Amid all the chaos, and now finally fully rostered, does Team USA have enough to win the gold medal? The short answer is yes, but as we know regarding international play, chemistry is much more of a deciding factor than the talent of your roster alone.
The Team USA men’s basketball now has a full squad, which is enough to win the gold medal on paper, but they’ve had quite the run of uncertainty to suggest that’s even a likely scenario at this point. Bradley Beal was removed from the roster after undergoing COVID protocol, though he was asymptomatic. Kevin Love removed himself from the team, citing his injured calf, and the two were replaced by two-year pro Keldon Johnson and championship-winning (and now backup center) JaVale McGee. Both Jerami Grant and Zach LaVine had COVID protocol-related absences but will be with the team in time for the Olympics. And then, there’s Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Devin Booker, who just wrapped up the NBA Finals on Tuesday — with two of these guys having celebrated their championship on Thursday — flying together on a private jet to Tokyo. All three of them might even start, Team USA assistant coach Steve Kerr said.
A lot of moving parts, for sure, but at the end of it all, the team will still consist of Middleton, Holiday, Booker, Johnson, McGee, LaVine, and Grant, joining Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green, and Jayson Tatum. And they will be coached by Gregg Popovich. So, yes, there’s a team. Now, regarding the actual games …
Team USA’s infamous seventh-place finish in the 2019 World Cup is a tad overblown, but bears dissection. They went 6-2 in the tournament, including a 5-0 group play. Their placement arrived as a result of when they lost, not that they lost. The team only had two All-Stars (at the time of their selection) in Middleton and Kemba Walker. Middleton and Tatum are the only holdovers from that roster. Tatum made his first All-Star Game later that season, as did Donovan Mitchell — Brook Lopez was several years removed from his. Team USA narrowly defeated Turkey in group play, winning 93-92 in overtime, but otherwise won by 16 or more points prior to the knockout phase. In the quarterfinals, they were matched up with France, who defeated them 89-79, ending a 13-year winning-streak. The next day, Team USA lost in the classification semifinals to Serbia, 94-89, finishing their trip by defeating Poland for seventh. Czech Republic, who Team USA defeated 88-67 in group play, went 4-4 but finished ahead of Team USA (sixth place) because they defeated Poland in their classification semifinal after losing to Australia in the quarterfinals.
Serbia didn’t qualify for these Olympics, losing to Italy in the qualifier in Belgrade, but Team USA opens against, of all teams, France. The French roster contains five current NBA players: Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Frank Ntilikina. Guerschon Yabusele, Vincent Poirier, and Nando De Colo are all former NBA players as well. De Colo, in particular, is one of the most decorated basketball players in the world, having been named to the EuroLeague all-decade team of the 2010s, winning EuroLeague MVP in 2016 and multiple championships.
The Olympics are adopting a different basketball format this year. Typically, the 12 teams would be split into two groups of six. This year, the Olympics are having three groups of four, similar to the style they utilize in the World Cup. In Team USA’s group resides France, Iran, and the Czech Republic. Competitive, but not quite a group of death. According to FIBA, Team USA is still No. 1 in the world. France sits at No. 7, Czech Republic’s at No. 12, and Iran is No. 23. Still, with a lack of chemistry, short-notice roster turnover, and an unprecedented worldwide COVID situation, the uncertainty on the floor is not all in the shadows of whatever Team USA’s about to endure on their journey. Their first big test will be their first big game, this Sunday at 8 a.m. EDT.