Almost from the onset of the 2016 Rio Olympics, Team USA Men’s Basketball has exhibited a surprising bend-don’t-break type vulnerability. Following expected successive routs of China and Venezuela to open Group-A competition, the heavily favored Americans eked out wins over the likes of Australia, France, and Sunday’s gold-medal opponent Serbia to stumble into the final contest undefeated.
Much has been made of Team USA’s inability to create separation from the field this Olympiad. Even with a lesser cast of talent than initially expected, pundits and prognosticators still pegged Team USA Basketball as prohibitive favorites against 11 other Olympic qualifiers.
Though physically and individually superior, Mike Krzyzewski’s collection of All-Star NBA players has bore witness to a rapid skill progression from their undaunted opposition. If this Summer’s Men’s Olympic basketball tournament has taught us nothing else, we now know every international grouping must be respected.
Case in point: Indiana Pacers star Paul George, who is Team USA’s fourth-leading scorer (11.6 ppg) but shooting just 29 percent (7-of-24) from deep had these comments for Daily Mail regarding the world’s ascension.
“This isn’t a tournament that we’re going to just dominate. There’s talent around this world and they’re showcasing it. For us, it’s just figuring out how we’re going to win. We’re having spurts of dominating, but we’re just not finding ways of putting a full 40 minutes together.”
George’s statement concerning Team USA having to artfully create novel scenarios to win each contest rings true. In the team’s first near calamity, four-time Olympic veteran Carmelo Anthony preserved the U.S.’ perfect mark with a 31-point eruption. Versus Serbia, to remain undefeated, an overall group effort was needed. Opposite France, Klay Thompson went for 30. And finally, Thompson again shouldered the load in scoring 22 in a semi-final victory over Spain.
It is likely Team USA will need all its collective skill and mettle once more when they face a steamrolling Serbia squad led by NBA standout Nikola Jokic and former draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic this Sunday.
Never before has an undefeated Team USA Men’s Basketball iteration fought so hard to maintain perfection. However, in light of the field rising and several All-NBA performers not participating, what other factors have led to this respectable American group’s travails?
Current TNT NBA analyst, and former 1993 NBA MVP, Charles Barkley says the answer is simple: roster construction. “It’s not a good team to put together. If you take away DeAndre Jordan, every guy on that team is a ball-dominant guy. You see them playing a lot of one-one-one basketball.”
“You take a guy like Kyle Lowry, who is a hell of a player, he wants to score. Kyrie Irving wants to score. Kevin Durant wants to score. DeMar DeRozan wants to score. So I think they have been really stagnant offensively.”
Amid the difficulties, Barkley and other pundits are quick to blame Team USA’s struggles on roster incongruities. However, with the first wave of NBA talent such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Russell Westbrook not available, could a more dominant Rio grouping realistically have been assembled?
Furthermore, wouldn’t every Olympic team comprised of top-line NBA competitors find itself in the same ball-sharing dilemma? With that noted, in this instance, ideations of faulty unit construction takes a back seat to the fact other countries have simply become better at basketball.
For example, nations such as Lithuania and Serbia now fastidiously instill fundamental team basketball concepts among the youth and nurture these teachings throughout every successive level. That is why it should no longer come as a shock when a well-coached, cohesive basketball grouping such as Serbia utilizes whirring ball movement and chemistry to find themselves on even stead with an impressive American offering.
Many hot-button questions regarding both Team USA Basketball and the world’s progression will be answered Sunday afternoon when America faces Serbia in the gold-medal game.
[Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images]