Has the World Finally Caught Up to USA Basketball?
You could argue that the world had already caught up to USA Basketball in 2004, when Argentina dethroned the United States 89-81, giving USA Basketball their first non-gold finish with a team consisting of professional players at the Olympics.
But even then, was the label of “dominant” ever really peeled off USA Basketball?
Over the following two Olympic games in 2008 and 2012, Team USA bounced back with a vengeance and proved to the world that they were still the nation to beat in the game of hoops. But with their most recent showing in Rio now complete, the luster of Team USA is once again being questioned despite their gold-medal finish.
Let's look at some reasons why the golden success of USA Basketball may be in jeopardy for the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Rest for the Best
Team USA always resembles that of an All-Star roster, but in Rio there was no sighting of Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, or Russell Westbrook. In other words, the NBA's top four MVP vote-getters were not suited up for their country this summer.
The previous two Summer Olympic teams, 2008 and 2012, each featured four of the top five MVP candidates based on voting; this year, the team only had one in Kevin Durant.
During the 1996 Summer Olympics, all 12 players on the USA roster were members of an All-NBA Team (First, Second, or Third); the 2016 squad only represented six -- that's half of what it was 20 years ago!
If Team USA wants to continue their medal-winning ways, they will need to focus on building their future rosters with the very best talent possible.
No More Surprises
For American NBA fans, watching international competition has become increasingly entertaining over the years. That's because they are recognizing more and more foreign players from teams that play, or have played, in the NBA.
This year, the Olympics featured an all-time high of 38 international players who have had a taste of playing in the NBA. For international teams, the mystery and awe of playing against Team USA has gradually disappeared, which has led to a more competitive balance.
Australia (7), France (7), and Spain (6) led the way with the most recognizable NBA faces, but other countries such as Croatia (3) and Nigeria (3) also represented NBA-level talent. Furthermore, there were a total of 10 international players on display who have already signed contracts this year to become first-time NBA players, including two for the New York Knicks (Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas), two for the Philadelphia 76ers (Dario Saric, Sergio Rodriguez), and two from China (Zhou Qi, Wang Zhelin).
As has been usually the case, the point differential for Team USA was at a staggering figure in Rio -- a total of 180 points, an average of 22.5 per game. Though they finished undefeated, there were multiple instances when the team showed signs of discordant struggle. Even in the abridged structure of 40 minutes per game, Team USA averaged 11.8 turnovers per contest while experiencing slow starts more often than not.
The graph can be a bit misleading, as one can easily perceive the continuance of USA basketball dominance. However, Team USA had to hold on tightly in back-to-back, three-point wins versus Serbia and France in the Preliminary Round and, by the end of the tournament, Team USA played four games in which they uncharacteristically won by 10 or fewer points.
So much can happen in four-years time between now and the 2020 Olympics. Will LeBron still be great enough to compete? Will there be four Warriors on the team? Can Gregg Popovich convince Kawhi to represent the red, white, and blue?
With further developments happening everyday in training and coaching around the world, it will be fun to see if the gap will widen or narrow between USA basketball and the world in the years to come.