Evaluating a dominant Team USA heading into the medal round
BEIJING -- With pool play over following Monday's 106-57 U.S. defeat of Germany, it's time to assess the performance of the talent assembled by Jerry Colangelo, entrusted to Mike Krzyzewski and now bonding rapidly into a team ready to impose itself on the surviving Olympic field.
Herewith, the Redeem Dozen of Team USA (with their Chinese basketball names in those instances where a player has one), plus annotations as we head into the medal round:
Dwyane Wade, The Flash
Why He's Here: To come off the bench to ratchet up the energy at both ends of the floor.
What He's Done: More than anyone could have expected, especially on defense, where he has 12 steals.
Verdict: With Chris Bosh, the team's MVP thus far. If missing the final 20 percent of an NBA season will leave a guy with this much exuberance in August, maybe more national team players should get with that program.
Chris Bosh, King of the Dragons
Why He's Here: To beat Greece. (Seriously: The Greek guards so flummoxed the Americans with the pick-and-roll at the 2006 world championships that Colangelo and Krzyzewski wanted Bosh's length to disrupt their bouzouki two-step.)
What He's Done: Beaten Greece. And been a lively presence on defense and on the boards in every game.
Verdict: Setting aside the defeat of Greece, everything else Bosh has provided (17-for-21 shooting and 26 rebounds, the most of anyone on the team) has been gravy.
Kobe Bryant, Little Flying Warrior
Why He's Here: Because he wasn't in Athens and USA Basketball never heard the end of it. After proving he could be content as an occasional scorer and defensive stopper during FIBA Americas qualifying last summer, his selection became a foregone conclusion.
What He's Done: Been -- imagine that! -- content as an occasional scorer and defensive stopper, assigned to the opponent's best player, no less. And served as an animated and cosmopolitan ambassador for the team, whether using his Italian or turning up at other events.
Verdict: As well as Kobe has played, he still has Olympic upside, and there are signs that he's ready to deliver it. After going 1-for-17 from beyond the arc in his first three games, Bryant has now hit seven of his last 12 in his most recent two.
LeBron James, Little Emperor
Why He's Here: You need to ask?
What He's Done: Led the team in minutes, blocks and steals, and placed second in points and assists. "His skills really get magnified when surrounded by great players like this," teammate Michael Redd said.
Verdict: For whatever reason, Kobe is the incumbent local fave. After getting a look at LBJ in the context of a well-rounded team, the Chinese may find room in their hearts for one more NBA superstar by the end of this fortnight.
Carmelo Anthony, Sweet Melon
Why He's Here: To set aside his scorer's mentality to rebound, defend and take open shots when they present themselves.
What He's Done: Promised Coach K he'd grab at least 16 rebounds in a game, and hasn't come close. But he is among the team's top three on the boards, while sinking 41 percent of his high-arching threes.
Verdict: He hasn't been leading the defense or leading the break, but he's palpably happy to be here. And a mellow Melo is an effective fellow.
Why He's Here: To provide rugged exterior defense and make sure the ball moves.
What He's Done: Provided energy and ball pressure. And when the United States makes the sensible extra pass -- not just an extra pass for an extra pass' sake, but to get a demonstrably better shot -- odds are the ball is coming from Williams' hands.
Verdict: For my money, the most effective of Coach K's three point guards thus far.
Why He's Here: To impose his smarter and, especially, stronger game on the world after a breakout NBA season. The "stronger" part is critical because of the way the U.S. was pushed around by Greece's guards at the 2006 worlds.
What He's Done: Everything that's been asked of him.
Verdict: With his speed and offensive explosiveness, he's the least "international" of the team's playmakers, and thus the most capable of changing a game. Now, if only a game would come along that's close enough to need changing.
Jason Kidd, The Engine
Why He's Here: To set a steady, unselfish example and keep intact his unbeaten record with the national team.
What He's Done: Taken exactly two shots over five games while running his USA Basketball record to 43-0 lifetime.
Verdict: Important as it is to model "pass first," Kidd may have taken the maxim a bit too far. He didn't even squeeze off his first shot of the Olympics until the third period of the Redeem Team's fourth game, when James left him little choice by finding him in transition for a layup against Spain.
Why He's Here: To provide a big, long body, and help minimize carping from nitpickers that the U.S. team doesn't have enough size in the middle.
What He's Done: Been a bystander to much of the team's most eye-catching stuff -- but given his smile, and how much there's been to smile about, Howard as bystander has been a show in its own right. He did bust out against Germany on Monday with 22 points and 10 rebounds, even if the game was garbage time from the start.
Verdict: Like Kidd, Howard starts and is usually on the bench by the second quarter, when the team has tended to be at its most explosive. So while it's easy to say that he's been quiet, it's also easy to explain why.
Tayshaun Prince, Little Prince
Why He's Here: To use his length for matchup advantages; bottom out the occasional jumper; and radiate the aura of a winner.
What He's Done: Not much, as he's been unable to crack Coach K's top nine. But there's no one more even-tempered or reverent during the national anthem, when he bows his head and closes his eyes. Like keeping a New Age crystal in the locker room.
Verdict: If Bosh had failed to play havoc with the Greek pick-and-roll, Prince would have been a very effective Plan B. And he would have been a strategic deterrent against Andrei Kirilenko -- but AK-47 and the Russians failed to make it out of pool play.
Why He's Here: To serve as a wide body of made-to-FIBA specifications, who can not only mix it up underneath but also likes to. Plus, he's the team's most experienced big man and, as a former Dookie, an interpreter of the Coach K Way.
What He's Done: Played the least minutes of anyone, and provided commentary to the media in inverse proportion to the PT he's getting.
Verdict: If a well-rested 'Los is a long-winded 'Los, the press corps has a message for Coach K: Don't mess with success!
Why He's Here: To knock down the threes that went clank in Athens.
What He's Done: Not a whole lot of long-range casting; in pool play Redd has almost as many dunks (three) as three-pointers (four).
Verdict: "They call on me," he said, "I'll be ready."