Olympic Basketball Notes:
Spain's Wacky Lineups & More
Before we get going on this post, let's clean up a little unfinished business from yesterday's post on Ricky Rubio. We made a comparison between Rubio and Brandon Jennings, who could both be top 5 picks in the 2009 Draft. After we posted, we realized that Rubio's DKV Joventut and Jennings' Lottomatica Roma teams are in the same Group C in the Euroleague, so they will match up twice in the regular season. Circle your calendar for October 29 and December 11 as dates to fire up the ESPN360.com for matchups of these top PG prospects.
USA'S ROTATION VS. SPAIN'S WACKY LINEUPS
OK, on we go. When the Olympic basketball tournament started, there were two teams - USA and Spain - who looked like clear favorites on paper. Heading into the USA-Spain matchup on Saturday at 10:15 a.m. ET, both teams are 3-0 yet they seem to be on divergent paths so far.
The Americans, as we saw in their complete dismantling of a very good Greek team on Thursday, are really starting to fully realize Jerry Colangelo's vision as they are coming together beautifully as a team. The cohesion is there after three years of the national team program, the respect for the opponents is there, the knowledge of opposition personnel is there, and they're even starting to look comfortable with FIBA rules, as they slapped a couple shots off the rim.
The Team USA performance on Thursday was nothing short of a glorious display of basketball - a reminder of why this game we love is the greatest sport in the world when it's played on such a high level as Mssrs. Wade, James, Bosh, Bryant and friends played it yesterday.
We've been tough on Coach K for the 2006 loss to Greece, but he has been outstanding so far in 2008. The U.S. was utterly well-prepared for the Greece rematch, and we think Coach K has done a very good job of creating a consistent rotation of 9 players with well-defined roles (if only he'd demote J-Kidd, we'd say he's been flawless).
Meanwhile, Spain has been inconsistent en route to its 3-0 record. They were impressive in their opener, an 81-66 win over Greece, but never should have been a position to nearly lose to China. Spain had to rally from 14 down in the 4th Q for an OT win against a team they should have beaten by 20.
Even Spain's 13-point win over Germany was deceptive - they looked sluggish and unimpressive for most of the first half, scoring just 12 points in the 1st Q, and trailing by as much as 8 in the 2nd Q, before turning things around and taking control in the second half.
I've watched all three Spain games - the team just seems unable to get into a flow, and I don't think it's a coincidence that Spain coach Aito Garcia Reneses has taken a completely different approach with his lineups. I can't even call it a "rotation" because there's been absolutely no consistency to it.
I mean that literally: Aito has started a different group of five players in each of the six halves Spain has played so far. Take a look:
Greece 1st Half
Greece 2nd Half
China 1st Half
China 2nd Half
Germany 1st Half
Germany 2nd Half
Aito is also playing all 12 players on his roster. Even though Spain hasn't blown anyone out, all 12 players are averaging more than 5 mpg, and 11 players are averaging more than 10 mpg. (Veterans Juan Carlos Navarro and Jorge Garbajosa have been odd men out so far, averaging just 17 mpg, though both made key plays down the stretch vs. China.) On top of that, the one guy who's averaging just 5 minutes - Raul Lopez - started the last two games.
Against Germany, Berni Rodriguez also started, meaning Spain started arguably the 11th and 12th men on its roster, which probably helps explain why they scored just 3 points in the first 5 minutes. I really don't think it's a coincidence that Spain got off to very slow starts against both China and Germany.
I can only imagine that this is Aito's strategy to conserve the minutes of his top players in the preliminary round, but the 12-man "rotation" with absolutely no lineup consistency seems extreme - there's no sense that roles are developing and they don't seem to be developing cohesion and flow as the tournament goes on.
It'll be interesting to see if Team Spain can turn it on in the medal round, and to see if Aito goes more with his top players and a more traditional rotation against the U.S. on Saturday, and as we get into the medal round.
Argentina coach Sergio Rodriguez has taken the opposite approach to coach Aito. With limited depth, Rodriguez has stuck mainly to a 6-man rotation. Only 12 players in the tournament are logging 30+ mpg, and Argentina has three of them, even after a much-needed blowout win vs. Croatia allowed for some rest. Coach Pop can't be happy with that 30.3 mpg that Manu is logging.
Argentina has looked better and better as the tournament has progressed - we'll see if their short rotation catches up with them in the medal round against the depth that the U.S., Spain, Lithuania can throw out there.
Obviously, we're still quite early in the proceedings, but is there any question that Dwyane Wade is the MVP so far? Look at these scoring leaders. Dude is leading the Olympics in scoring (18.3 ppg) even though he's only played 18.7 mpg! 76 FG%! 58.8% 3PT%! Plus 3 steals per and the play of the tournament so far:
Pretty much all of the so-called unsportsmanlike foul calls I've seen so far in the Olympics have been head-scratchers, such as the one called against Kobe early in the Greece game. These babies are penalized like NBA flagrant fouls - 2 shots and the ball - yet there doesn't seem any rhyme or reason to what constitutes the call. There's potential for a huge amount of controversy if one of these strange calls affects a close game in the medal round.
Overall, the officiating has been leaps and bounds better than it was in 2004, mainly thanks to FIBA going from two refs to three. Still get some oddly officiated games, though - I thought USA-Greece was pretty called inconsistently overall.
Alright - enjoy the games on Fri.-Sat.