As it turns out, Team USA has finished round robin play undefeated, but by many eyes, a somewhat tainted 5-0 that is far from the undisputed gold medal. Here are the Top 5 reasons why the Americans could miss out on that gold medal:
Transition to the international game
The U.S. has had difficulties adjusting to the international game — slower tempo, constant ball rotation and lots of half court offense are things the NBA game hasn’t had since the late 70’s.
The players have also struggled with the technical aspects of the game — illegal screens, over-the-back fouls and most importantly traveling. More often than not, traveling violations are not called in the NBA and these players are surprised at how often it does get called at these Rio Olympics.
Referees are also a much more authoritative figure in the international game, as it was evident when Team USA picked up two technical fouls and an unsportsmanlike conduct foul in the first half of the game against Serbia.
These referees will not take any grief from either players or coaches and will not hesitate to give a technical foul (which also counts as a personal foul in international play).
Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins; known for their engine and spirited play, will need to keep poised during the rest of the tournament as these techs could prove costly for their team.
Teams will make the game ugly for them
After 10 years under Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, international teams have started laying down the blueprint on how to survive a potential onslaught from the Americans and make their way into a fourth quarter dog fight.
As shown by Venezuela in the exhibition game, they will foul in every steal and every outlet opportunity to stop the fast break at all costs. Teams are not concerned with which players picks up the foul, the coach watches fouls closely and is usually not afraid to swap players in and out in order to achieve the desired results.
No fast break points = no opportunities for Team USA to go on big runs and leave teams in the dust.
Bigger teams like Australia, Serbia and Lithuania will not hesitate to trade elbows with the Americans, they will take every opportunity to frustrate and disrupt this team and make the game more physical. In their eyes, the chippier the game, the better it is for them.
Controversy over the SG position
The shooting guard position has belonged to Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson for most of the tournament (Paul George drew two starts against Australia and Serbia), but he was mired in a slump during the first four games of Olympic competition, going 4-for-26 from the field and 3-for-16 from deep.
Thompson busted out of the slump Sunday, dropping seven treys on his way to 30 points against France.
But the seed of doubt still remains, he’s had only one good game and four subpar games and was this recent game him busting out of his slump? or was it merely just a good shooting day for him?
Thompson is the best pure shooter the U.S. possesses and could prove worthy if he can knock down shots down the stretch to help the team go in long runs; but sadly, his offensive arsenal begins and ends there.
His ability to shoot is what his game is built around — sure he can drive to the basket, but that comes from his ability to keep his defender honest with a pump fake.
Thompson is a willing passer, but in all honesty not a very good one at that and his efforts to make plays so far in these Olympics have often resulted in turnovers and missed opportunities.The other alternatives are Paul George, who struggled to keep a consistent offensive rhythm in his two games as a starter, finishing with five and 12 points in each of his starts; but managed more rebounds, steals and assists than Thompson.
Then there’s DeMar DeRozan, a 6’6” slasher that can be a nightmare near the rim due to his athleticism and physicality, but he’s simply not a threat from beyond-the-arc, which is what Krzyzewski’s playbook revolves around.
With no true facilitator at the point guard position, it comes down to who can make the most shots that don’t end up in the other four starters’ hands.
Coach K is getting out-coached
While Krzyzewski has been at the helm during the past decade, success is hard to maintain and it’s proven palpable for him in his last run as Team USA’s Olympic Head Coach.
He’s quickly finding out that the absences of LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul have had a massive effect in the way he runs his team. Kyrie Irving is in no way the prototypical point guard to run his type of offense through and while Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry has done a much better job on-ball defending, pushing the break and running Coach K’s offense, there’s no way he’d leave his former Duke Blue Devil out of the starting lineup.
His job with this team has been reduced to managing egos and keeping people content with their playing time while other coaches are shutting down his team’s athleticism and forcing the players to run plays as a team.
The rest of the world is getting better too
This is probably the most important reason and the least obvious all at the same time. Teams around the world are getting better and the influx of international players in the NBA keeps growing every year.
Eight international players were drafted in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft and 16 overall. Four others have dual citizenship, meaning that one third (20-of-60) of the new blood that is coming into the NBA this year is coming from overseas.
Charlotte Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum put it simply — “I know people compare this team to the other team (from 2012),” the French international told Sporting News. “The thing is, other teams improved, too. The basketball world improved, too. You have a lot of guys now, there are the most (international) NBA players in the Olympics tournament ever. Guys got better since the last 20 years, and that might be the thing, too.”
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