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August 13, 2008
Olympic Recap
Round Robin #2

by Kevin Pelton

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United States 97, Angola 76

Possessions: 81
Offensive Ratings: United States 120.3, Angola 94.0

Even in a 21-point victory, the U.S. Olympic team might have taken a step back in its second game against Angola Tuesday. Physically overmatched by Germany in its opener, Angola was able to hang with the U.S. for 15 minutes before a 12-0 run by the Americans late in the first half. The USA was never challenged, but didn't entirely dominate either.

Overall, the U.S. defended Angola well; Angola actually scored at a better clip in the 29-point loss to Germany. However, it was how the USA succeeded on defense that was somewhat troubling. Angola shot 48.5 percent on two-pointers, had 14 offensive rebounds and got to the free-throw line 21 times. In this game, that good work was largely undone by committing 25 turnovers, including 13 U.S. steals. That's similar to the USA's style in the World Championships, one that proved less effective when the quality of the opposition improved. Angola panicked and turned the ball over in the face of U.S. traps; veteran teams like Argentina and Spain will not.

I was surprised by how much success Angola had going one-on-one against U.S. defenders, even in the post despite their lack of size. That forced the USA to double-team the post and opened up some good looks from beyond the arc, though the U.S. rotated well and limited Angola to 9-of-29 shooting from downtown. So far, opponents have taken 43.9 percent of their shots against the USA from three-point range, and while that has partially to do with underdogs wanting to try to trade threes for twos on the other end, it also shows a defensive philosophy from Mike Krzyzewski and company that is willing to give up the three to shut down easy scores.

Angola did a much, much better job in transition defense than China did. LeBron James is simply so quick and so powerful that he's always going to be able to get to the hoop in the early offense and all the turnovers translated into easy buckets as well. However, Angola forced the U.S. men to play in the halfcourt much of the game and revealed that they still have work to do in that area.

It will certainly help the USA offense if Kobe Bryant can get it going. He missed all eight of his three-point attempts against Angola and is now 1-for-15 in the Olympics. Bryant is simply too good of a shooter to stay in a slump like that. As a team, the U.S. shot a dismal 23.8 percent on threes, but that's again largely attributable to Bryant. The rest of the team was a respectable 5-for-13 (38.5 percent).

When the U.S. got the ball inside, it was game over. Thanks to unselfish extra passing and the transition buckets, the Americans shot 70.2 percent on two-point buckets. Through two games, they're at 68.8 percent on twos. Greece is next best at an even 58.0 percent.

Clearly, Angola posed little threat to the USA, which treated this game as a sure thing. Their energy on defense was indifferent much of the first quarter, and Krzyzewski substituted liberally in the first half. It would be foolish to expend too much energy against a team like Angola, but I would have liked to see the U.S. try to put the game away earlier and then get the bench involved. Either way, the competition takes a quantum leap on Thursday, when the U.S. men will take on Greece in a rematch of their semifinal loss in the 2006 FIBA World Championships.

Spain 85, China 75 (OT)

Possessions: 78
Offensive Ratings: Spain 106.1, China 99.4

While the U.S. men may not have been entirely sharp in their win over Angola, the co-favorites to win gold were dealing with a much bigger threat from the Chinese squad the USA easily dispatched on Sunday. China led by as many as 14 points late in the third quarter and held a two-point advantage in the final minute before Spain took control of the game in overtime and won going away, 85-75.

It's funny to say this about a game in which two players (Pau Gasol, with 29, and new Portland Trail Blazer Rudy Fernandez, with 21) scored 50 of Spain's 85 points, but the win really showcased the depth the World Champions enjoy. It was neither Gasol nor Fernandez who scored to send the game to overtime but Marc Gasol, who wasn't even on the floor in OT as Spanish coach Aíto García Reneses opted to go with veteran Jorge Garbajosa. At the other end, teenage prodigy Ricky Rubio came in as a defensive sub and forced a critical turnover, giving Spain a chance to win in regulation.

Rubio stayed on and ran the point in overtime, with Jose Calderon shifting off the ball. Rubio was hardly perfect, finishing the game with four turnovers and missing all four of his attempts from the field. However, that a veteran team like Spain would have a 17-year-old on the floor and at the point in such a crucial situation speaks volumes about Rubio's talent.

Depth is nice, but Spain also has the most valuable international player in the world in Pau Gasol, who got the better of Yao Ming in their matchup in the middle. Yao, still rusty as he works back from missing several months with a stress fracture in his foot, had 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds. Gasol scored 29 points, was 13-of-17 from the field and drew Yao's sixth foul as part of a game-turning three-point play in the extra session. Spain never looked back after Gasol's score.

Like Argentina's loss to Lithuania, I'm not sure the surprisingly close outcome here says much about Spain's chances going forward. We'll see whether China plays the rest of the way more like the team that was blown out by the U.S. or the team that gave Spain all it could handle today. The more likely scenario has the hosts settling in somewhere in between.

Croatia 85, Russia 78

Possessions: 67
Offensive Ratings: Croatia 125.1, Russia 117.1

Quick: Who's been the best offensive team in Beijing thus far? It's not any of the big three contenders but instead surprising Croatia, which improved to 2-0 by pulling something of an upset against the European champs. Croatia rolled up 97 points against Australia's weak defense, but this performance was much more legitimate. Guards Zoran Planinic and Marko Popovic combined for 42 points on 12-of-18 shooting. On the other side, J.R. Holden and Sergei Monia could not find the touch, missing 13 of their 16 tries from the field. Croatia still has difficult games against Argentina and Lithuania coming up, but could make some noise in Group A with one more sure win (Iran) left on the schedule.

