What’s the Deal With Team USA?


For fans of Team USA Basketball, this year has been a rollercoaster. After losing multiple exhibition games, and an 83-76 loss against France in the preliminary rounds, everyone was freaking out over American basketball. The US was 54-2 in exhibition games, and hadn’t lost games in the Olympics since 2004… how come that record ballooned to 54-5 and the 2020 team was doing so badly? Many speculated that it was because of how different the international rules were from the NBA. Some said that teams were actually playing defense which the current NBA players weren’t accustomed to. Others said that it was the lack of a true big man, as before JaVale McGee arrived, the only big men on the team were Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo. More said that the players hadn’t gelled with one another, as so many were suiting up for Team USA for the first time, and that they weren’t used to playing in coach Greg Poppovich’s system. Whatever the case, Team USA’s fortunes have changed… for the better.

Credit to The Athletic for Picture

Almost everything listed above has changed. Team USA got another true big man in McGee, and it has paid off on the court. Players started hitting their shots while taking advantage of a shorter three-point line, and new arrivals Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Devin Booker came to the team straight from the NBA Finals. The team cracked down on defense, and when the games mattered, Team USA stepped up their game. Against Iran, Team USA had their first blowout win, 120-66. Damian Lillard hit seven three- pointers for a total of 21 points, Kevin Durant played and looked like Durant with 10 points, and Devin Booker added 16 points, Jayson Tatum contributed 13, and Khris Middleton also had 10. Lillard said about the team’s first win, “I think we came out with a lot more urgency,” Lillard said. “Our energy was higher, we played at a faster pace. We were more aggressive, and we played like ourselves. We didn’t come out here and think that it was just gonna happen, we made it happen, and that’s the way that we got to play if we want to be successful in these Olympics.”

“We were a bit too unselfish and that bit us before, but tonight I think guys came out there and were super aggressive to look for their shot but also keep everybody involved, and we were able to make some shots,” Durant added afterward. “Damian came out, got it scorching for us, so we’re gonna need that going forward.”

USA fans blew a collective sigh of relief, and hoped that their good fortune would last. It did seem so, as in their next game against the Czech Republic, Team USA had another blowout, with the final score being 119-84. In this game, Tatum would score 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, and the squad looked incredibly cohesive. Their next game is on August 3rd, against Spain, so it will be intersting to see how Team USA does against them.

While Team USA has come together and proven to people that they are not going to be a horrible team this year, I think that these losses were desperately needed. Americans are so used to winning gold that it is the expectation. Anything less than the gold medal is a failure of a year, and Americans have become spoiled by this. In 2004, when America won the Bronze Medal, people were talking about how it was so horrible, and that they had to make a better team next year, thus spawning “The Redeem Team.” In the rigged 1972 Olympics, when the US won silver, they refused to accept their medals (although there was good reason for this). Do you know how many countries fail at winning even a bronze medal every four years? What I’m trying to say is that Team USA needed a wake-up call, something to show them that overseas talent has gotten better and they can’t cruise through the games without trying like they used to.

Despite fixing all of the weaknesses that I previously mentioned, there is one weakness that Team USA hasn’t yet fixed, and might not be able too. This weakness is their hunger to win. For other countries, winning a medal of any kind is incredible, and to represent their country is an honor they will never forget. While I believe that Team USA believes that this is an honor, I also believe they have heard too many times that the NBA is the best basketball league in the world (which it is). However, when people say that the NBA Finals is the biggest stage in the world… it’s a lie. Viewership in the NBA Finals has been declining in 2020 and 2021, and no sports stage is bigger than the Olympics, when the whole world tunes in to watch. Some players, such as Luka Doncic, understand this, as he personally said a gold medal means more to him than an NBA Championship. It’s that hunger for a medal that will propel teams like Slovenia to the top.

Credit to Jesse D. Garrabrant of Getty Images for Picture

However, even with all of this, I still think Team USA is one of the best basketball teams in the world. Yes, I said one of, not the definitive best. If I’m being as honest and accurate as possible, I think Team USA will win either the silver or bronze medal this year. There are two teams that I believe could bring them down:

France

France is anchored by NBA All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. They also have NBA level wings, such as Evan Fournier of the Boston Celtics, Nicholas Batum of the Los Angeles Clippers, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot of the Brooklyn Nets, and Frank Ntilikina of the New York Knicks. France has already proven they can beat Team USA, doing so earlier on July 25th, with a final score of 83-76. The other team that I think can beat Team USA, and frankly think will win the gold medal this year is:

Slovenia

Let’s be honest, Slovenia is a one-man show, orchestrated by Doncic. However, their undefeated record speaks for itself, as well as Doncic’s near 50-point and triple-double performances. They’ve proven they have the keys to winning, and I think they can do it. They haven’t played Team USA yet, but I would equate a potential matchup to that of the 1988 Chicago Bulls vs the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers. The 1988 Bulls were led by Michael Jordan, who had potentially the best season of his career that year, winning MVP and DPOY honors. Slovenia’s Jordan is Doncic, but there is no clear Scottie Pippen. On the other hand, the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers failed to live up to people’s standards, winning three previous championships (sound familiar anyone?). While they had all the talent to succeed and win the championship, with multiple Hall-of-Famers on the team, they simply couldn’t do it, and finished second-best, which is exactly what I think will happen to Team USA.

Who do you think will take home gold, and what do you think of Team USA this year? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!

 

One thought on “What’s the Deal With Team USA?

  1. Great analysis, I believe Luka Doncic’s comments about “winning the gold is more important to him than winning an NBA championship” says it all. I don’t think NBA players feel this in their hearts. As always, please keep writing your Blog’s.

    Like

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