Watching Team U.S.A. struggle against a decidedly inferior Lithuanian team in an exhibition game yesterday--Chris Sheridan rather memorably wrote, "[t]o say they looked ordinary would be to give them an undeserved compliment"--I learned a few things: the European conversion rate on veteran savvy is steep, if Chauncey Billups' miserable play is any indication; a number of second-string NBA point guards could start for Lithuania, which could hardly dribble or pass against the U.S.A.'s press; and Team U.S.A.'s size deficit is as bad as advertised.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski elected to bring five point guards and just one center across the Atlantic for these exhibitions leading up to the FIBA World Championships. And as much respect as I have for Tyson Chandler, it's pretty obvious that rotating him and a trio of forwards (Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant, and Kevin Love) in the pivot is going to present problems for the United States; it's perfectly reasonable to view them as the underdogs, given their deficiencies in inside scoring as well as perimeter jump-shooting.
Which is where Dwight Howard fits in. Or would have, anyway.
Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, and Rudy Gay feasted on the Lithuanian backcourt's many miscues yesterday, which fueled a 17-0 run in the second half and sealed the win for Team U.S.A. But relying on runouts to defeat the more talented Greek and Spanish teams is a risky proposition. And say what you will about Howard's low-post game--and plenty's been said about it--but there's no denying that he'd add a fairly bankable dimension to Team U.S.A.'s offense. And, as we know, he's no slouch defensively.
But Howard, like the rest of his teammates on the gold-medal-winning team at the 2008 Olympics, isn't with Team U.S.A. this summer. Instead, he's been promoting the NBA in India and China, with Bryan Meyer, a personal trainer from Altamonte Springs, in tow. Additionally, he's worked on his offensive skills with Hall-of-Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston.
ESPN's Bill Simmons, longtime a critic of Howard's, posted this message on his Twitter account when Team U.S.A. made some cuts last week.
Also: Howard was foolish for skipping this thing. Dwight, we've seen you play. Nobody needs the alpha dog reps more than you.
Marc Stein agreed with his ESPN colleague.
The exhibitions Howard is missing don't amount to a helluva lot. But winning the World Championships would secure a bid to the 2012 Olympics. And yes, the U.S. will eventually qualify even without a victory in the World Championships, but that's not really the issue: it could use Howard, and Simmons and Stein aren't alone in believing Howard could use the U.S.
So I turn the question over to you, Orlando Magic fans: should Howard have forgone his promotional work, as well as his session with Olajuwon, in order to add some superstar power to Team U.S.A.'s squad in the World Championships? Or did he make the right move by skipping out?
Interestingly, Spain faces Team U.S.A. today at 3 PM on ESPN. The Spanish team features NBAers Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, and Marc Gasol; former NBA player Juan Carlos Navarro; and Ricky Rubio and Fran Vazquez, two lottery picks who have yet to join the NBA.
Limited to clean-up duty, Howard averaged 9.1 points and 6.1 boards on 74.5% shooting--and, thanks to his poor conversion at the foul line, a disappointing 57.7% True Shooting mark--during Team U.S.A.'s run to Olympic gold in 2008. There's no question he'd get more touches on this World Championships squad, though, as the team is without perimeter scoring aces Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony.