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Resting a healthy player in a tournament game will backfire
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - I don't like to second-guess coaches at FIBA EuroBaskets, FIBA Basketball World Cups or Olympic Games because if they're calling the shots for a national team, it's for a reason. They're good at what they do.
As the coaches and players of national teams get back on the court this summer at training camps and spend valuable time together, I salute them for making that commitment. Familiarity with each other is only going to help them.
We do know that these coaches, these astute men, these master tacticians and great developers of talent, aren't perfect. They sometimes do get things wrong. They probably won't admit it, but there's one move that's been repeated by different coaches that can only be described, however well intentioned it may have been, as a screw-up.
It's when a coach sits a player in the middle of an event, when the team is doing well, just to get him some rest, even when there's nothing wrong with the player.
Moves like this risk messing up a team's rhythm, the rotation and even momentum.
Tony Parker and Joakim Noah sat and watched as Spain drilled France in their first game at EuroBasket 2011
I get it. A coach, with little riding on the result, thinks it's the perfect time to let a player recover from a grueling several days of play, to let him catch his breath for the next big game. But the continuity, the flow of the team can be unsettled or even turned upside down.
Exhibit A: How good were Israel in 2015 when they reeled off four straight wins in Montpellier to clinch a spot in the Round of 16 with a game to spare? Omri Casspi would have been a frontrunner for a Group Phase MVP. That's when coach Erez Edelstein overthought it. He rested not just Casspi but Gal Mekel and Lior Eliyahu for the last Group Phase game against France. The French, predictably, rolled to an 86-61 triumph. Israel lost their momentum and then crashed out of the tournament in an 82-52 defeat to Italy. It was also a missed opportunity to put a real charge into the team and to galvanize their own fans. How big of an emotional lift would a victory over hosts France have been?
Exhibit B: Slovenia, the EuroBasket 2013 hosts and playing in front of a packed house in Ljubljana and with a spot in the Quarter-Finals already secured, took on a Finland team with no chance of advancing. Coach Bozidar Maljkovic sat Goran Dragic for all but five minutes and Finland humiliated Slovenia, 92-76. In their next game against France, a Quarter-Final, Tony Parker lit it up with 27 points and Les Bleus ended the hosts' medal hopes with a 72-62 triumph. The optics weren't good, sitting Dragic with so many fans in the Stozice Arena wanting to see their favorite player in action.
Aron Baynes had a game-high 21 points in a win over Mexico and then registered a DNP in a loss to Angola
Exhibit C: Australia, at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 in Spain, had a three-game winning streak going into their clash with Angola when coach Andrej Lemanis sat Joe Ingles and Aron Baynes, and played Matthew Dellavedova and David Anderson just four minutes each. Angola won, 91-83, fueled by Yannick Moreira’s eye-popping 38 points. Australia avoided the USA with that setback yet with an easier path to the Quarter-Finals still lost their next game against Turkey, 65-64, after a couple of late three-point bombs by Emir Preldzic. Australia had the last possession in the game in the final seconds but didn't get a shot off.
Exhibit D: At EuroBasket 2011, France had an opportunity to test themselves against title favorites yet sat a banged up Joakim Noah and also a healthy Parker. Both teams had already clinched spots in the Quarter-Finals. In the second half, Spain ran France out of the gym in Vilnius and won, 96-69. Nearly everyone believed Spain would win the title after that game, and they did. France accomplished their goal of reaching the Final to qualify for the London Olympics, yet they had lost a chance to make things more difficult for Spain in the EuroBasket. In the Final, Spain brushed France aside in a 98–85 triumph.
So coaches, go with the flow. Don't mess up what is working. Every game is important in a major basketball event when it comes to chemistry and continuity. When it comes to getting a player some rest, just reduce his minutes.
Don't overthink this. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
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