LeBron moves to point and U.S. gets it right -- finally
Posted: Saturday September 2, 2006 5:06PM; Updated: Saturday September 2, 2006 9:42PM
LeBron James got a shot at playing point guard and finished with seven assists in Team USA's win.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
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This was the game the U.S. came to Japan to play. Against Olympic champ (and international nemesis) Argentina, with a medal on the line. Of course, it was supposed to be gold, not bronze, but why let the details get in the way?
The Americans played their best game of the tournament, recovering from a slow start to run away to a 96-81 victory. The numbers: 51 percent from the field, seven steals, 16 assists. FIBA statisticians had the U.S. down for only 12 fast-break points, but it seemed like more (on press row, Boston Globe sage Bob Ryan counted 32, with Dwyane Wade accounting for 12 on his own).
The defense was better than against Greece (though it would be hard for it to be worse). The U.S. stayed in front of their men and, after a shaky first quarter against the pick-and-roll and backdoor cuts, cut off the passing lanes. On offense, the Americans managed to refrain from chucking up too many 3-pointers (18, as opposed to 28 vs. Greece and 40 vs. Germany) and, most importantly, they got easy baskets in transition and off of penetration. Give much of the credit for that to LeBron James, who played point guard for the majority of the game and finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
In retrospect, it seemed like an obvious, if belated, move. With Chris Paul and Kirk Hinrich struggling at times, put James at the point. He's the team's best natural passer, it allows Wade, James and Carmelo Anthony to play together (they started as a trio for the first time) and James can isolate smaller guards and take them off the dribble. The tradeoff was that James had to guard Argentina's Pepe Sanchez. Call that one a partial success. James was able to disrupt his passing with his length, but Sanchez went by James regularly.
Regardless, one had to wonder how the team would have fared against Greece with James running the offense. When I asked him afterward about the switch, he said: "That's something me and coach talked about this morning at breakfast time. Hopefully we could have thought about it earlier, but it was a great adjustment by coach. I played the point guard for the most part of the game and led our team to a victory."
The key word, or perhaps code word, in that sentence is "hopefully." This is as close as James, a savvy interviewee, will come to second-guessing Mike Krzyzewski (though he was also visibly, and volubly, frustrated when Coach K took him out during the Greece game, something James later chalked up to "competitive nature.") Still, give credit to Coach K for trying something new in the final game of the tournament, one the U.S. badly needed for morale purposes.
Could we see a James-led team in the future (conceivably, the U.S. could play a murderer's row of LeBron at the point, Kobe Bryant at the two and Wade as a small three)? "Yeah, anything it takes," James said. "Whatever it takes for our team to win basketball games at that particular moment, if that's what it takes for me to guard a point guard. I think my athleticism and my length can disrupt some of the point guards' offense. In FIBA basketball, the offense on the opposing team is run very crisp and if you can just try to knock it off a little bit, it can help us."