by Craig Kwasniewski
Team USA easily beat Angola 97-76 early Tuesday morning. Several minor takes on the game plus player grades below but let me quickly get to my point...
I'm not a big fan of Olympic Kobe. In fact, I'm very close to saying that Olympic Kobe might be... this is tough to say especially as a nine-year Lakers season ticket holder... Olympic Kobe might be overrated.
We heard last summer how much of an influence Kobe had on Team USA. Players raved about his tenacity and training regimen in practice. We especially heard (and continue to hear constantly) about his defensive intensity and that he dove for a lose ball in the first minute of the Tournament of the Americas last summer in Vegas. Kobe was supposed to bring a type of swagger and confidence that Team USA has lacked over the past six years. He was to dominate Team USA on their way to the gold.
Frankly, after two games I'm not seeing anything like that from the NBA's reigning MVP. Olympic Kobe is playing like it's the Paul Pierce Wheelchairity Invitational or whatever crappy All-Star exhibitions that NBA ballers do in the summer.
So far he's shooting an atrocious 1-15 from beyond the arc against Angola and China. And instead of driving the lane and establishing some sort of offensive rhythm with a few easy hoops, Kobe simply passed off many uncontested layups and dunks.
Plus his defense has been worse. Instead of breaking out a "not while I'm on the floor" lock-down defense that was hyped last summer, Kobe's been sagging heavily off his man and cheating in the passing lanes (a lazy defense in my opinion). This may work in the NBA but not against teams like Spain, Germany and Argentina where players 1-12 can hit outside J's with consistency. And the few times Kobe did choose to man-up the ball-handler, he was too close and got beat off the dribble. Basically he underestimated his opponent's skill with the ball.
Now I know we're only two games into the Olympic tournament and it's against the two worst teams in USA's pool. So maybe Kobe's just pacing himself like a regular season game in November. But I was expecting Kobe's famous competitive drive to take over and lead Team USA, establishing him as the ultimate alpha male on a team of alpha males. But instead we're seeing Dwyane Wade, Lebron James and possibly Dwight Howard play with an aggression and dominance not seen the last six years.
Anyway, I'm just disappointed to see Kobe not bring that famous playoff intensity so far. Now a few other thoughts on the Angola game:
No Lawler's Law: LA Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler has a rule: The first team to 100 points wins the game. There's no excuse for Team USA to not drop a c-note on Angola. Instead of intimidating the rest of the field by rolling through everyone, Team USA took much of the night off in the typical look-ahead fashion with Greece coming up on Thursday. Still no excuse against a team with a stated goal of not losing by 40.
Dwyane Wade continues to dominate play.
Defense cranked up a notch at the end of the half: Led by Lebron and Wade, USA blew the game open at the end of the half with defensive pressure and quick transition points. Both Wade and Lebron have thoroughly impressed me with their intensity. Maybe it's motivation from losing in 2004 (especially for Lebron as Larry Brown inexplicably kept him on the bench for long stretches), all I know is that they are clearly the leaders on the floor for Team USA.
Angola has the coolest flag: I first noticed it when I was in Germany watching Angola face Portugal in the World Cup. At a quick glace you think you're seeing the Communist hammer and sickle but alas... it's a machete crossed over a cog wheel. According to wikipedia, "The symbol in the middle is of a crossed cog wheel (representing workers and industry) and machete (representing the peasantry) with a gold star." A nation that has suffered greatly from war over conflict diamonds and has the balls to put a machete on their flag is a nation not to be messed with (well unless it's basketball).
Looking ahead to Greece and still bricking threes: Two weak opponents down and Team USA continues to struggle from three point range. So expect a lot of zone defenses for the rest of the tournament by teams with a lot of size. I'm not worried about Greece, it's Spain and Argentina with their NBA-experienced bigs along with quick and very capable backcourts. How is it that a team with 12 of the best players in the NBA can't shoot a damn 20'-6" jump shot? Coach K better find a way to fix this or look at a very similar loss like in the World Championships.
Lebron James (A) - Going right for the kill right from the opening tip. Had a sick block in the second quarter followed by a nice stare-down. The guy is jacked up for the Gold
Kobe Bryant (C) - Continues to struggle from beyond the arc and he never tried to establish an offensive rhythm.
Carmelo Anthony (C) - Played a lot better this time, but he's not bringing it like Wade or LeBron.
Dwight Howard (A) - Took advantage of Angola's lack of size and never let up. I'm starting to see the same effort in him as Wade and Lebron.
Jason Kidd (B) - Didn't play much, but was always looking to push.
Dwyane Wade (A) - Both he and Lebron are the best players in the Olympics.
Chris Bosh (B) - Had a very nice game, but not as dominant as Howard.
Chris Paul (B) - Looked very good tonight. Obviously he's trying to lay low offensively, but USA will need his penetration against Greece.
Deron Williams (B) - Also had a good game. One of the few consistent perimeter threats for USA.
Michael Redd (D) - Had a poor game and was going through the motions.
Carlos Boozer (F) - Too bad they can't cut him like they did with Bruce Bowen in the World Championships. I can't stress this enough, he doesn't have the length, speed, athleticism or skill for the international game.
Tayshaun Prince (B) - Got a lot of minutes and made the most of them with spacing on both ends of the floor.