Seven Lessons Learned From Team USA's Exhibition Win Over Spain

August 23, 2010

Led by Kevin Durant's 25 points, 10 rebounds, and two clutch blocked shots, Team U.S.A. survived a late rally to narrowly defeat Spain, 86-85, in an international basketball exhibition game held Saturday in Madrid, Spain.

Pitting the two teams expected to battle for the FIBA World Championship gold medal, the exhibition proved to be both exciting and revealing.

The United States stormed out to a quick 16-3 lead on their way to a 45-33 halftime advantage, only to have Spain take a late 85-84 lead behind a driving, "and one" three-point play from guard Juan Carlos Navarro.

The Americans would respond with an outstanding play from point guard Derrick Rose, who aggressively drove the lane, created contact, and drew a foul. Rose would sink both free throws to give the U.S. an 86-85 lead, setting up Durant's final defensive heroics.

After a Spanish timeout, the U.S. elected to play a zone defense, perhaps confusing Spain's plan of attack. They would eventually end up with a contested corner three from Ricky Rubio, which the 6'10" Durant was able to deflect with his long arms.

Rubio then kicked the ball out to Rudy Fernandez for another trey. Once more, Durant rose to the occasion, swatting Fernandez's shot as time expired.

The U.S. team is now undefeated in their three exhibition games and will face Greece on Wednesday in their final tune-up before the 2010 World Championships.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Thus far, the Americans' recent victories over Spain and Lithuania have opened some eyes about their potential, but also have raised concerns over their flaws.

Here are the 7 lessons learned from Team USA's exhibition tour:

#1 Rondo Must Be The Final Cut

It is strange to think that this Boston Celtics star is not good enough to make Team USA's backcourt, but Rondo needs to go.

Derrick Rose is a lock, especially after his 13 points and clutch play against Spain. Chauncey Billups also should be on the team due to his history of big shots in crunch time and his ability to hit treys. Both Billups and Rose also are tall enough to defend 2's, making them versatile assets on defense.

Russell Westbrook, initially thought to be the likely cut, has sparked Team USA off the bench against Spain and Lithuania.

Westbrook's athleticism and energetic drives to the hole have been invaluable for a team with little offensive presence inside. Moreover, he is a better outside shooter than Rondo, and an outstanding on-ball defender who can guard either position in the backcourt because of his size.

Stephen Curry is the best shooter on the team and a solid decision-maker - both vital skills that will be needed in the tournament. Despite playing on an ankle he estimated to be 80%, Curry proved to be an effective defensive player against Spain's guards, at one point picking Ricky Rubio's pocket for an easy steal. Unless his health gets worse, he should be on the team.

Eric Gordon has played limited minutes, but has shown he can score both driving to the paint and shooting from deep. Because of the makeup of this roster, the U.S. will need his offensive versatility as a scoring role player off the bench.

As for the frontcourt, Team USA lacks depth and needs all the bodies they can get. That means their three bigs - Tyson Chandler, Lamar Odom, and Kevin Love - will stay. Furthermore, small forward Danny Granger will likely remain on the team as insurance in the event of an injury to one of those three.

Which leaves us with Rondo.

Rondo is a defensive pest who can break down defenses with his quickness, but is a poor outside shooter, and at times, somewhat turnover-prone. Although his rebounding-prowess would be valuable for this smallish U.S. team, what happens on those occasions when the Americans face a zone defense?

Most likely, Rondo would play limited minutes as a backup behind Billups and Rose, meaning that he would not have the luxury of finding time to get into a rhythm and feel good about his stroke. In a 40-minute game with limited possessions, the U.S. cannot afford to have Rondo jacking up bricks while teams play 5-on-4 and dare him to shoot.

As such, they need a confident player, such as Curry, who can off the bench and rely on his proven skill to immediately drain jump shots. Rondo should be cut.

