For a team that won group play games by margins as slim as three, three, and six points, Team USA didn’t make this Olympic basketball tournament feel particularly dramatic. Polishing off Serbia 96-66 was the exclamation point on another dominant run through knockout play, and another gold medal, and another round of questioning what it’ll take to make this tournament more competitive.
Jerry Colangelo doesn’t buy that any imbalance is the fault of the U.S. Colangelo was brought in by USA Basketball to fix things in the wake of the 2004 Olympic disaster, in which Team USA lost three games and settled for bronze. He was brought in to win, and that’s what he’s done, winning every FIBA tournament and putting up a 60-1 record.
So, if you tell Colangelo that the USA has been too dominant at the Olympics, he’s going to tell you that’s not his problem.
“I’m all for raising the bar for global basketball,” he began. “The more interest in basketball on all levels, I’m for. I’m a lifer in the game. I love the game. Basketball is the No. 2 sport in the world, (but) we just need to see these other countries get their acts together and become more competitive.”
At the start of these Games, it looked like this ending was far from a given. Of Mike Krzyzewski’s 76 wins, in competition or exhibition, since taking over as Team USA head coach, three of them came in pool play: three-point squeakers over Serbia and France, and a six-point win over Spain. Ultimately, it looked like the U.S. just needed some game action to find their second gear. A flaw, to be sure, but not a fatal one.
Even with those early tournament scares, Team USA swept its games with an average margin of victory of 22.5 points—a hair above the 2000 team’s 21.6 points, though well off the original Dream Team’s 43.8.
As it shook out, Kevin Durant identified two separate units on the roster, even if they weren’t so segregated in practice.
“We’ve got two lineups — guys who can just score and we got energy lineups — and we mix them together pretty well.”
By “energy” he means guys a little more focused on defense and rebounding, and that unit shined in the final. The Serbs were held to 4-of-24 shooting from distance, and were outrebounded 53-34. It’s a sign of good team construction that the U.S. were able to win even when its big scorers’ shots weren’t falling, and at times throughout the tournament, nearly everyone had cold spells. But this team was built to weather those spells.
Depth, then, is USA Basketball’s strength—always has been, and you’d expect nothing less from the top basketballing nation on earth, even in a year when the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Chris Paul begged off. That depth will remain a strength going forward, even as Krzyzewski hands the reins to Gregg Popovich. Only Carmelo Anthony was over age 30 on this roster, so you’ll see a lot of names returning in 2020. Some first-timers too: Curry, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, and Kawhi Leonard are all decent bets to make their Olympic debuts. And LeBron James, who’ll be 35 years old in 2020, specifically left the door open to join Popovich’s team, saying “It would be pretty amazing to be able to actually play for the greatest NBA coach of all time.”
Which brings us back to Colangelo, who makes no apologies for hoarding gold. He said he’d dig a truly wide-open field, but if that ever happens, it won’t be because Team USA has sunk to the world’s level.
“I’d love to see that. Everyone would love to see that. I’m not going to be making excuses for anyone about our (dominance). Someone said to me (after the game), one of the officials said to me, ‘You know next time you play, you ought to play with four.’ And I said, ‘No, maybe the other teams better get their act together and compete.’”