HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — After the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team had completed its five-game exhibition schedule, it was pretty clear that playing small was not a good idea. The U.S. won those five games by an average of 26.6 points, but had barely outscored opponents when playing small (without Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love or Anthony Davis on the floor).
Mike Krzyzewski and his staff seemingly took those numbers to heart. In its five pool play games in London, the U.S. played small for only 7.6 minutes per game, down from 14.9 minutes per game in the five exhibitions.
Love was the biggest beneficiary, seeing his minutes increase from 12.0 per game in the exhibitions to 16.5 per game in pool play. And he paid Krzyzewski back for the increased minutes. Not only has Love shot 24-for-36 in London, but the U.S. outscored its opponents 268-147 with Love on the floor. And that plus-121 was the team’s highest mark in pool play.
Overall, the U.S. is a plus-308 in 288 minutes over 10 games with Chandler, Love or Davis on the floor. And the Americans are just a plus-16 in 112 minutes with no bigs in the game.
USA efficiency with or without bigs (exhibitions + pool play)
|At least one big||287.8||84.2||136.6||87.0||+49.6||+308|
Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The one time that the U.S. played small for almost half the game was the narrow win over Lithuania. And the results were not good. In fact, in three of the five pool-play games, the U.S. was outscored when it played small.
USA small lineups, game by game
|Game||MIN||USA pts||Opp pts||+/-|
When we looked at the exhibition numbers, the U.S. team’s big men were making a bigger impact offensively. But in London, the defensive impact has been slightly bigger than the offensive impact. In pool play, the U.S. allowed just 88 points per 100 possessions with Chandler, Love or Davis on the floor, but a whopping 117 with no bigs in the game.
The U.S. flourishes when forcing turnovers and getting out on the break, and a small lineup would seemingly allow guys to play faster and more aggressively. But that hasn’t been the case. In fact, the pace has been faster (85.1 possessions per 40 minutes) with Chandler on the floor than with any other player.
USA efficiency with player on floor
Not surprisingly, Kevin Durant (249.4) and LeBron James (239.9) lead the U.S. in minutes over their 10 games. With the two on the floor together, the team has been dominant, outscoring opponents by 38 points per 100 possessions. But the numbers are much different when Durant and James are paired with a big man than when they’re not.
The pair has actually played the same amount of time with a big on the floor as without one. And the difference is like winning a 40-minute game by 31 points or by 13 points.
USA efficiency with Durant and James on the floor
|On the floor||MIN||Pace||OffRtg||DefRtg||NetRtg||+/-|
|Chandler, Love or Davis||95.4||84.5||137.1||81.3||+55.8||+120|
James is the U.S. team’s best player, Durant its leading scorer and Carmelo Anthony the most potent scorer on a per-minute basis (44.1 points per 40 minutes). But the team is scoring just 115 points per 100 possessions in 72 minutes with the three playing together. Any NBA team would love to be that efficient, but that’s a pretty mediocre number for this squad.
And when that trio has been teamed with a second-unit backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams (fifth lineup below), the U.S. has been especially bad.
USA most-used lineups
Next up for the U.S. is Australia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Looking beyond that, the Americans will face the winner of what should be a great game between Argentina and Brazil, two teams they’ve seen already.
Thanks to some tight defense and a pair of long 3-pointers by Durant, the U.S. had a nice 12-5 stretch playing small in the third quarter of Monday’s win over Argentina. But overall the numbers show that the best strategy is to keep playing big as much as possible.