Casual approach, shot selection land Anthony seat on Team USA bench
Posted: Thursday August 19, 2004 4:10PM; Updated: Thursday August 19, 2004 4:12PM
The question of what's up between coach Larry Brown and nailed-to-the-bench young forward Carmelo Anthony is not, to be sure, the most important one facing the United States men's basketball team. The team's poor shooting -- after going 3-for-17 in Thursday's 89-79 win over Australia, the Yanks are now 10-for-62 from 3-point range in three games -- and the unexplored issue of horrendous perimeter defense are much more significant issues that speak to America's chances of turning around a shaky Olympic tournament. But Larry vs. Carmelo is relevant. It defines the generation gap currently going on in pro hoops, and the differences between what a marketing-oriented selection committee is looking for and what a veteran coach is looking for.
Anthony says he can't understand why he is so deeply in the doghouse that Brown even summoned rookie-to-be Emeka Okafor for garbage time before he went to 'Melo. I think I believe him.
To most players' way of thinking (and that includes the 20-year-old Anthony), as long as you're not acting out overtly -- throwing tantrums, fighting, nodding off on the bench -- what's the problem? But Anthony is learning that being a teammate and representing your country is about many other things.
Brown has complained about Anthony's general comportment, his poor practice habits and his refusal to integrate himself with the team. And, oh yes, hoisting up a jump shot almost as soon as he gets his hands on the ball when he does get a chance to play hasn't helped either. Anthony just doesn't get it because he was never told he had to get it. He's been a superstar almost since he picked up a basketball, and the superstars of this generation adhere to the rules of a different culture.
If Anthony is legitimately at a loss to understand what he's doing wrong, let me call attention to his pregame "routine" on Thursday. I watched him for 20 minutes, never took my eyes off of him. Here's what I saw: He never -- repeat, never -- went under the basket to retrieve the ball and throw it back to a teammate. Instead, Tim Duncan, the best player on the team, a two-time NBA champion and a two-time MVP, threw it back to him. The only time 'Melo parted with the ball was when two of them bounced toward him at the same time. He never -- repeat, never -- worked on any particular move, never jab-stepped, never took a pull-up jumper, never got the ball and dribbled into an imaginary seam -- a situation he would find in a game. On three or four occasions, however, he did kind of sweep the ball toward the basket in the event the United States might need a 20-foot shovel shot at some point in the game.
After the game, in which he played about two minutes, he turned and abruptly headed for the locker room but happened to notice that his team was gathering at mid-court for the obligatory Olympian two-team handshake and wave to the crowd. 'Melo half-heartedly ambled over, shook a hand or two and turned away again. Simply put, he doesn't get it. He doesn't begin to get it.
There's no doubt that the situation has become difficult and embarrassing for Anthony, particularly since his close friend, LeBron James, with whom Brown has not been entirely enchanted during the last three weeks, is back with the in-crowd. James has actually learned, in contrast to most of America's team, that screens and give-and-go's not only can be run against zone defenses but should be run against them. James was the player chosen to go into the postgame press conference with Brown and talked about "buying into the system" and treating his Team USA time "as a learning experience."
But Anthony had his chance. He played well in America's first two exhibition games, and had he done the right things, he would no doubt be getting minutes now because he is somewhat of a perimeter threat, the term being used loosely in the case of this U.S. team.
For as far down the bench Anthony is now, it still might not be too late for him to make a contribution, but the clock is ticking.
Some unsolicited lineup advice
Brown neither wants nor needs my opinion about his starting lineup, but I'm going to offer it anyway. Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade at guard; Tim Duncan at center; Lamar Odom and James at forward. That differs from Brown's regular lineup which has included Stephon Marbury and Richard Jefferson instead of Wade and James.
My principal reason for the changes is defense. Iverson and Marbury --quick but small, reachers and stealers but not stay-in-front-of-their-man fundamentalists -- are getting beat badly out front. While the fact that Iverson needs big minutes for his offense compels me to leave him in the starting five, including Wade adds a player who could check the point guard and apply both full-court and half-court pressure, two things that neither Iverson nor Marbury is able or inclined to do.
The more time it takes opponents to get into their set offenses, the fewer chances that the U.S. will screw up its switching and sliding by on the endless picks set by these fundamentally sound motion offenses.
Another option could be found in keeping Jefferson on the floor and moving Lamar Odom out to the guard position. Odom has the length and the lateral movement to make it tough for guards, just as Jefferson does. Brown has staunchly defended his use of Jefferson, who has missed all but four of his 26 shots in three games, because of his proficiency as a defender, even on the perimeter. It's a salient point, and I'm not suggesting that Marbury and Jefferson should be buried over there alongside of Anthony. But more time for Wade and James is in order.
No matter what lineup Brown sends out in Saturday's game against Lithuania, perimeter defense will be important, especially versus one of the toughest teams in the tournament. Lithuania has two outstanding guards in Sarunas Jasikevicius and Arvydas Macijauskas. And should the game become anything resembling the open-court affair the fourth quarter of the Aussie game became, might we suggest more time for Shawn Marion. Although I suggested in this week's SI that Marion should be benched, perhaps I was wrong. Marion has been one of the team's biggest surprises over the past two games, and his 16 points and eight rebounds against Australia proves he has more value than as a bench-warmer.