Thursday, September 2, 2010
Gordon playing way into starting lineup?
By Chris Sheridan
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Eric Gordon played so well in the second half Thursday against Tunisia, he may have earned himself a spot in the starting lineup.
Emphasis on the words "may have."
"Yeah, we'll take a look at it. We're always open for everything," coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his team played sluggishly for the majority of the game before pulling away in the final 14 minutes -- led by Gordon's shooting -- to defeat winless Tunisia 92-57 and finish preliminary-round play 5-0.
"I do think we're going to make quicker subs," Krzyzewski continued. "We're going to get back to more of how we started and how we played the first two games of this pool. I didn't think the confidence level of our bench was where it needed to be during the first part of the pool play, but I think it is now. And for us to win we're going to need all 12 of those guys playing well, not just the starting unit."
Gordon scored a team-high 21 points, including a flurry of eight points on a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws in the first 41 seconds of the fourth quarter, while playing nearly 25 minutes, the same team-high amount as Russell Westbrook. And with the Americans needing a consistent 3-point threat, it would be illogical not to consider moving Gordon into the starting lineup, perhaps in place of Chauncey Billups, who is playing out of position at shooting guard instead of his natural position of point guard.
"I just had a lot of open shots and I had to knock 'em down," said Gordon, who is leading the Americans in 3-pointers made (11) and is second to Kevin Durant in 3-point percentage (Gordon is at 47 percent; Durant 50) among players who have attempted more than two shots from behind the arc.
Billups was 1-for-3 on 3-pointers, which actually raised his percentage for the tournament to 21.1 percent (4-for-19). Starting point guard Derrick Rose has gone only 2-for-7 from long range.
"I'm not really worried about that. I wasn't expecting to start any games here," Gordon said. "My role is to just come in the game and be effective shooting the ball. That's what I came here to do."
But what Gordon came here to do and what the team needs him to do is somewhat of an evolutionary process, and the Americans' need to get off to quicker starts and shoot better from 3-point range are two of the things the coaching staff will be taking a close look at over the next three days before they face Angola on Monday in the single-elimination round of 16.
"Eric tonight played like he's been playing most of the time with us, except for the last two games. For some reason, he was hesitant to shoot. I talked to him before the game and said, 'Just shoot, and if you do make a move to the basket don't look to pass.' He's a scorer, and his teammates know that," Krzyzewski said. "Actually I'm watching tape this morning, we gave 'em some feedback, and there was a play from yesterday and Eric was wide open. So I stopped it and I said, 'How many of you guys don't want him to shoot?' And nobody raised their hand.
"I said, 'Eric, see? Everybody wants you to shoot.'"
The Americans have converted 38.5 percent of their 3-point tries over their five games, averaging nine makes per game. But they've done that against a mixture of man-to-man and zone defenses, and they fully expect their future opponents to consistently zone them in the knockout round.
Hence, a premium will be placed on outside shooting.
For a 2½-minute stretch of the fourth quarter against Tunisia, Krzyzewski went with a rotation he hadn't used before, using Rose alongside Gordon and Westbrook. It was a brief sample, but the Americans did have two dunks in that span as they played a wide-open yet under control style -- exactly the right mix of yin and yang they have been trying to coax out of this roster as the tournament has moved along.
As much as the coaches want the Americans to use ball movement and player movement to produce better shot opportunities, there are some players they want to be shoot-first and pass-second performers. Durant is one of the few who fall into that group, and Gordon certainly is another.
"Sometimes we're not looking for our shot, we're looking to make the next pass. And I thought we were a little bit better with that this afternoon," Krzyzewski said.
Billups did not agree with the supposition that playing away from his natural position has had an impact on his game. He has shot 40 percent overall: 2-for-7 against Iran (0-for-2 on 3s), 5-for-12 against Brazil (1-for-7 on 3s), 2-for-6 against Slovenia (0-for-2 on 3s) and 3-for-6 against Croatia (2-for-5 on 3s).
Krzyzewski has counted on Billups to be the type of team leader that Jason Kidd was for the 2008 Olympic team, but Kidd was so deferential in that tournament that he attempted only one field goal prior to the gold-medal game. He also was not, like Billups, playing out of his natural position.
"It's easy for me because that's what I do on my regular team. Other than playing off the ball a little bit, my role hasn't really changed at all. Maybe I don't shoot as much as I would shoot for the Denver Nuggets, but I get out there and I kind of get a feel for the game and see how it's going. And the shots I'm supposed to shoot, I'm going to shoot. And other times I have to settle the team down and make sure everyone's in the right spot," Billups said.
So perhaps the solution might be moving Billups (14 assists and six turnovers in the five games) over to point guard and bringing Rose (11 assists and 11 turnovers) off the bench.
It's another option Team USA can look at, and Coach K made it clear that all options will be considered now that pool play is over and it's one-and-done time.
There is no more margin for error anymore, and it is never too late to tinker.
The real part of this tournament begins Monday, and at the start of its next game, Team USA may look just a little different than it has over the past six days.