USA Basketball rolled into the nation’s capital this past weekend, taking part in a variety of World Basketball Festival events throughout the city. It all culminates with the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams facing off tonight at the Verizon Center against their counterparts from Brazil in a friendly exhibition. The men’s team held a “Hoops for Troops” practice on Saturday afternoon at D.C. Armory in front of 3,000 fans, many of them members of the armed forces. The team ran through 5-on-0 full court offensive sets, defensive drills, and had an intra-squad scrimmage. The special gathering had a “midnight madness” feel with a sprinkle of Wizards home game flavor. And, lest we forget, these are the best basketball players in the world going hard at each other; it was truly special to witness. (Additional coverage of this experience will be available in forthcoming posts.)
On Sunday, the men’s team held a practice at the Smith Center (George Washington University’s basketball arena), and it was briefly open to the media. The preparations are part of the USA Basketball tour that started in Las Vegas with this stop in D.C., along with appearances in Manchester, England and Barcelona, Spain, before ultimately arriving in London to defend their 2008 Olympic gold.
Yi Jianlian and Team China didn’t fare too well last night … they got routed 86-62 by Andy Rautins and Team Canada in an exhibition match held in Vancouver. (Worth typing again) … China got routed 86-62 by Canada and ANDY RAUTINS! (who led his team with 19 points). The Canadians were up 41-16 at halftime by the way, so China actually won the second half 46-45.
“It’s like we fell asleep in the first half,” Yi Jianlian told the press … not exactly what you want to hear from your number one player. You can read more about the game here, here and here, but basically Canada dominated most aspects of the game — they out-rebounded China 44-25, out-shot them 56.4% to 29.1%, and out-scored the Chinese in the paint 42-10. Wow… miss Yao Ming much?
Yi scored 15 points and only grabbed five rebounds in 28 minutes to go along with two assists, one turnover, one block and two steals. Even worse, he shot 3-12 from the field (1-3 from three, 8-12 from the free-throw line). Reports say Yi was doubled … a lot. And I imagine he will see most international defenses focus on him since he’s China’s best player. In such a scenario, it’d probably help if Yi found his teammates more (or, perhaps, played inside more). Again, Yi only had two assists, and has never been known as the best passer anyway — his NBA career 1.2 assists per 36 minutes is worse than Nick Young’s career rate of 1.7/36 … that speaks volumes. Worth noting that China only had nine total assists as a team.
He brought a unique skill set to a team hurting for size, he was an insurance policy in case Tyson Chandler (who missed 68 games the past two seasons due to injuries) gets hurt or gets into foul trouble, and he was the perfect 12th man candidate in that he might be needed for only 5-6 important minutes during the entire World Championship, but those could be the very 5-6 minutes that make or break this team’s fortunes.
Still, the method of cutting McGee makes sense. When I broke down McGee’s performance in the Team USA scrimmage last Saturday, I speculated he wouldn’t make this round cuts so that Coach Mike Krzyzewski and team director Jerry Colangelo could evaluate more talented players, on the perimeter where the abundance lies this go-around, before deciding which 12 players would compose the final roster.
Without the big guns this summer, Coach K needs the best players, and not necessarily those with the current basketball discipline level of McGee. Yes, JaVale brings unique skills to a potentially high-need area. But there are more unifying factors amongst the talented that might benefit Team USA in the long run.
[Team USA Men's Basketball played an intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday night. Below is a recap/assessment of the instances where JaVale McGee had an impact on the game.]
JaVale McGee’s presence at USA Basketball camp hasn’t come without skeptics, mainly Rob Mahoney of ProBasketballTalk and the ESPN TrueHoop Network Dallas Mavericks blog, The Two Man Game.
Mahoney also contributes to Hardwood Paroxysm, a general NBA blog on the TrueHoop Network. On Friday, Mahoney wrote on HP:
Honestly, I’m not sure what JaVale McGee would bring to the World Championships. McGee, impressive Summer League dunker though he may be, isn’t a very good rebounder, defender, or even a consistent offensive threat. He can’t create his own shot, and aside from picking up blocks, really isn’t to the point where he can contribute defensively against top-flight competition. McGee may be a center, but it’s not like he’s going to be some great interior defender. He’s still a bit too lean and too jumpy for that.