With the Olympics in Rio already underway, the expectations for USA Basketball’s Mens National Team are, of course, extremely high. The NBA stars are a safe bet for winning it all. But Gold will not be enough. The team will have to dominate their opponents on all levels in order to be considered a success. Thus the risk of underperforming is huge. There is no margin for error.
Looking at Team USA’s performances in the 2016 exhibition games, which they all won in convincing fashion, prior to the Olympic tournament and their first two games in Rio, you get the impression that there is no need to worry. The team is a good mixture of athletic and disciplined players who have already proven themselves in the NBA. From young stars like Kyrie Irving to veterans like Carmelo Anthony, the team is packed with championship-caliber players. But will that be enough to blow away the basketball world once again?
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have put together a team with superior athleticism and lethal outside shooting. The 12-man roster only features two true centers, namely Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers, and two point guards, NBA champion Kyrie Irving and the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry. Although this may seem a disadvantage at the boards or in the backcourt at first sight, Team USA’s super athletic and versatile wing players will once again be too much for their international counterparts.
While Irving’s ball handling and three-point shooting will be a nightmare for opposing defenses, Lowry’s physical presence and cleverness will give him an edge on most of his defenders. Irving has already proven himself in clutch situations numerous times, be it in the NBA (winning Game 7 in Oakland with a dagger three among other things) or on the international level. In the 2014 FIBA World Cup Final, Kyrie stepped up to the challenge and scored a game-high 26 points including a perfect 6 for 6 from downtown to win the World Cup and earn MVP honors. Kyle Lowry is the undisputed leader of the Toronto Raptors which makes him the perfect point guard for Team USA’s second unit.
DeAndre Jordan is as true a center as it gets. He has a big body, rebounds the ball, blocks shots and is a notoriously bad free-throw shooter with several airballs on his resumé. His otherworldly jumping ability more than makes up for his free-throws though. He is a beast and dunks with the best of them. Cousins on the other hand is way more skilled than Jordan. Despite his huge frame, Boogie is a finessed player with an array of post-moves, good court vision and ball handling skills. This makes Cousins a dangerous threat on offense.
The rest of the team consists of a plethora of athletic wings with great speed, great size and excellent shooting ability. Led by Team USA veteran Carmelo Anthony and former NBA MVP Kevin Durant, the US wing players cannot be matched by any team in the competition. Both Melo and KD are lethal scorers and have already played big roles in World Cups and Olympics. Especially Anthony has really excelled in international play. Their size allows them to slide to the four position and crash the boards, but they can also dribble the ball and deliver from outside the arc. Speaking of outside shooting, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson is without a doubt one of the deadliest three-point shooters basketball has ever seen. He can catch fire in a hurry and easily decide games on his own. Plus he is an excellent defender. This makes Thompson one of several two-way players on the US roster. His Golden State colleague Draymond Green, a triple-double threat with extraordinary passing ability, Chicago standout Jimmy Butler and the Pacers’ Paul George who returned to USABMNT with something to prove after suffering the horrible leg fracture in 2014, round out the defensive specialist squad. As the exhibition games have shown, Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan will probably be the most spectacular player on the roster. As LeBron James tweeted in his response to DeRozan’s 360 dunk attempt, the dunk would probably have ranked in the all-time top five if he had made it. So watch out for some serious aerial attacks! I don’t want to call Harrison Barnes the odd man out, but despite his talent, the Mavericks’ new acquisition will probably be the US player with the least playing time in this year’s Olympics.
As I already said, Gold will not be enough for Team USA. Expectations are sky high. Former NBA player Greg Anthony went so far as predicting the USABMNT to win every game by 20 or more points. Several factors play a role if Team USA wants to achieve that feat.
- The players have to take the competition seriously. No matter how bad some of their opponents may perform and how lopsided some games will be, there is no room for error, because teams like France, Spain and Lithuania will give their very best until the buzzer sounds.
- Defense. Regardless of how good the US players are on the offensive end, they’ll have to sacrifice themselves on defense to get their offense going and blow out their opponents.
- Team chemistry. Having so many scorers on your roster can become a problem as 2004 has shown for example. But looking at the exhibition games, the 2016 Team USA seems to have great chemistry and as long as they can keep that up during Olympic competition, there should be no need to worry.
With Melo, KD and Kyrie in charge, Team USA will win Gold in this year’s Olympics. The fashion in which they will win depends solely on themselves and their willingness to give their all each and every game. Looking at their first two games, a whopping 119-62 victory against China and a solid 113-69 outing versus Venezuela, this team leaves no doubt about who is number 1. The first real test will come today, when the US squad will face Team Australia with their NBA stars Matthew Dellavedova and Andrew Bogut. But a team that is packed with NBA champions and All Stars will not fail. Team USA will once again dominate competition and continue to reign supreme atop the basketball world.