There seems to be this idea around that it's impossible for the U.S. to
compete against international teams, that they've simply passed us by. And
we admit to having thought the same thing, but it's not really true, and here's
how you can tell.
Take any international team - Argentina, Spain, Canada, France, whoever - and
ask yourself: how would this team do in the NBA?
There isn't a single international team that could make the playoffs, and
certainly not one capable of mounting a deep drive. The U.S. has, without
question, the deepest pool of basketball talent in the world.
So what gives? Why the repeated failures?
Well, a few things. First, the different rules of the international
game. Second, the experience of the teams, which play together for a long
time. And third, the inside-out nature of the international game.
It's hard to deny that fundamentals are better abroad, where kids are trained
in programs rather than learning the game on the playground, and where it starts
pretty early, too.
When you see European big men with guard skills, it's obvious that they have
surpassed us in that area. And when you watch a team from abroad kick the
ball around and effortlessly pick apart the perimeter defense, it is impressive.
But consider: if you have Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and Dywane Wade
defending the primary ballhandlers and shooters, what happens? The outside
shooting gets gummed up, hopefully. There is no real inside game, not the
way we conceive it, anyway. If you can take away the trey - and that's a
big if - you can really cripple an international team.
And once the best players are identified and trained, they play together for
years, decades in some cases, which gives a considerable advantage and has a lot
to do with how ruthlessly efficient the ball movement is.
As for the different rules, that's more a question of time than
anything. It's weird, instinctively, to think of taking the ball off the
rim or out of the cylinder. It's weird to cut across the corner of the
court, throw an in-bounds pass, and to keep going. The trapezoid takes
away the U.S. advantages in the paint.
But these things can be overcome.
If the U.S. can solidly defend the perimeter, disrupt ball movement and
take away the three, things quickly become different.
If the Phoenix offense (that's a much cooler phrase than, say, the Triangle
offense or the West Coast offense) works, it adds to the overall effect, because
a la Paul Westhead, the pressure of the offense becomes part of the defense
because it wears people out.
We've seen Duke teams which defended so well at times that the game was over
five minutes into the first half.
If Coach K can get that sort of effort out of his Olympic bunch, and can
avoid trading twos for threes, and play as an actual team, the U.S advantages
become overwhelming: speed, defense, running and pressure.
If you can't score from the perimeter against an athletically superior team,
Princeton offense aside, you're dead.