OK, so I woke up early this Monday morning to watch Team USA’s final round-robin game, against Germany, and to take notes and post them here on SLAMonline. But by the time I rubbed the sawdust from my eyes, Team USA was up 11-3, then it was 20-3. By the end of the first it was 31-12, and it was 53-29 at the half, then 83-46 after three quarters, and the final was a deafening 106-57.
So, as I watched Team USA drop the hammer on Dirk and Kaman, and as Team USA preps for the all-important medal round, I thought I’d fill out my Team USA report card…
Mike Krzyzewski — One of my biggest fears going into these Olympics was that, just as happened in Athens in 2004, Team USA would be let down by its coaching staff. Say what you will about the ’04 team’s players, but Larry Brown let his guys down with his odd substitution patterns and a lack of poise. Coach K hasn’t let anyone down, except for maybe UNC and NC State fans hoping he’d fail. The one thing that bothered me was Coach K’s inclusion of Carlos Boozer on the roster, an obvious nod to their shared Duke heritage. While their lack of any true big other than Howard could still prove problematic, thus far it hasn’t been a factor at all. More relevantly to this column, though, Team USA has gotten better and better with each game, and they no longer appear totally befuddled when an opponent busts out a zone.
LeBron James — In the ’04 Games, despite LeBron’s obvious skill and promise, Larry Brown played him just 14 minutes per game. Now Bron’s one of the team captains, and he’s doing everything (before this Germany game, Bron was averaging 15.3 ppg, with 10 steals, and a team-high 22 assists plus a team-high 7 blocks). I also like how smoothly LeBron has embraced the international rules — if he’s in the game and ball is sitting on the rim, Bron is first guy to get up and try to knock the ball free. Dude’s doing it all, and he makes it all look effortless.
Carmelo Anthony — In the two tournaments leading up to this one — the 2006 Worlds and the 2007 Tournament of the Americas — Melo was Team USA’s best offensive player, making the all-tournament team in each contest. In these Olympics, though, Melo hasn’t been as dominant, averaging just under 10 ppg with 0 apg. He’s had trouble hitting open jumpers and hasn’t caused nearly as much havoc under the rim as he did before. He’s still played well, just not as well.
Dwight Howard — Our only true center has been beaten up like a UFC contender, going to the line 22 times through limited minutes in 5 games. He’s been in foul trouble from time to time and he still seems a little unsure on the floor offensively, and he’s better in transition than in the halfcourt offense. At the same time, he’s Team USA’s best option in the paint, and he might just guard the rim better than anyone else in the world.
Jason Kidd — Kidd’s taken more criticism than almost any other starter on Team USA, for his inability to defend on the perimeter and an unwillingness to shoot the rock (he finished the group play with a remarkable 2 total field goal attempts — and he made them both). But as it turns out, none of that has mattered. Kidd’s most valuable contribution has been as a conductor, pushing tempo time and again. He’s only averaging
Kobe Bryant — For a guy who talked so much leading up to these games about how much he was looking forward to participating in the Olympics, he must be as disappointed and confused as anyone about his lack of production in these Games. While he’s averaged 12.6 ppg, he’s also shot just 43 percent from the floor, second-worst on the team, and he’s often looked awkward doing it, forcing shots outside the flow of the offense. The only time I can recall him looking like himself offensively was during this game against Germany, when he hit three consecutive threes in the third quarter…with the US leading by 30. To his credit, he’s worked hard defensively and continued to hustle, even when his shots weren’t falling (which has been often). Still, for the MVP, coming off the best NBA season of his career, these Olympics have been a mild disappointment.
Dwyane Wade — During the 2006 NBA Finals between Miami and Dallas, there were times when Dwyane Wade appeared to be playing a different game than everyone else, like someone had slipped both Red Bull and caffeine pills in his Gatorade. Somewhat predictably, Wade’s helter skelter style took its toll, and he’s spent the last two seasons beat up, battling to stay healthy as much as to win games. Well, the old Wade is back. If you had any questions, check the play he made this morning on the break, when he went up with two hands and just pounded all over Germany’s Steffan Hamman. He’s been a threat with the ball, without the ball, even while defending the ball (he lead Team USA in steals through the first four games). The way he’s playing right now I think the only person who might be able to stop him is Michael Phelps.
Deron Williams — Though his stats haven’t been eye-popping (8 ppg, 2 apg, 2 rpg), I’ve been impressed by his versatility. Asked to play both guard positions and even some small forward, Williams has been rock-solid, particularly in helping move the ball against zone defenses and driving and dishing against man-to-man defenses.
Chris Bosh — Team USA’s most pleasant surprise. While I suspected that Bosh was too small to effectively man the center position for Team USA, he’s been anything but. With his length and activity, Bosh has made a great counter-punch to Dwight, and he’s led Team USA in rebounds per game, all while staying out of foul trouble.
Chris Paul — Coming off the best season of his life, we’ve discovered that CP13 isn’t quite as dynamic as CP3. Without the need to have the ball in his hands as much as the Hornets allow him to have it, Chris has looked tentative at times, especially with his outside shooting (3 of 9 on threes). But he’s been great dishing the ball (second on the team in assists) and defensively (second on the team in steals). Still, I expected just a bit more.
Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd — For all the talk about Team USA needing a zone buster and depth on the interior, turns out we didn’t need it. At least not yet. But from all outward appearances, these three guys have accepted their secondary roles with grace.
With the medal round starting on Wednesday with a game against Australia, Team USA now needs three wins to take the gold back home.
And thus far, I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe they’re not going to do just that.