Greece 87, Germany 64

Possessions: 64.5
Offensive Ratings: Greece 133.7, Germany 99.8

With the matchup against the USA looming, Greece got back on track after an opening loss to Spain. The story will probably be Greece holding the German frontcourt of Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki to 17 points and eight rebounds, and on this night Germany might have wished Kaman (who had more turnovers than points) had never elected to play in the Olympics. However, thanks to some hot three-point shooting, Germany actually was OK on offense when you account for the extremely slow pace of this game.

Instead, where Greece won this game was with its typically-strong offense. The Greeks shot 57.4 percent and were solid in every facet of the game on offense. Vassilis Spanoulis (that's No. 7 to you, Mr. Krzyzewski) paced the scoring with 23 points on 9-of-13 from the field, including four three-pointers. Greece will pose a very serious threat to the U.S. on Thursday, and we'll know a lot more about the American defense after that game.

Argentina 85, Australia 68

Possessions: 68
Offensive Ratings: Argentina 123.5, Australia 100.6

After the upset loss to Lithuania in the opener, Argentina got back on track with a 17-point win over Australia. Argentina led by 12 after one and 17 going to the fourth quarter, but the Boomers did make things somewhat interesting in the fourth quarter thanks to the quick young backcourt of St. Mary's guard Patrick Mills and 2007 Houston second-round pick Brad Newley. Mills racked up 22 points in 24 minutes and was all over the court in the part of the fourth quarter I watched via NBCOlympics.com, while Newley had 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Unfortunately for the Aussies, they've yet to stop anyone through two games and the frontcourt duo of Chris Anstey and Andrew Bogut has been virtually invisible. Mills is coming off the bench behind veteran C.J. Bruton, which allows him to play an energy role, but he might need more minutes early because plan A just isn't working.

Argentina demonstrated its 5-of-22 three-point shooting against Lithuania was largely a fluke, making 11-for-22 from downtown two nights later. Manu Ginobili knocked down three treys and had 21 points and seven assists. Despite the late stumble, it was a strong, workmanlike effort that was typically Argentinean in style.

Lithuania 99, Iran 67

Possessions: 87
Offensive Ratings: Lithuania 122.1, Iran 86.8

Iran actually led this game 20-15 after one quarter, but order was quickly restored and Lithuania went up by 12 at half and kept putting it on in a 32-point victory. The big surprise here is that this was the fastest-paced game of the day, even ahead of the run-and-gun U.S. Besides the game being so lopsided and 23 Iranian turnovers, I'm not sure what to make of that.

Linas Kleiza (22 points) and Sarunas Jasikevicius (20) both scored a point per minute to pad their stats, shooting a combined 16-for-20. The Hamed Hadadi watch continued with a fascinating stat line: 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting, nine rebounds, four blocks, three steals ... and eight turnovers. I can see making his outing the subject of an "Every Play Counts" at some point during the dog days of summer to get a better idea of whether Hadadi can play in the NBA.

The advanced stats through two games show the U.S. looking solid and leading all teams in the "haven't played Iran" division in defense.

Team            Gr    Diff   ORating Rank   DRating Rank    Pace

United States    B    32.7    122.8    2      92.8    2     79.6
Lithuania        A    23.1    113.8    6      91.3    1     78.0
Spain            B    18.0    110.5    7      97.8    3     69.3
Croatia          A    16.0    131.5    1     116.6    9     68.9
Russia           A    11.6    114.7    4     103.4    5     64.9
Argentina        A     9.0    108.7    8     102.8    4     72.6
Greece           B     6.0    114.4    5     108.0    6     67.0
Germany          B     4.5    120.5    3     114.5    7     66.4
Australia        A   -23.1    108.5    9     130.7   12     69.4
China            B   -27.9     95.5   10     115.7    8     73.6
Angola           B   -33.6     95.1   11     129.3   11     74.5
Iran             A   -38.1     83.5   12     117.7   10     70.8

And here are the Four Factors on offense and defense for each team.

                            OFFENSE                           DEFENSE
Team            Gr    eFG%    OR%   FTM/FGA   TO%       eFG%    DR%   FTM/FGA   TO%

Angola           B   0.435   0.276   0.274   0.198     0.635   0.684   0.254   0.151
Argentina        A   0.525   0.286   0.283   0.187     0.492   0.806   0.221   0.16
Australia        A   0.512   0.258   0.195   0.143     0.689   0.694   0.261   0.194
China            B   0.455   0.313   0.189   0.207     0.549   0.603   0.194   0.173
Croatia          A   0.673   0.362   0.355   0.205     0.556   0.677   0.256   0.171
Germany          B   0.581   0.333   0.270   0.178     0.522   0.750   0.298   0.149
Greece           B   0.579   0.262   0.259   0.180     0.491   0.716   0.324   0.176
Iran             A   0.412   0.343   0.314   0.268     0.578   0.677   0.163   0.153
Lithuania        A   0.572   0.239   0.280   0.179     0.415   0.690   0.373   0.223
Russia           A   0.542   0.333   0.158   0.159     0.515   0.632   0.310   0.244
Spain            B   0.508   0.411   0.242   0.193     0.504   0.722   0.186   0.206
United States    B   0.594   0.250   0.246   0.130     0.436   0.682   0.235   0.225

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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