Team USA, player-by-player and role-by-role (Part Two)

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durant_team_usa.jpgNow that Team USA’s roster is finalized, it’s time to break down
exactly what each of Team USA’s 12 players will be asked to do. Some
members of Team USA are simply acting as an extension of their NBA
selves, but others have seen their responsibilities shift due to the
team’s needs, the overall makeup of the roster, and the nature of FIBA
basketball. In this second installment, we’ll look at the starting candidates for Team USA.

Derrick Rose – Rose started in Rondo’s stead during Sunday’s friendly against Spain, and figures to be Team USA’s starting point guard (at least, as much as this team really has one specific point guard) for most of the World Championships. Rose’s primary value is his scoring; though he can make plays off the dribble, it’s the threat of the drive and the mid-range jumper that could open things up for Team USA.

Rose isn’t a skilled three-point shooter, and that hurts him. When opposing defenses zone up or pack the paint, he’ll likely struggle to create shots for both himself and his teammates. Still, he’s smart enough to make the right plays and pick his spots, and he will. Rose is a weapon. He’s valuable and effective, even if he lacks Rondo’s abilities as a natural playmaker.
 
Chauncey Billups – Billups is both a veteran and scorer for Team USA, which badly needs his precision from the perimeter as well as his leadership. While the roster is certainly guard-heavy, most of those guards are resolved to win the day in a straight-line footrace. Billups is a bit more deliberate in his approach. A bit more methodical. He may ultimately succumb to the same vices (Chauncey is no stranger to the heat check), but the contrast between Billups and the other guards on the roster benefits Team USA all the same.

The Americans’ turnovers have been absolutely brutal thus far, but Billups — a slip-up against Lithuania aside — provides a calming influence on Team USA’s offense. He’s a prolific threat from deep (7-of-13 in the last three exhibition games, good for 53.8%), a strong defender, and unlikely to commit those facepalm-inducing turnovers that have become a Rose/Westbrook staple.

Andre Iguodala – Andre Iguodala will not be scoring much. He’s averaged just 3.7 points per game over USA’s last three exhibitions. No one should expect that to improve significantly.

However, Iguodala does have utility that goes beyond his defense. Iggy is easily Team USA’s top perimeter defender, but offensively, he moves the ball, is a decent spot-up option (just don’t ask him to shoot off the dribble…yeesh), and is a good positional rebounder. Iguodala’s just a dabbler. A little ball-handling, a little slashing, a lot of fast breaking, and a ton of fantastic defense.

Kevin Durant – Kevin Durant owns this team. He’s not renting it out while LeBron goes on vacation. He’s taken it and made it his own, for better or worse. Though Durant didn’t hand-pick his Team USA contemporaries, the roster was constructed with the hope that it would resemble KD. His versatility. His athleticism. His character. Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski clearly hoped that Durant’s nature would act as a thematic element for Team USA, and to an extent it has.

The only trouble is that no one on this year’s team has the talent to actually keep up with Durant, even if their commitment and intangibles follow through on the motif.

Durant hasn’t been the most consistent in his pre-Championship exhibitions, but he was in full effect against Spain, the United States’ most formidable foe. KD finished with 25 and 10 in that contest on 56.3% shooting, dropped a couple of threes, and picked up the game-saving block for good measure.

Durant is the only Team USA player that’s elite by NBA standards, and on this team his brilliance is crucial as both a driving force (KD will need to be fantastic against USA’s top opponents) and a beacon to his teammates. 
 
Tyson Chandler – Chandler is the only true center on the roster, which should be good enough to score him some regular playing time. However, as Krzyzewski proved in fiddling with Sunday’s starting lineup, Chandler’s positional standing in no way guarantees him a starting job. Coach K benched Rajon Rondo in favor of Derrick Rose, which was clearly a significant roster move. In the same game, he also brought Tyson Chandler off the bench to start Lamar Odom, who could very well tip-off at center for Team USA from this point on.

Regardless, Chandler will fulfill the same basic duties for the national team regardless of his starting status. He’s a quality rim protector, even if he doesn’t pick up a ton of blocks. His length and athleticism make him a quality all-around defender, even if he’s had some lapses in the exhibition games thus far. Overall, he’s the Americans best on-ball post defender, a good option to defend pick-and-roll bigs, and a solid defensive anchor, even if he’s something of an offensive liability.

Lamar Odom – The impact of Odom being a perimeter-oriented big is a bit overstated. Odom has never been anything more than a decent shooter from outside (he’s gone 0-fer in his first four attempts from deep for Team USA), and he really isn’t floating too much on the outside at present. And though Odom may initiate the offense frequently for the Lakers, that’s not his role on this team. Not with so many dynamic guards on the roster.

Instead, Odom is…oddly conventional in his capacity with Team USA. He screens-and-rolls, he plays nice help-side defense, and he rebounds well. It may not be the most creative way to utilize Odom’s unique skill set, but so far he’s been quite effective while masquerading as a traditional big. 

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.