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August 11, 2008
Olympic Recap
Day One

by Kevin Pelton

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Throughout the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Basketball Prospectus will offer a unique look at advanced statistics from the men's basketball competition.

United States 101, China 70

Possessions: 78.5
Offensive Ratings: U.S. 125.2, China 91.6

So far, so good for the U.S. Olympic Team in its quest to reclaim gold. Buoyed by a jubilant home crowd, China came out quickly and were tied at 29 as late as the six-minute mark of the second quarter. Once their three-pointers stopped falling, however, the Chinese had a tough time scoring and the Americans' unstoppable transition offense became impossible to overcome.

In my preview, I wrote about the importance of defense for the USA in the early going. In the opener, they earned high marks on D. At times, perimeter players overhelped against Yao Ming, but the U.S. was willing to surrender those looks from outside to contain Yao, who was limited to 3-for-10 shooting. As important as the shorter three-pointer can be in international play, the USA coaching staff might have given it too much respect in the 2006 FIBA World Championships. Along with a defensive style that encouraged gambling for steals, that translated into a problematic two-point percentage. Yesterday, the U.S. limited China to 31.7 percent inside the arc and offered great help defense when Chinese perimeter players were able to penetrate.

The U.S. men beat China in group play in the last World Championships, offering us an interesting point of comparison. The final margin--USA by 31--was identical, but the final score (121-90) was much higher. In that game, the U.S. surrendered 90 points on approximately 85 possessions and allowed China to shoot 45.7 percent on twos, including 21 points for Yao.

Whether the focus is on offense or defense, the U.S. should win three of its five group matchups (vs. China, Germany and Angola) handily. However, a strong defensive effort bodes well for how the USA will match up with Greece and Spain in the other two group games and, more importantly, in the medal rounds.

There's room for improvement for the U.S. on offense. The team did not shoot the ball well from downtown, hitting 29.4 percent of its three-point attempts. Kobe Bryant (1-of-7 on threes) figures to get it going. The team got good looks, though not necessarily from areas on the floor where they're accustomed to shooting. China's front line also helped shot the U.S. down on the offensive glass, somewhere they'll want to get more production the rest of the way.

Lithuania 79, Argentina 75

Possessions: 77
Offensive Ratings: Lithuania 104.8, Argentina 95.6

The first significant upset of the Olympics saw Lithuania unbreak a tie with a late three-pointer by Linas Kleiza off of a Sarunas Jasikevicius feed. With the other three top contenders in Group B, Argentina figured to have an easy time of it in Group A. Now, the defending Olympic champs need to be perfect the rest of the way and see Lithuania get knocked off. Why does placement matter when Argentina will surely advance? The winner of Group A faces the fourth-place team from Group B in the semifinals--likely Germany or China. There's a quantum leap in talent from there to third place in Group B, presumably one of the trio of Greece, Spain and the U.S. If Argentina finishes second in Group A, they would theoretically need to knock off all three other powers to repeat gold.

As for this game, it was surprisingly low scoring. Argentina could not find the range from downtown, shooting 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) on threes. Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni were both 1-of-7 from beyond the arc. 18 turnovers also hampered the Argentina offense. For Lithuania, it was an impressive performance, but for Argentina I think it was largely a poorly-timed off night.

Spain 81, Greece 66

Possessions: 69.5
Offensive Ratings: Spain 115.6, Greece 96.1

In the only day-one clash of contenders, Spain cruised past Greece. The Spanish haven't been a good matchup for Greece recently, most notably in Spain's 23-point win in the gold-medal game of the 2006 World Championships--without Pau Gasol. Nothing happened to change that yesterday, though Greece might have made a game of it had it not been for 11-of-24 free-throw shooting. Otherwise, the two stat lines were highly similar, including identical 50.9 percent effective field-goal percentages.

Russia 71, Iran 49

Possesions: 62.5
Offensive Ratings: Russia 112.1, Iran 79.4

Iran was clearly overmatched in its Olympic debut, though the slow pace held the final margin down to 22 points. The main thing worth watching for Iran is the performance of 7'2" center Hamed Hadadi, who could draw interest as an NBA free agent after the Games. Hadadi had nine points and eight rebounds.

USA expat and Bucknell product J.R. Holden led Russia with 19 points, five steals and three assists. Because Holden has never played in the NBA and has played in Russia for several years, his story gets little attention, but he's another naturalized player in a key role.

Croatia 97, Australia 82

Possession: 70.5
Offensive Ratings: Croatia 137.7, Australia 116.1

Croatia led by 16 at halftime and got an easy victory in a game that could ultimately decide the fourth and final spot in the quarterfinals from Group A. To advance, Australia is now going to have to pull an upset in addition to taking care of business against Iran. The Aussie defense was appalling, allowing 66.7 percent shooting and 12-of-16 (75 percent) on threes.

Germany 95, Angola 66

Possessions: 68
Offensive Ratings: Germany 140.0, Angola 96.3

Angola's tallest player stands 6'8". In addition to Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki, the Germans bring two more seven-footers (Patrick Femerling and Jan Jagla) off the bench. It wasn't hard to see how this one was going to play out. Kaman and Nowitzki combined for 47 points on 17-of-21 shooting. There's not a whole lot to read into this one.

Here's a look at the possession-based statistics, which will become more meaningful as we get further into the competition.

Team            Gr    Diff   ORating Rank   DRating Rank    Pace

Germany          B    42.5    140.0    1      96.3    5     68.2
United States    B    39.5    125.2    3      91.6    2     78.5
Russia           A    35.2    112.1    6      79.4    1     62.5
Spain            B    21.6    115.6    5      96.1    4     69.4
Croatia          A    21.3    137.7    2     116.1    9     70.5
Lithuania        A     5.2    104.8    7      95.6    3     76.9
Argentina        A    -5.2     95.6   10     104.8    6     76.9
Australia        A   -21.3    116.1    4     137.7   11     70.5
Greece           B   -21.6     96.1    9     115.6    8     69.4
Iran             A   -35.2     79.4   12     112.1    7     62.5
China            B   -39.5     91.6   11     125.2   10     78.5
Angola           B   -42.5     96.3    8     140.0   12     68.2

As well as the Four Factors on offense and defense for each team.

                                OFFENSE                           DEFENSE

Team            Gr     eFG%    OR%   FTM/FGA   TO%       eFG%    DR%   FTM/FGA   TO%

Angola           B   0.408   0.200   0.283   0.128     0.681   0.577   0.276   0.171
Argentina        A   0.452   0.273   0.286   0.199     0.517   0.833   0.328   0.189
Australia        A   0.559   0.300   0.271   0.157     0.778   0.684   0.241   0.214
China            B   0.412   0.295   0.206   0.194     0.593   0.727   0.257   0.129
Croatia          A   0.778   0.316   0.241   0.214     0.559   0.700   0.271   0.157
Germany          B   0.681   0.423   0.276   0.171     0.408   0.800   0.283   0.128
Greece           B   0.509   0.222   0.204   0.189     0.509   0.697   0.379   0.169
Iran             A   0.457   0.345   0.128   0.296     0.532   0.677   0.081   0.132
Lithuania        A   0.517   0.167   0.328   0.189     0.452   0.727   0.286   0.199
Russia           A   0.532   0.323   0.081   0.132     0.457   0.655   0.128   0.296
Spain            B   0.509   0.303   0.379   0.169     0.509   0.778   0.204   0.189
United States    B   0.593   0.273   0.257   0.129     0.412   0.705   0.206   0.194

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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