USA's Kobe Bryant drives past Nicolas Batum of France. ((Harry E. Walker, MCT / July…)
Below is a Q&A with former Lakers assistant coach Ettore Messina. He's serving as an on-air analyst for Sky TV for the 2012 Olympic Games. Messina worked as a consultant with the Lakers last season before returning to CSKA Moscow for a second stint as the Russian club's head coach.
On Team USA's roster: Talent-wise, they have the depth. They have the perimeter players. And they have bigger small forwards. That all helps them overcome the fact that they don't have too much size. Size is not a factor so long as you can compensate it with athleticism and stability. That's exactly what happened against a team like France. They're supposed to be a more than decent team, even if Tony Parker is not at his best or in his best shape. The U.S. plays the game seriously. They always have a very high number of assists and they share the ball.
On the rest of the field: Spain is a good team. They have the size in the Gasol brothers and Ibaka. But with as far as players on the perimeter, athleticism and quickness, there is a big gap in favor of the United States. Spain can really try to post the ball hard, and that's what they will do. But in the long run, you'll have Pau needing to defend Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant. It's not going to be easy for them.
On Kobe Bryant's performance against France (scored 10 points on two-of-six shooting, seven-of-seven from the free throw line in 12 minutes): In the opening of the third quarter against France, they really needed to stretch the score. That's where LeBron James and Kobe Bryant came to work. Kobe brought a lot to this game. He made his jump shot. He was consistent defensively. He didn't force many situations (though he shot two-of-six from the field). He shot a couple of threes that were very important to increase the lead. They came at the right moment when they really needed it. He didn't need to play big minutes.
On Bryant's role with Team USA: It's different than with the Lakers. There he's obviously a more pivotal person. Here he has to share the minutes and the possessions with LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Here, he knows his scoring is important, but what's even more important is his leadership and the moment when he scores. It's not necessary for the U.S. team to have Kobe score 30 points so they can win. Many times with the Lakers, we needed him to score 30 points to have a chance to win the game.
On Pau Gasol's role with Spain: Obviously with Spain, he's the No. 1 option. With the Lakers, he was the No. 2 and No. 3. That's a little different. But I see him playing with the same poise and same talent.
On Team USA adjusting to the FIBA rules: I think they are adjusting pretty well. I haven't seen too many travel violations. They need to understand the weak-side help comes quicker here than in the NBA. But they're finding the right man at the right moment. The referees are interpreting the game the right way. The referees here in the tournament are trying to establish criteria not to slip away from their hands. But I saw the Americans pretty confident in playing the game. I remember all the noise they made in Beijing about the traveling violations and the fouls. But here, they handled themselves pretty well. I didn't have any problem with any call that the referees called.