Far-Fetched Friday: USA Men's Basketball Fails to Win Gold Medal

07/24/2021

USA Men's Basketball heads into these Olympic games with less certainty than they've had in years, which leads me to believe they'll fall short of a gold medal. The squad is too thin, there is no clear leader, and the roster feels more like a mix and matching of stars than an actual roster.

Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at the state of U.S. basketball heading into the Olympics.

The most obvious talking point in this is how the U.S. lost two exhibition games in a row in the lead-up to the tournament, the first time that has happened since they started using professional players in 1992. I wrote about how International Players are taking over the NBA, but that was not the reason for this. The gap between the U.S. and the world is still humongous when it comes to National Team talent.

A country like Greece might have a Giannis, or Slovenia might have a Luca Doncic, but then that's it; the rest of the roster is well below average. 

The U.S. lost to a Nigeria team with just seven NBA players (Shoutout to the Diaspora), then followed that up with a loss to an Australian roster with just six NBA players. They are just exhibition games, and a high level of concern may be an exaggeration, but when you start accomplishing negative feats for the first time in 29 years, that concern is warranted.

Saying years in Olympic Basketball is a bit misleading, considering the games come every four years. But even then, the U.S. has only not won gold once since they started playing pro players seven tournaments ago in 1992. The U.S. finished with a bronze medal in 2004, with a leadership-lacking roster where 8 of the 12 players were 24-years-old or younger. And while this current roster is not nearly as young, an important factor is that there seems to be a lack of leadership with this team, as there was in 2004.

Experience should not be confused with leadership. While this team has plenty of experience with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green returning as Olympic champions, there is still a leadership issue.

For example, Gregg Popovich may be the most experienced coach in all of basketball and an excellent leader of NBA teams, but so far, he has struggled as an international coach. In 2019, he led the U.S. to a seventh-place finish in the FIBA World Cup, the worst ever. The worst finish before that? A sixth-place finish in the 2002 FIBA World Cup, two years before the shocking 2004 Olympic Bronze finish.

Part of that lack of leadership also falls on roster design.

Until Jrue Holiday joined after his NBA championship, the U.S. featured a roster of four guards constantly ridiculed for their lack of defensive effort and prowess. Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, and Damian Lillard. All excellent scorers, but also awful defenders. There's also a glaring point guard issue. Olympic games are played at a much slower pace than NBA games, magnifying the importance of having a point guard that can set up shots for his teammates. Ricky Rubio is an international menace for that very fact. Rubio was named the best player at the 2019 FIBA World Championship. That responsibility to orchestrate the offense again falls on Jrue Holiday. 

So USA basketball is essentially pinning all of their defensive and playmaking hopes on a 31-year-old man who is coming off the most physically and mentally demanding season of his career.

Then there's rim-protecting, and on a roster of 12, JaVale McGee is the only recognized shot blocker. And they only even added a rim protector like McGee because Kevin Love pulled out. And I know the U.S. had plenty of players withdraw or suffer an injury, but still, this roster should fit together better. You didn't need to bring five guards who have the same playing style and are below-average defenders. You could have done yourself a favor by bringing rim protectors under the FIBA rules that allow goaltending and no defensive 3-second violations. These are roster changes that would have sacrificed certain stars to put together a better team.

I'm sure the players and coaches are well aware of growing doubts, and that may propel them to use it as motivation and finish with a gold medal as expected. 

But I am here to predict that this U.S. Men's Basketball Team will fail to bring home gold.


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