#2 The Rebounding Fears Have Been Overstated

Because the U.S. is entering the World Championships with a small, perimeter-oriented roster, much was raised about their ability to pound the glass. Coach K's solution has been to have all five players concentrate on the defensive backboard, and thus far, it has worked.

Against a tall Spanish front line featuring the bruising Marc Gasol, the U.S. held a 44-39 rebound advantage.

Since the U.S. is the most athletic team in the tournament, they can often corral rebounds due to their superior quickness and leaping ability. Such athleticism is especially important in the international game, where the abundance of three-point shots trigger numerous long rebounds which can then be run down and retrieved.

Still, Team USA's ability to rebound does not alleviate all their interior concerns because . . .

#3 The Roster Needs Another Quality Big

The exhibition victory over Spain highlighted some of the problems on the interior that the U.S. could face in the World Championships.

On Saturday, Kevin Love was unavailable to play due to injury, leaving only Tyson Chandler and Lamar Odom down low. Chandler proceeded to get into foul trouble, forcing Odom to play the bulk of the minutes at 5, while the undersized Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay manned the 4.

And while that quick lineup gave Spain's transition defense fits and created some offensive mismatches, it also hurt the American's half court defense.

USA Basketball is blessed with the largest talent pool of any nation, so why could it not find a fourth big to put on the roster?

Yes, Amare Stoudemire was uninsurable. Yes, David Lee was injured. Yes, Brook Lopez was struggling with his health and conditioning. But certainly somebody else could have been used.

At a minimum, late cut JaVale McGee, although raw and skinny, could have provided some interior depth with his shotblocking and length.

The root of the problem ultimately is the Colangelo-Coach K philosophy that has been implemented over the last few years.

When the 2006 team got killed defensively by Greece's pick-and-rolls, the USA Basketball braintrust decided to place an emphasis on quickness and defensive versatility. They brought a smaller, quicker team to Beijing, and fortunately for them, did not run into frontcourt health problems. Now they have pressed their luck by doing it once more.

Which brings us to our next two issues . . .

#4 The Interior Defense is Suspect

The lack of size on Team USA already has revealed a few defensive concerns.

First, when Tyson Chandler is out of the game, there is no consistent shotblocking threat at the rim to provide weakside help on dribble penetration.

Odom, Love, Durant, and Gay will get their rejections along the way, but none of those players has the size to intimidate ala Chandler.

That proved to be a problem Saturday when the Spanish guards occasionally were able to break down the initial perimeter D. Too often the interior help was late or absent, resulting in good paint looks for Spain.

Second, without two true bigs on the floor, the U.S. could be vulnerable in certain screen-roll action.

Against teams like Spain and Greece whose big men can roll to the basket and finish, the U.S. could find their sole big man out of position and unable to defend the rim.

In other words, should Chandler or Odom hedge on the screen-roll, then somebody will need to rotate over to cover the rolling big man. Most likely that player will be the undersized Durant, Granger, or Gay, since Coach K seems reluctant to use two of his bigs simultaneously. As such, there will be mismatches on the interior and easy inside opportunities for Team USA's opponents.

Alternatively, should the U.S. decide to switch on the pick-and-roll, then there will be mismatches created, particularly if there is no other big man to help out the switching guard on defense.

Obviously, Coach K likes having a quicker man at the 4 to rotate out to the three-point line if necessary, or to defend pick-and-pop plays outside. Still, not all international bigs camp out on the perimeter, and for those personnel packages, more size will be needed.

Third, another big help defender would be more valuable for post double teams. In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter against Spain, Lamar Odom forced Marc Gasol to take a jump hook over his left shoulder and toward a second help defender. Unfortunately, the help was late and the defender was a guard, so Gasol made the shot.

A second big man would have forced a kick-out pass and put Spain deeper into the shot clock.

#5 The Half-Court Offense Lacks a Consistent Low Post Option

Thus far, the U.S. has successfully scored points in the paint, but mainly via fast break buckets, guard penetration, and offensive rebounding. What has been missing has been an offensive threat in the low post.

Tyson Chandler offers little promise with his limited low post skills. Lamar Odom and Kevin Love can score on the block from time to time, but probably should not have the offense consistently run through them.

Durant and Billups can have set plays run for them on the block when a mismatch arises, but Coach K has not elected to do so very often.

Therefore, the U.S. is very dependent on pick-and-roll plays and simple drive-and-kick offense, forcing its youthful backcourt (Billups excepted) to make quality passing decisions or athletic plays at the rim, possession after possession.

The Americans can overcome such matters because their guards are very talented, and because they get a lot of easy baskets in transition. Nevertheless, it would be nice to have a reliable threat down low to stabilize things and command a double-team when things start to get hectic on the floor.

#6 Somebody Other Than Durant and Rose Must Rise to the Occasion

FIBA competitions always seem to bring their own set of unique problems to USA Basketball. Historically, Murphy's law usually takes effect, with anything that can go wrong, inevitably going wrong.

From the poor officiating, to the last-minute rush of forming a new team with defined roles, players are suddenly forced step up and play their game outside of their normal comfort zones.

Not only have FIBA tournaments exposed the overhyped games of certain players, such as Richard Jefferson, but they have also shown which players are simply out there to have a vacation.

Then there are the problems that come with players being out of midseason form - mishandled balls, bad turnovers, and in the case of Westbrook and Gay, missed breakaway dunks.

We have seen Doug Collins, Charles Barkley, 'Melo, Kobe, Antonio McDyess, and Dwayne Wade deliver in big FIBA games when most needed. And we have seen LeBron, Carlos Boozer, and others disappear at USA Basketball's most important moments.

High-volume shooters accustomed to dominating the ball typically struggle under the national team's star-laden rosters, as they find it difficult to adjust to their less prominent roles.

On this squad, it appears that Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are stars #1 and #1A, but they cannot do it alone game after game. It will be interesting to see which other players can successfully carve out their own niche and contribute positively to the team.

#7 Ricky Rubio Answered Some of the Skeptics

For American fans with limited access to Rubio's games, Saturday's exhibition answered some questions.

First, his defense is better than expected. Rubio is not blazingly fast, but his height, long arms, and anticipation, make him a disruptive on-ball defender. Against Team USA, Rubio impressively stripped Derrick Rose cleanly on two occasions, and later deflected a Stephen Curry pass.

Second, he is a patient, quality decision-maker on pick-and-rolls who really sees the floor well. As such, he makes his teammates better, and would be a boost to any NBA offense.

Third, although Rubio can create offense for others, his one-on-one ability to score will need to improve, both in breaking down his man with the shot clock running down, and in his ability to knock down shots from distance.

Nevertheless, Rubio's passing and vision have fans in Minnesota anxiously anticipating his debut.

Other News: Injuries Affect Brazil, Spain

Two teams with medal-earning potential have taken hits to their roster before the tournament has started, as both Brazil and Spain have lost a rotation player.

Brazil's strength was its frontcourt depth, but now that has been reduced due to a knee injury to powerful big man Nene.

Meanwhile, Spain will lose some depth from its talented backcourt, as Jose Calderon sustained a leg muscle injury against Team USA on Saturday that will prematurely end his participation in the World Championships.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for


  1. I agree with with this writer about the lack of big men. Coach K is crazy if he plans on starting inconsistent a$$ Odom. I am a Laker fan, and I luv LO, but dude is flaky. Surely they can do better at center than him

  2. When everything is said & done, Steph Curry will emerge as THE MAN on this team. Durant may have the higher numbers, but Curry is going to be tough to keep on the bench for long!

  3. This team is too young. These young kids will screw up, as the U.S. always does in the semi-final because they don't know what to do against zones.

  4. I would keep Rondo over Gordon. Gordon is the better shooter, but Rondo does so many other things better.

  5. Why is Presti letting so many Thunder players play in this tournament? It will screw up the playoff run in 2011 and make them injury prone.


We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...