Playing with Team USA

Team USA made a couple of announcements in May regarding the players who will play for the USA this summer. First, there is a list of players who are not available due to injury. This list includes Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Gilbert Arenas, Lamar Odom, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Brad Miller.

To replace these players, Team USA invited Carlos Boozer, Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Mike Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Deron Williams, Greg Oden, and Kevin Durant.

As it stands now, Team USA has 25 players who will be trying to secure 12 roster spots. Hence, before the games are played at the end of August, there will be a try-out camp in July to determine who gets to play. Can Oden and Durant crack this roster?

Team USA in 2006-07

To answer this question, let’s look at what the 23 NBA players did in 2006-07. Table One reports each player’s Wins Produced and Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] for this past campaign.

Table One: Evaluating the Roster Invites for Team USA

An average player in the NBA will produce 0.100 wins per 48 minutes. A team comprised of average players would win 41 games, or have a winning percentage of 0.500 (or produce 0.500 wins per 48 minutes). If a team’s players offered a WP48 of 0.200, then the team would win 1.000 games per 48 minutes, or win 82 games. Hence a player with a WP48 of 0.200 or better can be thought of as perfect.

If we look at the 23 NBA players, we see eleven “perfect” players. Unfortunately for Oden and Durant, eight of these players – Boozer, Chandler, Dwight Howard, Shawn Marion, LeBron James, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Elton Brand – play in the frontcourt. Given this talent available, talent that has already proven that it can compete with the world’s best in the NBA, it’s not clear that Oden and Durant are needed.

What might be needed is more production from the backcourt. The only +0.200 players at guard are Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, and Kidd. Granted, Kidd was the Most Productive Player in the NBA in 2006-07. Still, these are the only “perfect” guards the team will employ. Given the abundance of talent elsewhere, this may not be a problem.

Consider a player like Jason Kapono. Kapono is a great three point shooter, but he does virtually nothing else on the court. Consequently, he did not help the Heat win many games this year. And given the injuries and age on the Heat, that was a problem in Miami.

Team USA, though, employs so many productive players, that it can afford the luxury of employing a player – like Michael Redd or Mike Miller – who are not quite as productive as the other talents Team USA will bring to Las Vegas.

Certainly given the abundance of outstanding performers, it looks like Team USA will have little trouble assembling a truly dominant team. Not only does this team have outstanding scorers, but the potential addition of both Kidd and Chandler gives the team at least two players who can contribute to a team’s success without scoring. And it is the contribution of non-scorers that I wish to focus upon.

Looking back at 2006

For the non-scorers to have an impact, these players have to take the court. And that might be the one glitch in the construction of this team.

To see why this might be a problem, let’s first consider a comment from Mike Krzyzewski (head coach of Team USA): “As I said when we announced the first group of players for the Senior National Team, we’re not trying to put a collection of all-stars together but our goal is to put together as good of a basketball team as we possibly can.”

There appears to be a disconnect between the words of Coach K and his coaching decisions. Last summer he allocated 499 of the available minutes at power forward and center to Howard, Bosh, Brand, Brad Miller, and Antawn Jamison. This left 261 minutes – or 31% of the available time at these two spots – for players like James, Carmelo Anthony, and Shane Battier. Although each of these three players played well in Japan, none are generally considered a power forward or center.

Why did Krzyzewski take this approach? Last summer I commented on this issue. Let me re-state the key point I made at that time. The players who received the most minutes for Team USA were Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, James, and Anthony. To get these players on the court together, someone had to player power forward. This strategy often left Howard and Bosh – the two most productive players from Team USA in Japan last summer – on the bench.

It appears that this strategy was driven by a desire to put the best scorers on the floor, rather than the best team. With the additions of Kidd and Chandler, it appears possible that Team USA learned a lesson from last year’s failure. But we won’t know if this lesson is truly learned until we see the actual players Coach K chooses to play later this summer. In other words, we have to see if Coach K is actually listening to Coach K.

– DJ

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