The Olympic roster was announced Monday, and while it has gotten some criticism for a lack of post play (only Dwight Howard is a true center) and outside shooting, here's an immediate difference:Â the U.S. will take the same starting lineup into international competition that it took last summer.
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So while it is a talented group, it's not like it's a group of strangers.
And there are other factors to consider beyond talent.Â First:Â Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade all felt humiliated not just by losing in 2004, but by how they were treated by then coach Larry Brown.
"We feel like we was thrown out there to the wolves," Anthony said after the announcement. He went on to say that the three of them want "to go back out there and redeem ourselves from what happened in '04. I think right now we have a great opportunity to do that and put the United States basketball where it's supposed to be worldwide."
All three guys have really grown since those games, though Wade has struggled with injuries, but Coach K and Jerry Colangelo obviously feel like he's fine now.
They're not the only ones seeking redemption.Â Aside from his stated desire to play in the Olympics, Kobe Bryant, frankly, stunk in the NBA Finals.Â The two don't have that much to do with each other, but if you don't think he wanted to have a big impact, not to mention winning both events, you'd be greatly mistaken.Â Aside from rebuilding his reputation after his notorious arrest in Colorado, a great performance in the Finals, followed by a dominant performance in Beijing, would put his marketability in the stratosphere.Â It's not like he's unknown in China, where the NBA is immensely popular, but if he makes a solid showing in Beijing, well, he's golden in more ways than one.
As Michael Wilbon says - even though you can almost feel him wanting to jump on the bandwagon with Kornheiser - there are no guarantees for the U.S. team these days.Â There are differences though, aside from personal motivation.
As we've heard quite often, the focus of the new approach is to build a program.Â A major part of that is familiarity, which we've touched on, and chemistry, which we haven't.
One of the strengths that Coach K brings, which is probably underestimated, is that he knows how to bring a group of people together.Â And these guys, if you remember the articles we've linked in the past, fundamentally like each other, and they're excited about what they're a part of.Â That's huge, particularly when they encounter adversity.Â This is also a big part of the reason why Jason Kidd is on the team, by the way.Â He's a superb leader.
And while the criticisma about size and outside shooting may or mayh not be valid (we'll come back to that in a minute), what seems to us to be overlooked is the defense.
This team has the capacity to be very powerful offensively. Defensively, it could be a juggernaut.
Start with Bryant.Â Last summer, he volunteered to take the best guard every night out, and he pretty much took them out, one by one.
When the NBA's MVP is willing to be a defensive stopper, the rest of the team has to live up to that.
He's a partial answer to what Coach K learned his first time out with the national team - you need bigger guards in international hoops. So they come back with Bryant, Kidd, Williams, James and Wade, all of whom, with the exception of Kidd, can defendÂ multiple positions.
Inside, while the NBA post players are used to banging down low, the international game doesn't really feature that. So guys like Boozer, Bosh, James and Prince will get to guard big guys on the perimeter.
Bryant and Wade may be asked to defend bigger players as well.
In case you hadn't caught on, versatility is a major asset here, and one of the wild cards is going to be Prince. He's 6-9 and skinny, but he has really long arms and doesn't mind guarding bigger guys.Â He's a huge asset to this team.Â You can put him on anyone except center and he can probably hang with them - and probably some of the smaller centers, too.
Offensively, Kidd will be asked to run the show, but having a speedster like Chris Paul won't hurt, and it won't surprise us to see Coach K toss out a quick lineup from time to time, with Chris at the point, although he'll probably get less minutes than the other guards, simply because he's smaller and at a disadvantage in some situations.
The criticism about outside shooting is something of a concern, which is where Michael Redd comes in.Â A three point specialist, he'll be expected to shoot (and hit) from behind the line more or less on demand.Â For some reason, people seem to forget that Prince can shoot the trey too. We seem to remember him going off at UNC, tossing in shots from the edge of the midcourt map, right around Asheville or so. Bryant, too, can shoot the shot.
We are more familiar with some of Krzyzewski's ideas than some writers who don't follow Duke as closely, so we feel reasonably comfortable in saying this:Â you might question the three point shooting, but the U.S. is entirely capable of neutralizing the shot by other teams, and most international teams won't win without it.
Where they didn't do well against Greece was in cutting off the pick and roll; presumably, that's been a point of emphasis since.
And having watched Krzyzewski for for years, we can make an educated guess about what to expect.
First, a basic rotation will be established fairly quickly.Â The starters will be Howard, James, Anthony, Bryant, and Kidd. Redd and Prince will play a lot because they have some pretty specific assets.Â Wade will be hard to keep off the court, too.Â Either Bosh or Boozer will be a top reserve, simply because of their size.Â Williams, too, has a pretty useful role as another big guard who's hard to push around.
If past performance is indicative, though, a fairly tight rotation will be established, and that's probably a major plus, because that means roles will be established, understood, and accepted.
That's been one of the biggest challenges for the U.S. for years.Â Solving it doesn't mean the team will get the gold, but it does make it more likely.