The last time anybody felt this nervous about Team USA Basketball was…well, let’s not talk about that.
In the summer of 2016, it came as no surprise that many bonafide NBA superstars, like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Kahwi Leonard, Chris Paul, and a million others, opted not to join Team USA to make a run at another gold medal in Rio that typically comes as a given. The squad suiting up in 2016 is no bunch of scrubs, featuring Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and DeMarcus Cousins, but the mindset of a default gold might leave this year’s team short of that aspiration.
Perennial coach Mike Krzyzewski openly admits to a more lax practice regime for the loaded team: risking injury with players that exemplify far and away the most talent of any men at the Olympic level of basketball is a bit reckless. However, the team’s intensity and focus has blatantly wavered, and, as a result, their defense and pace have faltered.
Team USA went on cruise control early when they faced Argentina, Venezuela, Nigeria, and China in the exhibition rounds. The combined record of those teams in the preliminary round sits at a lowly 5-15 and pales in comparison to some of the other tougher match-ups that team USA is likely to face like a dangerous 4-1 Australia team or the long-lasting Spanish squad.
In the preliminary round, Team USA went undefeated, but the margin of victory decreased in every subsequent game; they beat China by 57, Venezuela by 44, Australia by 10, Serbia by 3, and France by 3. The blatant disregard for defense was obvious.
China and Venezuela brought little to the table against the US, sporting only one current NBA player between the two squads. However, Australia’s scrap-and-score lineup that includes Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, and Matthew Dellavedova caught Team USA by surprise and torched through their defense, putting up 88 points while shooting 50% from the floor. The Aussies led by five at half, making Team USA trail after 20 minutes for the first time since the 2004 Olympics in Athens, in which the US won only bronze. Mills’ eccentric 30 points was ousted only by Carmelo Anthony’s game-sealing three-pointer that solidified the contest and added to the 31 points he notched to place him on top of the list of scoring leaders in USA Olympic history. The accolade would be bittersweet, however, if the gold medal were to escape the team.
Next, the US tried their very best to fumble away a game against Serbia. Denver Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic put up 25 in an effort to shock Team USA, falling short of overtime after newly acquired Sacramento King Bogdan Bogdanovic missed the tying three-pointer. Serbia shot over 51% for the game, despite their average being 48% for these Olympic games.
In the final match of the preliminary round, Team USA took the court against the French national team that fell only three points short of the upset. Thomas Heurtel wrote in 18 points, eight boards, and nine assists for France in the absence of Tony Parker and led the Frenchmen to shoot over 56% from the field.
Team USA allowed opponents to shoot 46.1% from the floor while posting 81.4 points per contest, ranking them 9th and 6th in those categories, respectively. The level of dominance fans have seen from the US national team in years past, like the 2008 Redeem Team, is nowhere to be seen this summer. Team USA matches up against Argentina in the quarterfinals on Wednesday and hopes to throw on the clamps and disallow any huge scoring outbursts from Manu Ginobili, who spearheaded the stealing of the gold in 2004. Barring any huge explosions, Team USA should take down the aging Argentinians with ease. However, “ease” has been the last descriptor anybody could use this summer for Team USA. Admittedly, the US men’s team remains the outright favorite to bring gold back to the United States, but if the team continues to ignore the necessary drive and seriousness needed to win, disappointment will show its ugly face.