Fear the Zone

13 08 2008
Zone?  No habla espagnol.

Zone? No habla espagnol.

American basketball players have been branded as arrogant, hot-dogging individuals masquerading as a team. 

You’ve heard of LeBron James’ “absolutely” answer to whether they will win gold.  There have been similar proclamations from Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. 

It’s interesting that they’re so confident seeing as though they were part of the 2004 National Team that rode USA Basketball’s name through the mud.

Arrogance?  I smell it.  But I guess bad habits are hard to break. 

But what of Team USA’s coaches?  Are they as arrogant as their players seem to be?

On the eve of the much-anticipated USA-Greece Olympic basketball game, I’ve found this excerpt from a Chris Sheridan article to be very telling:

“Interestingly, Krzyzewski said the Americans’ game plan going in will not include much use of a traditional 2-3 zone unless the man-to-man defense proves ineffective. That’s particularly intriguing given Greece’s difficulty scoring against a traditional zone, something the American coaching staff noticed as it was on hand to scout Tuesday’s Greece-Germany game.

” ‘If I tell my guys we’re going to play a certain amount of zone, it’s almost like saying our man-to-man is not good defense. Just psychologically,’ Krzyzewski said Wednesday in discussing his tactical scheme with ESPN.com. 

But if they’re no good against the zone, shouldn’t you play zone? 

‘Well, no,’ Coach K said. ‘They may not be good against our man, and over the years, the championship teams I’ve had have made teams adjust to them. And if you’re constantly adjusting to who you play, then you’ve got to be careful you never know who you are. But again, zone is part of our repertoire, and I’m not saying we’re not going to use it, I’m just saying I don’t know how many minutes we’ll use it.’ “

“It’s almost like… our man-to-man defense is not [good enough]?”  Are you kidding me?  Clearly, it isn’t.  Clearly. 

For an example, please see the first two Olympic games featuring the American team.  Full-court to 3/4-court pressure masqueraded as their supposed tough man-to-man defense.  When they got into the half-court, their defense was putrid.  A couple nice, highlight reel weak-side blocks can’t erase actual sloppy defense.

Coach K is learning that coaching a group of high-powered NBA professionals has a lot of “ego and chemistry management” in the job description.  But is it worth it to be stubborn about applying a principle that is clearly effective against the Grecian National Team?

Does Coach K think that he’s Dorian Gray?  Where’s your portrait at, man?

Playing a 2-3 is not the equivalent of selling out the American dream.  Uncle Sam’s not going to swing out of the rafters and choke you with Old Glory, Coach K.

And regarding the “if you’re constantly adjusting to who you play, you never know who you are” gem, I think it’s easy for the coach of a top flight NCAA program to say that.  Year after year, his teams are injected with blue chip, 5-star talent.

As much as people like to talk about American dominance in basketball, this quote is very telling.  If USA plays a zone, they won’t be “playing down” to Greece. 

If Duke plays Appalachian State or Campbell and re-vamps their offensive sets, I can see how that is a needless concession to a supposedly inferior athletic talent.

But this isn’t some ACC vs. Southern/A-Sun exhibition.  This is an Olympic game against a team that spanked them in 2004. 

If Coach K is truly worried that playing zone will deteriorate the American team psychologically while conceding that the Greeks are better, he is sorely wrong.

The coaching staff’s talk about respecting their opponent is all clearly lip service.  They’re setting themselves up for failure.

Play zone.








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