Wages of Wins Blog: Team USA Needs More Role Players

It would be great, writes DJ, if more of the team was like Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao:

As often noted in this forum, wins in the NBA are not just about scoring. No, wins require that a player score efficiently, rebound, and avoid turnovers. The Knicks last year had a collection of scoring guards who typically scored inefficiently. They had a center in Eddy Curry who could score but couldn’t rebound. And they led the league in turnovers. Put it all together and it is not surprising the Knicks collection of scorers couldn’t win.

Team USA, unfortunately, is following the Knicks blueprint. Yes, Team USA does have mostly above average performers. In fact, players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are two of the most productive performers in the NBA. But rather than complement these top scorers with top role players, Team USA has tried to complement top scorers with more players who can score.

And so we see the problem. For Team USA to be successful, players who are accustomed to contributing to wins via scoring must now imitate Varajao. Although Varajao doesn’t score, his per-minute performance last year rivaled many of the scorers employed by Team USA. Yes, role players can be very productive, when they know their roles. But Team USA’s scorers have never had to be strictly role players like Varajao.

If Team USA is going to be successful, though, many of these scorers are going to have to become Varajaos. And this transformation has to happen quickly. If not, the 2006 World Championships will resemble the 2004 Olympics, and the 2002 World Championships. In those games Team USA brought a collection of scorers, not a team. And such a collection does not do well when faced by a team where everyone understands their role.

I have a feeling that's an oversimplification--this seems to deny any nuance as to how best to select the proper role player to fit with the proper stars. But in general, I totally buy it that the best teams have lots of hard-working, super-professional role players. Michael Jordan's Bulls, the Spurs' title-winning teams, even the Lakers--they all got big contributions from players who were the best in the world at filling particular roles.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ben for pointing me to an interesting stat-based analysis of the Wages of Wins book, touched off by TrueHoop favorite Dan Rosenbaum on the APBRMetrics forum.