Thursday, July 8, 2010

FIBA U17 World Championship -- USA After Pool Play

AAU Studs
The U17 American squad that emerged Wednesday from Pool play with a 5-0 record, should be familiar to anyone who follows the High School recruiting circuit for Division 1 basketball. Conventional Wisdom posits that USA squads dominate world play until (roughly) the U19/U21 tournaments, tournaments where athleticism and individual talent can dominate the completition. FIBA-sponsored tournaments of older teams (U19/U21, Pan American Games, etc. (other) national teams, comprised largely of more developed players who bought into team play concepts have seen more success versus the individually talented USA squads.

7/2 vs Argentina8270
7/3 vs Lithuania10266
7/4 vs China11373
7/5 vs Egypt13264
7/6 vs Serbia11275

The team lost to the Russian U18 team in a pre-tournament warm-up game -- their early play versus the Argentines (a country whose older teams have challenged the USA at times...) was tentative -- but they hit their stride as pool play progressed. Against the better teams in the pool, the Serbs, the Lithuanians and Argentines -- the scoring margins suggest this squad follows the established pattern: early talent and athleticism dominate. Taking a deeper, "four factors" snapshot of the five pool games the USA played through July 7...

vs ArgentinaFTA
vs LithuaniaFTA
vs ChinaFTA
vs EgyptFTA
vs SerbiaFTA

The pace -- possessions per game estimate -- jumps out. The possession rate is far closer to the NBA (and AAU tournament circuit) than D1 (about 66-67 possessions on average). The American squad has dominated by running...and then running some more. They have scored very efficiently in a transition-oriented offense. Consider that each team gets about 92 possessions, that is 184 possessions in 40 minutes, or about 13 seconds per possession per team. Team USA's opponents, down early, are forced to play in the American system, but they have been unable to keep up. Note that Argentina, the closest by margin game of the competition, actually converted their shots more efficiently than Team USA. The Americans won however, because they significantly outrebounded the Argentines (the Argentine shooting was largely one-and-done on their possessions), thus giving themselves 2 and at times, 3 opportunities to score in a possession. Later teams (China and Serbia) were more competitive on the boards, but were outshot by the Americans, who had found their zone in the second and third pool games.

Player Snapshots
The squad members have been fixtures on the AAU circuit for the past two summers, and will no doubt entertain fans of a number of D1 colleges (unless Coach Cal gets them all...) beginning in the fall of 2011...

Justin Anderson21.521.523.170.01.3910.910.0
Brad Beal61.524.423.164.01.333.826.3
Quinn Cook55.022.915.460.
Andre Drummond27.826.726.563.61.2318.218.2
Michael Gilchrist51.523.518.463.21.3910.068.4
James McAdoo52.021.822.566.01.2911.729.8
Johnny O'Bryant35.521.213.321.10.8110.694.7
Tony Parker16.024.424.962.51.3111.743.8
Chasson Randle34.018.921.270.71.409.76.9
Marquis Teague47.028.318.032.40.840.058.8
Adonis Thomas45.526.624.638.90.828.313.3
Tony Wroten49.520.

The squad's offensive domination has masked the shooting struggles of Teague, O'Bryant, Wroten and Thomas (see eFG% and PPWS). For Teague, Wroten and O'Bryant, free throw conversions have mitigated their 32.5% conversion rate (FGM%) from the floor. Some additional secondary possession-based stats...

Justin Anderson6.314.
Brad Beal12.
Quinn Cook39.624.
André Drummond6.917.732.313.82.3
Michael Gilchrist14.414.421.13.74.2
James McAdoo3.99.618.48.28.4
Johnny O'Bryant4.317.414.70.07.2
Tony Parker4.35.627.25.90.0
Chasson Randle5.710.
Marquis Teague31.
Adonis Thomas7.614.
Tony Wroten18.717.

If Quinn Cook's assist rate -- 39.6% -- is indicative of his play, some D1 coach will be very happy come 2011. I first tracked this number in the Lithuanian game, and at that time it was over 40%. He has several games in the 45+ range. That means that on 45% of the field goals made, Cook is (while he is on the floor) the last player before the shooter, to touch the ball. Note this is on a team that scores most of it's points in transition, which suggests that Cook takes the ball, brings the ball over mid-court and (after several passes back-and-forth? Not likely...) finds a player in scoring position and gets him the about 13 seconds. Unlike U18 Coach Jeff Capel, who worked to distribute the minutes, Coach Don Showalter has consistenly played his starting five (Quinn Cook, James McAdoo, Johnny O'Bryant, Adonis Thomas and Brad Beal) for 50%-55% of the available minutes. Drummond, Gilchrist and Parker may be very effective on both offensive and defensive boards, but Michael Gilchrist is the only one of the trio to see 50% of the minutes at his position.

How adept is the squad at playing at lower pace? We may not find out, unless the hot hands (Gilchrist, Beal and McAddo have done nicely as primary offensive options, Anderson, Cook, Drummond, Parker and Randle have done very well as secondary options) cool considerably, we may not find out. The Europeans prefer a more deliberately paced motion offense, and, entering the one-and-done play of the medal rounds, the American become more vulnerable to this slower style. If the Americans can keep running, they may well run every other team out of the gym.

Team USA, the 1st in Group A will meet Australia, the 4th seed from Group B on Friday July 9, in one of four medal quarterfinal games. The Australians earned a 3-2 record in pool play over the last week, beating #3 seed Germany, #5 seed Spain and #6 seed South Korea, while losing to #1 seed Poland and #2 seed Canada.

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