’s always in the right places at the right time, and he always seems to play within himself, which is precisely what you need from your intangibles guy.

6) Again, so which players will be cut? Sorry, got thrown off. Of that bottom four, that’s a tough call. I think Bowen is the first to go, because he’s so limited compared to everyone else, and if everyone is going to defend like they are right now, you don’t need a defensive specialist.

I think Jamison is safe, because Coach K really likes his versatility and his shooting ability.

Which means it’s Gilbert or Bosh. Gilbert has looked like a duck/crazy man out of water thus far, confused on offense because he’s not sure how it works or something. And Bosh just hasn’t shown himself to be as good as the other guys. But if it’s between a guard and a big man, I think you keep the big man.

(And all you T-Dot fans, no need to berate me about Bosh. I know how good he is in the NBA. For whatever reason, he’s not playing like that right now.)

7) It’s really interesting to watch LeBron play on a team of guys that who are near his level, because he somehow boosts his output to where he still looks exponentially better than his teammates. And if I’m Danny Ferry, I call the Cavs and start trying to get Brad Miller right this second. And if not Miller, any center who’s more mobile and physical than Zydrunis Ilgauskas. Not having a lamp post stuck in the middle of the lane just gives LeBron so much more room.

8) Loved some of the Chinese names, at least the way they were being pronounced on TV — Mo Key, Fong Yu, Sun You. I know that’s not how the names are actually spelled, but that’s how I wrote ‘em down.

9) Again, since these are just exhibition games, why doesn’t the USA insist on having no American refs? The USA guys still were getting calls against them and they’d all immediately look to the one NBA ref on the court. They better get used to not getting calls and expect everything to go against them. China was particularly adept at pushing defenders off balance with their off arms while driving, which happened regularly in the last Olympics. Either get used to it or start doing it back.

10) Finally, a word about the broadcast. First of all, ESPN didn’t air it live, which may or not have been related to the broadcast rights of the tournament. But even airing it tape-delayed, they still missed plays coming out of timeouts, and more than once they went ten or more seconds with a camera angle from the worst seat in the house where the players were all invisible. The low point was when Bill Walton talked about an injury suffered by Wang Zhi Zhi while playing against France and he didn’t know whether Strasbourg was in Germany or France, which he tried (unsuccesfully to joke his way out of). First of all, Strasbourg is one of the ten largest cities in France. More relevantly, China was playing against France.

Horrible, just horrible.