Iverson and Marbury brought NBA star power to the point-guard
position at the 2004 Olympics -- and left with a bronze medal. Their
skills weren't a good fit in the international game.
So when USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and
coach Mike Krzyzewski put together their team, they wanted to find
a true point guard. The U.S. needed someone to feed LeBron James,
Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.
"The point guard, the way we are going to be structured, needs to be someone who can distribute the ball, among other things," Colangelo said last spring.
Paul has done exactly that in his senior U.S. team debut in the worlds. His steady, unselfish play is a big reason the Americans swept through Group D. The U.S. opens medal play Sunday against Australia, which finished fourth in Group C.
With 34 assists, Paul is tied for the tournament lead with
Argentina's Pepe Sanchez, the former Temple player. Paul also has
only six turnovers in a team-high 123 minutes.
"He's been playing great," U.S. center Dwight Howard said.
It's been an adjustment for Paul. As the NBA's rookie of the
year with New Orleans/Oklahoma City last season, Paul's talents
were never in doubt. His lack of international experience raised
questions about whether the 21-year-old guard was ready for the
"When Mr. Colangelo called and asked me, I didn't even have to
think about it, to tell you the truth," Paul said. "I knew right
away that I wanted to play. It was my first year in the NBA, and
there's no greater honor than to represent your country."
Five games into the tournament, Paul hasn't looked like a
newcomer. Although he is relatively small at 6 foot, he hasn't been
intimidated by the hand-to-hand combat that passes for defense in
the international game.
"He's a good player, and he's been very quick to pick up on the
different rules," said forward Shane Battier, an international
veteran. "I think he's one of the quickest learners in how much
more physical you can be, especially at the defensive end. That's
probably the biggest adjustment a point guard has to learn playing
internationally. Chris has picked that up, and he's doing a great
job right now for our team."
Paul has also adjusted to the demands of running an offense that
features some of the world's best scorers. He averaged 16.1 points
for the Hornets this year but doesn't need to put up those kinds of
points on this team. He's averaging 9.0 points for the U.S.
"It's totally different," Paul said. "In international ball,
you really control the game. The point guard, there's a lot of
pressure being put on you so you really have to take care of the
ball well, and just making sure everyone's in the right spots. With
the court being a little bit smaller, you have to be a lot more
"I think the thing that helps this team the most is the fact
that no one cares who scores," Paul added. "'D' Wade, LeBron, Carmelo, any one of those guys could lead us in scoring on any
given night, and that's why this team is so potent."
Paul has spent most of his time setting up teammates, but he
also has been an efficient shooter. He's 14-for-24 from the floor
(58 percent) and has hit 4-of-9 three-point shots.
Paul will face tougher matchups in the medal round than he did
in Sapporo, where the U.S. went 5-0 and trailed only once after
halftime, against Italy. If the U.S. reaches the final, he could go
up against Argentina's Sanchez, who is 5 inches taller, or Spain's
Jose Calderon, who plays for the Toronto Raptors.
Paul isn't worried about facing more experienced players. After
one week in this world championship, he doesn't feel like a rookie.
"I just try to be crafty and keep guys off balance," Paul
said. "It's evident that not always is the fastest player the best
player. You just have to know where you want to go and be there at
the right time."