Yikes. The United States may need to start conjuring up a “redeem team” part two if they go into the Tokyo Games looking like this.
Team USA typically beats up on a few teams prior to going to the Olympics in order to get the assortment of players used to playing together. What doesn’t normally happen is for Team USA to lose their first two exhibition games, one of which was against Nigeria, who the U.S. defeated by 83 points in their last matchup.
Let’s give Nigeria credit, as they are filled with great young NBA talent in players like Gabe Vincent and Precious Achiuwa from the Miami Heat, and Caleb Agada who had a coming out party against Team USA. They proved it was no fluke beating the U.S. because the very next day they went on to beat the No. 4 team in the world, Argentina, by 23 points.
Perhaps the bigger story is that Nigeria is a solid squad that is looking like they can win an Olympic Medal in Tokyo, contrary to Stephen A. Smith’s disrespect.
Many were comparing the loss to Nigeria to when the 1992 Dream Team lost to the college all-stars in a scrimmage, and then proceeded to never lose another game while winning by an average of 44 points the rest of the way.
Theoretically, the Nigeria game was a wakeup call for the United States, and they should go on to win every game from that point until they were receiving their Gold Medals in Tokyo. Unfortunately, that was not the case as they dropped the very next game to Australia, who is led by NBA players Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, and Mattise Thybulle.
Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard, who are the two alphas on this U.S. team, combined for 39 points, but the U.S. was constantly exposed on the defensive side of the ball. They gave up an 11-1 Australia run in the final moments of the game, which led to this outburst by Greg Popovich.
The losses can be attributed to a few factors. The first is the fact that Team USA only practiced four days prior to the exhibition matches. Not to diminish the US Select team, but most of those players outside of Darrius Garland (Cleveland Cavaliers), Tyler Herro (Miami Heat), Naz Reid (Minnesota Timberwolves), and Saddiq Bey (Detroit Pistons) have yet to play important minutes in the NBA, which likely allowed for the senior team to beat up on them and also could play a role in their lack of stamina during games.
The second reason, although they are loaded with scorers throughout the roster, is that the U.S. lacks defensive ability at the guard position and there is no rim protector. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, who are currently playing in the NBA Finals, will likely help out in guarding all of the stellar guards that are simply exposing the U.S. right now, but they won’t give the U.S. a rim protector. Bam Adebayo is likely the closest thing to that, but the other big men on the roster are Draymond Green (whose undersized and an offensive liability), and Kevin Love (who has never been a rim protector).
The biggest reason the U.S. is struggling is the fact that teams all over the world are filled with great players that take pride in international play, whereas the United States may feel that they can show up and beat everyone because of the “we are the United States” mindset.
Teams aren’t scared of the United States squad right now. “No disrespect to them, they’re a hell of a team,” Australia’s Joe Ingles said. “Obviously the guys they’ve got on their roster and Pop standing up there is always nice to see, but we came in here expecting to win the game and that’s what we did.”
Basketball has always been an international game, but the international players have never been as good as they are now with the a majority of the top 20 players in the NBA being from foreign lands. The Tokyo Games will probably have the most competitive basketball in international play we have ever seen. It is up to Durant and company to play better in order to not disappoint.