With the active portion of the NBA offseason over, SB Nation's network of basketball bloggers is teaming up to keep things spicy with some semi-regular network-wide discussion of appropriate topics. Today's topic: The Ultimate 3 on 3 Tournament.
Word on the street (the one that discusses the possibility of future Olympic events ... its in Switzerland, where all discussion of international sport takes place) is that FIBA, the governing body of international basketball, is keen on the idea of a 3 on 3 tournament being a part of the Olympic Games, possibly as early as 2016. With that in mind, and with news coming in at a slow trickle, SB Nation has once again banded together to come up with an opportunity to tear each other apart. Each NBA team will unveil and talk up their squad today, with a single elimination tournament to follow in the coming weeks.
Before we get to the squad selected, here are the rules of the tournament.
Here's the rules SB Nation agreed to for the tournament
Baskets count for two and threes (even though FIBA apparently wants to make their tournament ones and twos)
Games are 10 minutes long
If one team scores 31 in less than 10 minutes, game over
7 fouls results in the bonus situation;
You can't foul out (since we didn't allow subs);
12 second shot clock.
Not specified, but implied, is that FIBA rules for other aspects will apply (meaning zone defenses are allowed, and players are allowed to goaltend defensively after the ball has touched the rim.
So, now to the team. The rules committee did us a favor by deciding not to bother with nationality restrictions (meaning we don't lose Steve Nash because he's Canadian, or Pau Gasol because he's Spanish), so team selection from amongst the Lakers top tier was not all that difficult. It really was a win-win-win-win situation, because the Lakers happen to be in possession of four supremely talented basketball players. However, only three "wins" are allowed, so I will unveil my player selections in order.
The easiest selection on the team. Howard gets the nod because he is by far the best defender in the league, one who is capable of covering a tremendous amount of ground and erasing the effectiveness of both attackers in the pick and roll all by himself. In a 3 on 3 contest, this type of defensive prowess is at an absolute premium. Plus, with the FIBA rules allowing zone defenses and goaltending, Howard doesn't have to worry about shading to his man and is free to roam the paint and clean up the glass in all of his quick-jumping glory. With Dwight Howard manning the paint, the Lakers are simply not going to be beaten by anything other than jump shots.
Yes, Steve Nash gets the nod before Kobe Bryant. This has nothing to do with any kind of referendum on the two players' skill sets, and everything to do with the strategy of building a winning model. Steve Nash just so happens to be a practitioner of an offense that takes two players to run, and has been proven since time immemorial to be nearly unguardable in an NBA in which there are five players on both teams. Put him in a 3 on 3 game, in which there is only one other player on the court to assist the two defenders tasked with guarding a Steve Nash pick and roll, and that's pretty much game over on stopping this squad offensively. Oh, and Dwight Howard just so happens to be an excellent partner with which to dance. Nash is a weak link on defense, but Howard erases any concern besides outside shooting there.
If this still makes your Kobe-loving heart a little uneasy, put it to you this way: If the tournament rules allowed for winners to take the ball out, Howard and Nash would have a decent chance taking some other teams 2 on 3, especially if the other team didn't have more than one outside shooter.
With Nash and Howard surefire participants, the decision for the third and final member of the squad comes down to Kobe Bryant vs. Pau Gasol. I'd like to pretend this was a tough decision, but you know it really isn't. Pau Gasol is a tremendous player, and his versatile game very much suits the kind of skill set that is desirable in a three on three tournament in which a vast array of strategies might be used by other folks. For the briefest of moments, I considered the possibility of a twin towers approach with Gasol and Howard, but with just one other player involved, its just not practical.
Kobe Bryant? He's plenty practical. Kobe's addition checks off all the skills that were previously missing from the team. He gives the team a strong perimeter defender (Kobe may not be deserving of his annual First Team All-Defense award anymore, but he's still one of the better perimeter defenders in the league when he wants to be). He is an absolute beast at off-the-ball cutting, and will easily punish any defender who gets sucked into the void of helping defend the unstoppable combination mentioned above. And when he sets his feet and takes his time, he's also a pretty decent spot up shooter.
So that's the team, here's the strategy:
I've already tipped my hat on this, but I'll say it again. A Steve Nash pick and roll with any decent partner is tough to stop in a 5 on 5 game in which there are three players who share the help responsibilities. A Steve Nash pick and roll with a decent partner in a 3 on 3 game (with only one helper) is nearly unstoppable. Dwight Howard is not just a decent partner for the pick and roll ... he's one of the best roll men in the league. And Kobe's off-the-ball work adds just as much to the equation. And the best part? If Nash gets tired, just throw sub out Kobe for the entire previous paragraph and its nearly as effective. Kobe doesn't have Nash's vision, but he knows how to throw a lob pass where only the biggest guy on the court can get it, and then you'd have Nash off the ball ready to drain any open shot the second his man leaves to help. I can't exaggerate enough how good this team would be offensively.
Defensively, it's tough to lock on to one strategy because of the likely breadth of strategies for teams across the league. Any reasonably balanced team will not have any huge matchup advantages. Kobe has enough size and (more importantly) fight in him to defend up to the four position in all but a few exceptional cases (like say Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph). Howard is fast enough that he could easily handle staying with a team's biggest player, no matter how small that player is. Nash is not a good defender, but his job defensively would be almost entirely limited to preventing open jump shots, allowing any and all penetration because something something Dwight Howard.
I see only two potential trouble spots: A small, quick guard with a strong outside shot will give the Lakers trouble, because Nash won't be able to stay in front of the guy and the strategy of letting Howard prowl the paint won't be an effective deterrent. Similarly, any team who's big man has a decent outside shot will reduce the effectiveness of Howard because he will have to venture further from the paint than is ideal. That said, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard provide the Lakers with enough athleticism, strength, and versatility as to be well prepared to deal with what comes. And any team that can punish the Lakers on defense will likely be even more susceptible to the Lakers' advantages on offense.
I don't know that the Lakers threesome presented here are outright favorites to win this tournament, especially with so many of the best teams in the league featuring a similarly strong threesome at the front of their lineup. Miami has got an obviously strong team, as do OKC, San Antonio, New York (Tyson Chandler is the only defender approaching Dwight levels of capability).
But the Lakers have a damned fine unit. They have solid foundations on both sides of the ball, they aren't susceptible to any but the most gimmicky of rosters (whose gimmicks will also be punished by the balance of their own squad). Very few weaknesses, lots and lots of strengths.
I like our chances.