Game planning for Team USA

Is there any way for any international team to actually beat Team USA?

The Americans were 5-0 in prelim games, while playing some of the best teams in this tournament. They firmly trounced France, which has six NBA players – second most to USA – in their Olympic opener. The Americans did not shoot well from 3-point range (8-of-25), allowing France to keep it close for a while. But it turned into a rout as soon as Team USA was able to open up the game a little bit. This has been true of every game the Americans have played together.

Even though they lost some special players from four years ago and have only one true center, they still comprise most of the best of the NBA. That translates to 12 of the best players of the world’s best league.

They also have one of the best coaches in all of basketball, NBA or college, in Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. This current Dream Team believes it is better than any other USA team, even the original 1992 team. Team USA also believes that the competition is much better as well. With that type of confidence and the acknowledgment of a much improved international field, the Americans will not be taking any games for granted.

So much of the conversation around men’s Olympic basketball is who will come in second. I happen to agree with this but you still go out and prove it.

So what would a game plan look like against this powerhouse?

The first thing an opponent is going to have to acknowledge is that the US team is better than anyone in the field. I had a great old basketball coach, former Cal and the Lakers GM Pete Newell, who always said, ‘If you can’t beat them playing basketball, do something else.’ This is exactly what any US opponent is going to have to do. If you let the Americans play straight-up basketball, the US will beat its opponents handily. So the first place to start with any game plan is to try and change the game to fit your strengths and take advantage of any weakness – or perceived weakness – the other team might have.

So let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of the USA team.

The strengths: tremendous speed, quickness, versatility, athletic ability and overall basketball skill.

This is perhaps the quickest, most athletic team in the history of basketball. The Americans have great versatility as all five players on the court can more often than not guard or play all five positions. Their talent is unprecedented – the only team that compares is the 1992 original Dream Team and that team was built very differently.

The US team’s strengths have been well documented but for game-plan purposes we need to try to exploit any weakness.

The weaknesses: size and 3-point shooting ability.

The team has gotten into trouble when the game slows down and the Americans start to take too many 3-point attempts. So if you are an opposing team, you basically try to turn the game very ugly. By that I mean walking the ball up the court and utilizing the full shot clock every possession. By doing this, you hope to keep the score in the 60s or 70s. This is a version of the old stall game. When a team is a heavy underdog and heavily outmanned, it will generally slow the pace and try and keep it close, while hoping that the dominant team goes cold at the wrong time and the underdog gets very lucky and hot at the end.

This is what you try to do on the offensive end of the court, but you have similar issues defensively. The only way to play with the US – and historically this has always been true – is to pack the paint on the defensive end and give up all the long jump shots that the US will take. This strategy must be coordinated on both ends of the court to have any chance of being effective. The biggest problem is of course getting behind as this strategy will not let you catch up if you are down.

So look for Team USA’s opponents to all play them the same way and this will be true whether the team has great size or not. Spain, which is the Americans’ closest competitor and has great size, will utilize this same game plan. The only difference for a team like Spain is they have some offensive weapons on the post, mainly the Gasol brothers, which they will try to exploit. Team USA’s victories will not be pretty but are going to have to be hard fought and disciplined. Look for Team USA’s opponents to do anything but get into a basketball game.

Will it work? I doubt it but as they say, that is why you play the games.