Marks of a champion
Grading Team USA's performance at FIBA tournament
Posted: Monday September 3, 2007 4:22PM; Updated: Monday September 3, 2007 5:04PM
LAS VEGAS -- As they polish their gold medals and prepare to leave the desert heat behind, the members of the USA basketball team have to be pleased with their performance in the FIBA Americas tournament, where they flattened the competition by an average of 39.5 points per game. While many individual performances were nothing short of spectacular, there were a few that left just a little to be desired. Let's see who made the grade.
Jason Kidd: The Americans' shooting woes have gotten the most press in recent years, but the lack of a quality floor leader has been equally troublesome. Kidd is the ultimate floor general; he looks for the open man first, last and always, and rarely does he make mental errors. The 34-year-old Kidd showcased his defensive skills as well in the tournament, picking up full court and scrapping on the floor for loose balls. His attitude (Kidd slaps hands with virtually everyone on the floor during stoppages) was also infectious, as the U.S. team molded itself in the image of its captain.
Kobe Bryant: You couldn't have asked much more of Bryant, who was both prolific (15.3 points) and economical (just 93 field goal attempts in 10 games) in his scoring. More important, Bryant emerged as the team's defensive stopper, frequently guarding the opposition's best perimeter players. Bryant shut down Brazil's Leandro Barbosa while frustrating Puerto Rico's Elias Ayuso with his in-your-face defense.
LeBron James: What can you say about a player who shot an absurd 76 percent while also keeping an eye on his teammates (USA-high 47 assists)? He was clearly comfortable with the three-point line (23-for-37) and even managed to play a little defense here and there. All in all, a terrific performance.
Carmelo Anthony: See above. The United States may have found its next international star in Anthony.
Dwight Howard: Solid overall performance by the starting center, who frequently found himself alone on an island under the rim for a U.S. team packed with small forwards. Howard did an admirable job controlling the paint, but he is going to need some help at next summer's Beijing Games.
Michael Redd: The long search for a steady perimeter threat is over thanks to Redd, the purest shooter to don a USA uniform since Ray Allen. Redd admits even he is noticing his impact on the floor. In a preliminary round game against Venezuela, James drove to the basket against single coverage thanks to the help defender being afraid to leave Redd open. Redd could pick up his defense a little, but any deficiencies are probably more noticeable due to the fact that he is usually replacing the ball-hawking Bryant in games.
Chauncey Billups: The veteran proved a more than capable replacement for Kidd, adequately distributing the ball while not missing a beat on the defensive end. On the downside, he shot a team-worst 37.8 percent from the field and tended to launch threes early in the shot clock. But this was a good performance in his first go-round in international competition.
Amaré Stoudemire: Ever see a big man who wishes he were a guard? That's Stoudemire, who spent most of his pregame warm-ups bombing from three-point land or catching and shooting off imaginary screens. Stoudemire wasn't quite as overpowering underneath as he could have been, a sign that perhaps he is more suited for the power forward position than serving as Howard's understudy. Nevertheless, Stoudemire shot 67.3 percent, and he was still a presence inside thanks to his freakish athleticism.
Tayshaun Prince: Typical Prince, quietly effective and occasionally spectacular. Prince was a key contributor to the U.S. defensive effort and had possibly the dunk of the tournament when he threw down in the face of an Argentine defender. However, Prince, who saw most of his time at power forward, may be expendable if a player with more size comes along next summer.
Deron Williams: He very well may be the future of U.S. point guards. He commands the floor well and can shoot (61.3 percent in the tournament). But with Billups and Kidd entrenched at the point (and with Dwyane Wade capable of taking over in the event of an injury), Williams could be on the bubble next year as well. But lock him in right now for London in 2012.
Mike Miller: He was brought on board to shoot threes, and when he couldn't do that effectively (38 percent), he lost his usefulness. Expect Wade to snatch Miller's spot next year.
Tyson Chandler: It would have been interesting to see what Chandler could have done with more minutes. The defensive ace recorded 14 blocks and averaged a team-low 8.6 minutes per game. Sure, he's not the most explosive offensive player (the understatement of the year), but on this team he doesn't need to be. Unfortunately for Chandler, Chris Bosh (who missed the tournament with a foot injury) does many of the same things he can and brings a lot more offense.
Mike Krzyzewski: Though occasionally overcoaching, Krzyzewski performed well in his second year working with professionals, and has earned the complete respect of his players. He set his rotations early and did a good job communicating to each player what his role was, which ended any potential distractions before they could begin. Coach K still likes to tinker with a zone defense, which failed just about every time the Americans went to it, but with a year to plan, he will more than likely toss it before the team heads to Beijing.