I crunched the group play numbers to put together a map of per-possession offensive and defensive production.
Teams with superior offensive production trend to the right, and teams with strong defensive play trend upward. You want to be in that top-right quadrant.
You'll notice three teams really stand apart: the United States , Turkey and Serbia . Serbia had a beautiful offense, scoring more efficiently than any other team -- the U.S. included -- in the ground round despite missing starting point guard Milos Teodosic for two games and starting center Nenad Krstic for three. Team USA was also fantastic, finishing group play with the second-best defense as well as, perhaps surprisingly, the No. 2 offense. Turkey claimed the top defense through group play, with the No. 7 offense, despite Hedo Turkoglu's incredible struggles.
There's a definite second tier evident here: Australia, Lithuania, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Greece, Slovenia, Russia and New Zealand are all bunched together. Each team performed better than average on either offense, defense or both, and if they did not perform well on one side of the ball, they weren't too far off the average there. Spain and Greece look like the best teams from this tier. Unfortunately, the squads meet up Saturday night in the Round of 16, so one of the top-5 teams in the tournament will be gone way before the Final Four.
Where's Angola ? Not so good -- one of the seven worst performers in the group round. Team USA should have little problem in their own Round of 16 match.
We can also look a bit at style, or speed. This map shows teams' pace and offensive performance.
Pace, figured by calculating how many possessions a team used in a 40-minute game, is a good indicator of the speed at which a team's offense plays. Faster teams trend toward the right, and better offensive teams trend upward. As expected, Team USA has put the pedal to the floor in Worlds play, ranking as the highest pace team by a solid margin. Spain, Cote d'Ivoire and New Zealand follow. As you can see, pace is not indicative of offensive performance: CIV played quite fast, but had one of the worst offensive performances in the tournament through group play.
France was the slowest team that advanced to the knockouts. It'll be no surprise to folks familiar with European basketball that Russia and Greece were fairly slow, as well; it should be noted in previous tournaments Greece would be as slow as or slower than Tunisia by this metric. Turkey, perhaps Team USA's likely Final matchup, plays methodically as well, whereas Serbia played at average pace.
One thing I find fascinating through both maps is how similar Brazil and Argentina end up looking. Brazil is coached by Ruben Magnano, who led Argentina to the 2004 Olympic gold medal in Athens. If not for Spain-Greece, the Round-of-16 matchup between these South American neighbors might be the most intriguing of those set.
There's one other note that struck me while compiling the statistics for these maps. In the NBA, plenty of teams score efficiently without racking up many assists. In fact, assist rate has a negligible correlation with offensive efficiency at the team level, year after year. There is a small positive relationship between assist rate and field goal percentage, but once you mix in free throws and turnovers, the relationship essentially shrinks to nothing.
Not the case at FIBA. Look how much higher the correlation between assist rate (percentage of made field goals assisted on) and field goal percentage is at the Worlds versus last season in the NBA.
The theory I'd posit is that worse players need more help scoring. So these teams full of sub-elite players -- Australia, perhaps -- need a strong playmaker to help the less-than-amazing finishers score. At the NBA level, (almost) everyone can score, so the assist is not as important. (This all says something about Ricky Rubio, who has been passing up a storm at the Worlds but can't -- or won't -- score. I'm not sure what, but it's in there.) (TZ)