Monday, July 28, 2008
Leaving the awe in Las Vegas
Being asked to play on the USA Select Team is decidedly less impressive than making the USA Men's Senior National Team, but it's an honor nonetheless. Helping to train the Beijing-bound squad is probably second in importance to actually being on the team, so should "Team Redeem" bring home the gold the Select Team roster can take some pride in knowing they played a significant role in restoring America's basketball dominance.
But while love of country is a valid reason to do most anything, getting in some solid practice time with the best collection of players in the world might be a better reason to square up against Team USA. For that reason, both LaMarcus Aldridge and Jerryd Bayless were wise to accept invitations to play on the Select team.
Then again, what can you really get out of a week of practice? Maybe you pick up a few tricks here and there, but can you really emerge as a better player simply because the court is full of All-Stars and Hall of Famers? Probably not, but there's more to making it in the NBA than the ability to hit a jump shot.
"It’s obviously an adjustment playing against the best players in the world, but they’ve competed hard," said Kevin Pritchard, who was in Las Vegas to watch Aldridge and Bayless play on the Select team. "They’ve gotten better every day, so we’re excited about that experience, especially for Jerryd. Now when he goes into the league and he plays against the best players he’s not going to have that ‘awe factor.'
"The thing about Jerryd is we know he’s fearless. He’s not scared. He’s exhibiting those same characteristics going against the best guys in the world."
And therein benefit of playing on the Select team for a guy like Bayless. Players tend to react tentatively when going up for the first time against the superstars they idolized growing up. You get beat when that happens in the regular season. The stakes are not nearly as high on the Select team in a practice setting,
"I don’t think you could have set up a better experience, for Jerryd especially, than going through those couple of days because a lot of the time rookies have that ‘awe factor' you’ve got to get through coming into the NBA, playing against some of these superstars," said Blazers Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan, who was also on hand to watch the Team USA scrimmages. "He just faced all of them basically in one gym for two days and didn’t back down, so he’s going to come in ready to compete and not back down from anybody.
"The Olympic guys wanted to make sure that those younger guys knew that this was there league. They’re the Senior National Team and this is what [players on the Select team] are going to face on a nightly basis when they get to the NBA. They had a little bravado about them, were trying to send a message to those guys, and Jerryd did not back down one bit from any of those guys."
As for their actual performances, both Aldridge and Bayless exhibited their strengths (outside shooting and aggressiveness) while working on their weaknesses (low-post presences and point guard play).
Aldridge, matched up against guys like Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, utilized his outside game in an attempt to emulate the more perimeter-oriented bigs common place in international competition.
"LaMarcus does what he does well, which is shoot the basketball" Pritchard said. So he’s spreading the floor, shooting perimeter shots and making it difficult for guys to double team, which allows the other guys to drive because he’s opened up the floor."
"I thought LaMarcus looked a little nervous at first, which I think any guy would be going up head to head against some of those guys on that team" Buchanan said. "I thought he did what he does: He shoots the ball. He’s a face up big and that’s kind of how he got his looks in the three days I was there. The guards on the Olympic team were really, really physical with the guards that were playing with LaMarcus, so they had some trouble getting him the ball.
"I think it’s a good eye opener for LaMarcus, seeing where he needs to get to be at the level of some of those guys like a Dwight Howard. But I thought he got better every day, so that’s all you can ask for."
Bayless, who missed the end of his Select Team engagement due to a minor hand injury, continued to exhibit the same traits he became known for during the summer league, while working on his skills as a point guard.
"It is an adjustment period," Pritchard said. "[Bayless] is playing point guard and he’s really competed hard. The thing about Jerryd is we know he’s fearless. He’s not scared. He’s exhibiting those same characteristics going against the best guys in the world."
"I could tell [Bayless] wanted to put his head down and go to the basket, but that’s not what they wanted him to do" Buchanan said. "They wanted the Senior Team to work on defending some sets so he couldn’t really do that. But I thought Jerryd had a great showing."