Final grades for the U.S. men's Olympic team
Posted: Saturday August 28, 2004 8:23PM; Updated: Sunday August 29, 2004 5:07PM
"We're number 3! We're number 3!"
Say this for our much-maligned band of Olympic hoopsters -- they didn't mail it in Saturday night and managed to score a 104-96 victory over Lithuania, a team experienced in bronze-medal games.
The men's team returns Sunday to a country where summer is over and everyone is heading back to school. Perhaps that's good; no one will be concentrating on the color of the medal they won. But in Olympic terms, it's time for final grades for this first team of NBA stars to lose even once in the Games (they lost three times over two weeks).
Instead of the conventional A-B-C-D-F format, we're going with the Olympic five-ring system. Five rings is tantamount to an A -- which no one is receiving -- and zero rings is equal to F.
Shawn Marion. The U.S. doesn't win the bronze without Marion's 22 points and six rebounds against Lithuania. His shot is so ugly you're amazed that it ever goes in, but he shot over 50 percent from the floor. Give me zero rings, incidentally, for writing early on that Marion should be benched. As time went on, he improved and would seem to be a valuable national team member in the future.
Carlos Boozer. He was one of the few U.S. team members who showed up to deconstruct the game, win or lose, and was a reliable performer during games, which was important since Tim Duncan was in constant foul trouble. When coach Larry Brown played them together, Boozer knew how to stay out of the way and work the boards.
Lamar Odom. Odom would've been a four-ringer except a weak performance in the semifinal against Argentina. He was far and away America's most versatile player, able to help both Duncan and Boozer with his rebounding and Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury with his perimeter defense
Allen Iverson. A guard who shoots 38 percent from the floor and doesn't defend his position all that well would seem to rank lower than three rings. But Iverson was Mr. Standup throughout the tournament, hitting big shots in the U.S. wins (including Lithuania) and presenting the anyone-should-want-to-represent-his-country line after games. We all laughed when, shortly after being named co-captain with Duncan he was benched for an exhibition game after being late to a team meeting. But A.I. turned around his public relations and pledged to be onboard with USA Basketball in the future.
Tim Duncan. It is impossible to understate the relentless incompetence of the FIBA refs who limited Duncan's minutes in every game. But at some point America's team leader should've found a way to stay on the floor; at least two of his four fouls on Saturday were silly ones. Despite limited minutes, he led the team in scoring and rebounding -- that's how good he is -- but don't count on him returning for national team play.
Stephon Marbury. He had one great game, in the quarterfinals against Spain, and a decent game in the bronze medal matchup. Make no mistake: Those were big games. But the rest of the time he was mediocre, consistently overpenetrating and getting beat outside, just like Iverson.
Richard Jefferson. After a horrific start, R.J. turned it around somewhat, and for that he deserves much credit. He never stopped hustling on defense or hitting the boards. But, ultimately, his performance was ragged, as it was against Lithuania when he played only nine minutes and missed six of his seven shots.
LeBron James. No one, least of all James, could figure out how Brown was using him, and it showed. Sometimes he was spectacular; sometimes he was lost. But he supplied much needed electricity when he was on the floor, and the Americans would do well to include him in future national team plans. Whether 'Bronnie will climb on the train is another question.
Dwyane Wade. By the end of the tournament, the Miami Heat guard was so hopelessly confused that his facial expressions said, "Take me out of this game." Wade couldn't begin to figure out how to penetrate a zone, and it was almost sad watching him pass up open 12-footers because he had lost confidence in his touch. But he was the only American consistently able to challenge the opposition guards on the perimeter. With new playmate Shaquille O'Neal to help him, I suspect the energetic Wade will take out some of his Olympic frustrations on NBA opponents early in the season.
Amare Stoudemire. He contributed an amazing windmill dunk against Lithuania and little else. Further, after the final two games, the loss to Argentina and the win over Lithuania, he stood at the bench and refused to join the midcourt handshake. What? He's flashing 'tude with the minor contributions he offered?
Carmelo Anthony. He never got out of Brown's doghouse, and, even if that isn't all his fault, from what I saw, Anthony was the lone American who never acted like an Olympian. He did nothing but jack it up when he got into games, and he spent too much time joking and acting generally disinterested on the sidelines.
Emeka Okafor. Not his fault. He never played. Brown has said repeatedly before the Olympics how pleased he was with the choice of Okafor, then turned him into lawn furniture. The way this tournament evolved, with the inconsistent shooting and the Duncan foul troubles, that No. 12 spot shouldn't have been a throwaway.