ISTANBUL – The U.S. National Team has arrived in Istanbul for the 2010 FIBA World Championship. While most of the other medal contenders will play their preliminary games in other locations around Turkey, the U.S. will make Istanbul their home until the close of the World Championship. So after seven days in New York, six days in Madrid, and three in Athens, they can finally settle in.
After Wednesday’s big win over Greece, the team is going through a light workout Thursday night. On Friday afternoon, they will practice at the Abdi Ipekci Arena, where their preliminary games will be played. Then they’ll play their first real game on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic) against Croatia.
Istanbul is seven hours ahead of Eastern time, so that’s a 7 p.m. start locally. It’s the middle game of the three-game slate in Istanbul.
I sat down for a few minutes with USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo on Thursday afternoon to get his assessment of how things went on the tour of Madrid and Athens.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Colangelo said. “First of all, now that the roster is set, that’s one major thing out of the way, more so for the players who were wondering what their status was. It’s just important to get to that final roster cut, and we did. And it worked out in a very positive way in every respect.
“No. 2, we’re creating the identity that we were seeking.”
You know the identity by now. Great defense that leads to transition and great guard play.
In their five exhibition games (including the closed scrimmage vs. China), the U.S. has allowed their opponents to shoot just 37.6 percent from the field, and to score just 77.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s real good.
Of course, Colangelo knows that these guys ain’t seen nothing yet. And it has definitely been communicated to the players that elimination games against Spain or Greece would probably be nothing like the games they played this past week.
“We’re pleased with where we are,” he said, “but as far as we’re concerned, we’re 0-0.”
But Colangelo is glad that he put together a tougher exhibition schedule than this team had in 2006.
“It couldn’t have been any better,” he said. “Quite honestly, we wish everyone [for the opponents] would have been healthy.”
Trivia: Just two U.S. players averaged double-figures in scoring in their five exhibition games (including the closed scrimmage vs. China). They were Kevin Durant (16.6 points per game) and …
Gordon averaged 10.0 points in the five exhibition games. He didn’t score against Spain, but had 15 points against China, eight against France, nine against Lithuania and 18 against Greece.
Colangelo was effusive with his praise for the Clippers’ guard, but won’t call Gordon’s play a surprise.
“I’m not going to say he’s a surprise,” Colangelo said. “What I’m going to say is we’re really pleased with the way he’s playing. And he’s to a point now where he takes a shot, we expect it to go down. It’s not a question in our minds. There are very few players playing on any level where you feel if they’ve got the ball, they’re going to score. He’s one of them.
“He’s a pure shooter, just needs a little bit of room. He’s quick. The other thing is his body type is perfect for international play. Big and strong.”
We thought going in that rebounding would be the No. 1 concern for the U.S. But they rebounded 81.4 percent of their opponents’ misses in the five exhibition games, pretty much putting that concern to rest.
Instead, I think three other concerns have emerged…
1. Interior defense, particularly against the pick-and-roll. Kostas Tsartsaris was able to score pretty easily (he had 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting) against Lamar Odom on Wednesday. And by picking up four fouls in less than 11 minutes of action, Tyson Chandler wasn’t much help.
2. 3-point shooting. They connected on just 37 of their 113 threes (32.7 percent) in the five games. Almost half of the threes were made by Eric Gordon (10-for-23) and Chauncey Billups (8-for-18). The rest of the team shot 19-for-72 (26.4 percent).
3. Turnovers. They had 17 of them against Greece and averaged 15.8 in their five exhibition games. But by my count, seven of the 17 came in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, when Stephen Curry spent most of the period at the point. And it’s doubtful that Curry will play any meaningful minutes at the point going forward.
Tough news for Argentina: After doctors examined his injured left ankle, the Sixers advised Andres Nocioni that he should withdraw from the World Championship. With Nocioni healthy, Argentina would have had one of the two or three best lineups in the tournament. Now, they’re depth is even worse than it was.
Random note: Rajon Rondo averaged more than twice as many assists per 40 minutes (12.6) as anyone else on the roster. Derrick Rose was next with 4.9 assists per 40.
With thanks to @albriasan, here’s a rundown of how the 24 teams in the World Championship did in exhibition play. It confirms my guess that the U.S. was the only team not to lose a game.
Of course, no team played fewer exhibition games than the Americans. If they went undefeated playing as many games as Jordan did, that would be really impressive.
Turkish lesson of the day: Lütfen daha yavaş konuşun = Please speak more slowly.