JaVale McGee came off the bench on a weak Washington Wizards team last season. Yet me may well make Team USA and suit up for the squad at the World Championships in Turkey.
Which illustrates just how short the American squad is on big men (Remember Brook Lopez Amar’e Stoudemire and David Lee had to pull out). Tyson Chandler has looked good, but after that…
That is why the squad is being force-fed a zone defense, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.
Playing zone, coaches say, will position more bodies near the backboards. To that end, the U.S. has tapped assistant coach Jim Boeheim, who has employed the zone at Syracuse for more than three decades, to teach the principles of the defense to the U.S. team.
Most players are familiar with the zone, but few have played it since high school while some have never played it at all. And the early results showed: When the U.S. switched defenses during scrimmages, blown coverages often led to wide-open threes. And on one possession, an out-of-position U.S. team gave up three straight offensive rebounds.
For the most part, Team USA is going to rely on its amazing athleticism and a pressure defense. The goal is to create turnovers that will get the USA out and running in transition, where they will be nearly unstoppable.
But in the group stage they will play Brazil, which has Leandro Barbosa in the backcourt — an NBA point guard who can handle that pressure and break it down. Then along the back line they can throw out there Nene, Anderson Varejao and soon-to-be Spur Tiago Splitter.
That is when the USA will need the zone — when the pressure is less likely to work and they will need more bodies on the glass. The zone will put a lot of pressure on Team USA guards to cover more space and pressure on the big men to work together to box out. Boeheim says the players are picking it up quickly, but doing that in practice and doing it against a seasoned international team is another.
However, if the USA wants a gold they are going to have to zone out for a while.