LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the planet earth right now.
Kevin Durant is, in my opinion, the best pure scorer walking the planet right now.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski is a smart man. He knows what an unstoppable force those two guys are — so he started playing them off each other.
I tweeted about this during the USA’s throttling of Spain: There is no way to really defend the two-man game Durant and LeBron have started to play. LeBron is the pick-setter and Durant comes off him, although unlike a classic pick-and-roll this is more LeBron with the ball out high and Durant coming off him and taking a handoff.
Our own Rob Mahoney wrote about the challenges this presents at the New York Times.
From the moment Durant curls around James’ screen and accepts the handoff, the defense is at an incredible disadvantage. James is a threat to flare, dive, or catch a pass and act as an intermediary, and yet opponents have no choice but to close the space that Durant now has at his disposal. Both players are threatening at every step in this sequence, giving it a sustained life that normal pick-and-roll scenarios lack.
This kind of arrangement adds potency to Team U.S.A. Each player on this roster can score in isolation, but the glory of this team’s construction isolation isn’t necessary. There’s too much potential such as the pick-and-roll above, and too many brilliant juxtapositions of talented players to succumb to inefficiency.
Mahoney’s point is that Team USA is a collection of talent but like any team improves the longer they play together. It’s one of the advantages that teams like Spain and Argentina have, where their national teams have largely played together in tournaments since they were teenagers — they have a comfort level we ask our guys to pick up on the fly. No sport works like that.
But the guys on Team USA are quick learners. The team that beat Spain in the final exhibition game was better than the one that played the Dominican Republic in Vegas a couple weeks before.
And the one in the gold medal game will be better still. And will need to be.