NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA talent prevails | Schmidt not shy | Noah still loves Chicago | Kobe changed Team USA culture
No. 1: U.S. talent survives teamwork — Sometimes it just pays to have more raw talent than the other guys. So many times in international competition that’s what enables the Americans to survive and advance and stack up gold medals. That’s what happened again when Serbia threw a big scare into Team USA Friday at the Olympics. The Americans got another lesson in teamwork, but survived, Paul George told our John Schuhmann:
“We relied on natural talent to get us over this one,” Paul George said after the U.S. escaped vs. Serbia, needing Bogdan Bogdanovic’s open 3-pointer to miss long to avoid overtime.
Sometimes, stats can deceive. On Friday, the U.S. made 27 field goals and was credited with 28 assists, because FIBA gives out assists for passes that lead to made free throws. But the ball moved much better on the other end of the floor.
With the U.S. having less than three weeks to prepare for the Olympics, they’re typically better defensively than offensively. With their superior speed and athleticism, along with the ability to shuttle new players in every five minutes, the Americans can overwhelm inferior opponents.
But aggressive perimeter defense can be susceptible to good pick-and-roll play and ball movement. And that’s exactly what both Australia and Serbia brought in the last two games. Matthew Dellavedova and Milos Teodosic got things started with smart pick-and-roll decision-making, and the ball didn’t stop moving until it found the open man.
“These international guys, they really know how to move and really know how to cut,” George said. “It’s more so about how they run their offense that’s wearing us down.
“In [the NBA], there’s movement, obviously. But with these guys, it’s constant. You don’t ever sit still. In our game, there’s moments when you sit still, you can have a rest period. There might be an action that guys just run on one side. [Here] you’re constantly moving from side to side and it’s like they don’t get tired. And that’s new to us. That’s very new to us.”
No. 2: Oscar Schmidt ranks self top 10 — If you were ever fortunate enough to see Oscar Schmidt play for the Brazilian national team, you know he was not at all shy about shooting. Anytime. Anywhere. Any situation. Now 58, the Hall of Fame guard hasn’t changed at all. He told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports that if he had chosen to make the jump to the NBA during his career, he would have ranked among the best to ever play in the league:
At age 26, Schmidt declined playing for the New Jersey Nets after going in the sixth round of the 1984 Draft. Instead, Schmidt elected to continue racking up his more than 49,000 points, across four countries, until he was 45. Had he decided to come to the NBA and tested his talents against the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, Schmidt is fairly confident in what he would have done.
“I would be top 10. Ever,” Schmidt said, waving his hand near his chest for inflection. “For sure. One guy can’t defend me. You need two. At least.”
Schmidt will forever be revered in this futebol-crazed but basketball-hugging country, but he is somewhat envious of this current Brazilian national team, which has a chance to play Olympic games on their home soil. “That was my dream to play a competition like that,” Schmidt said.
The thirst to wear a Brazil jersey over one with the NBA logo has at times put Schmidt at odds with current players with different dreams and opportunities who delicately tried to balance both responsibilities. When Schmidt was coming up, the riches that came from being in the league weren’t nearly as lucrative, nor were the risks that come from participating with the national team in the offseason. Even if the pride and love for country were always there, to Schmidt, bypassing a summer spent playing for Brazil was reason to question someone’s patriotism.
No. 3: Noah ready to tangle with Bulls — While he harbors no ill will toward the Bulls after spending the first nine years of his NBA career in Chicago, Joakim Noah told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that he’s already looking forward to his first trip back to the United Center with his new Knicks teammates:
“I think the Bulls-Knicks games are going to be good ones,” Noah said, smiling. “I’m looking forward to it. I think everybody is. It’s going to be a very competitive game with a lot of emotions. I’m trying to stay in the moment and focus on being as healthy as possible.”
It was clear during an interview last week in his Chicago residence, with its sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the skyline, that leaving the Bulls in the right way was important to him.
“I have no anger towards nobody,” Noah said. “If we had a couple rough years at the end, I’m just still so grateful for the opportunity the Bulls gave me. It’s like a family to me. Even though it’s a new chapter for the end of my career to be in New York, I think Chicago is always going to be a home to me.
“Everywhere I go in this city, it’s always love. If I’m walking in the airport, wherever I am and someone’s from Chicago, it’s never animosity or negative or why did you leave us? It’s always very appreciative. And it’s humbling. I know free agency is a business. But I feel I always show a lot of respect for this city and its people. And I get love back for it. And it feels good.”
No. 4: Kobe restarted U.S. gold rush — Carmelo Anthony is the team leader, now playing in his fourth Olympics. Kevin Durant is a driving force. Paul George and Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green and the rest are all key parts. But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo still credits Kobe Bryant with changing the culture and attitude of the club and getting it back on the gold track, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News:
“His work ethic, approach and how he appreciates the game is infectious,” Team USA forward Kevin Durant said last month in Las Vegas. “He’s someone who loves to play so much. He’s competitive when he steps in between those lines. He wants perfection.”
Bryant logged ridiculous hours in pursuit of that perfection, just weeks after having poured himself into an NBA regular season that ended with a six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. Watching Bryant work left Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh shaking his head, mindful that the future Hall of Famer had just logged extended minutes during that playoff run.
“I thought I was working hard,” Bosh said. “Now I have to get back into the gym.”
After training for three weeks together before heading to Beijing, former U.S. Olympic teammate Carlos Boozer noticed the entire roster had adopted Bryant’s routine.
“We all clung to it,” said Boozer, who later played with Bryant as a member of the Lakers in 2014-15 and recently agreed to a deal to play in China. “It soon became our workout, not just his workout.”
Before Bryant signed up for Olympic duty, doubts emerged as to whether his heavy focus on scoring would resonate with a team of fellow superstars.
So shortly after Bryant posted a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, Colangelo met with Bryant and asked him a pointed question.
“What if I said to you, I want you to be a distributor and not a scorer?” Colangelo asked.
Bryant answered exactly how Colangelo hoped he would.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Bryant said. “I just want to be on that team.”
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