Until last week’s tight contest with Lithuania, Team USA had breezed through the Olympic field on the strength of ferocious ball pressure and overwhelming offensive firepower. Those qualities were present against the upstart Lithuanians, but the literal and figurative void in the middle of Team USA’s defense was exposed more than ever before.
That made for a closer-than-anticipated contest, but Lebron James took control in the end and preserved the victory.
The Lithuanian team zipped the ball around and found open cutters in a great display of vintage international basketball. Team USA’s defense was either unsure of what to do or unconcerned with making a defensive effort. The game verified the well-documented angle on the American team’s defense: beyond Tyson Chandler, there’s nobody to protect the paint.
The void in the middle was obvious against Lithuania whenever Chandler wasn’t out there. But things could get even worse against Argentina on August 6 if Chandler doesn’t play a major role.
The reason? Luis Scola.
Scola is a solid NBA player gifted with a bevy of post moves and a very sound basketball IQ. But in international play, he’s a monster. Scola leads the Olympics in scoring at 22.5 points per game and, more importantly for Team USA, fouls drawn. With Chandler as the only legitimate post defender on the roster, he’ll be tasked with defending the 6’10″ Scola. That’s a problem for two reasons.
First, Scola could easily get Chandler into foul trouble. He’s a clever player and there’s no question that Argentina will use every trick in the book to make Chandler play physically—they know as well as everyone else that Chandler is the key to Team USA’s defense. If Scola can force Chandler to the bench with a couple of quick fouls, Argentina’s offense—which is superior to Lithuania’s in every way—could put on a back-cutting, ball moving layup clinic.
The other problem Scola presents is that despite his size, he’s very comfortable operating at the high post. That means Chandler could have to come out and play him away from the basket. Chandler is one of the NBA’s best defenders, but his talents are best utilized down low as a post defender and rim protector. If Scola pulls him toward the free-throw line, he (and the rest of Argentina’s veteran squad) could exploit Chandler’s absence from the middle with deft passing and cutting.
It’s likely that Team USA will take the court against Scola and Argentina with a renewed sense of their own vulnerability after the Lithuania game, which probably means we’ll see a highly focused and determined American squad.
But if they stumble early and Chandler can’t handle Scola, look out.