As coaching gigs go, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has a relatively easy one -- after all, he's guiding many of the best basketball players alive. On the other hand, that very fact brings up an interesting dilemma: Out of all those fantastic players, whom do you play? And in what combinations?
You can see it like there are no wrong answers, but surely some combinations work better than others.
Throughout the first four exhibition games, Krzyzewski has experimented with small lineups that feature the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at center. Coach K seems to be trying out different hypotheses -- can I just get away with playing my five fastest players? -- before the big test in London.
In ESPN The Magazine (Insider), Elena Bergeron says Team USA would benefit from using the type of deep analytics that almost all of the best NBA teams now use to help figure out which lineups work best.
Not only does Bergeron advocate using these sorts of analytics to select players, she explains how predictive models can be used to figure out which players are likely to succeed when paired together:
[USA Basketball director Jerry] Colangelo might consider adding to his summer reading list "NBA Chemistry: Positive and Negative Synergies in Basketball," in which researchers from NYU-Polytechnic Institute analyzed plus/minus ratings to determine optimal combinations of skill sets. One of their findings: Quality offensive rebounders often go to waste when teamed with efficient scorers, as good shooters are less likely to miss; it's better to pair scorers with defensive boarders. That would mean playing Love, Team USA's top defensive rebounder in 2011-12, with higher-percentage shooters like James and Paul, and pairing Chandler, its best offensive rebounder, with less efficient shooters like Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.
Even when big guns like LeBron James show up, the gap between Team USA and other top international squads is nowhere near as big as it once was. Spain is a real threat to upset USA's gold medal plans. (The two are playing an exhibition game Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.) Whether lineup data makes a difference or not, the truth is that the margin for error is small, and no potential advantage can be ignored.