The United States has been the dominating force in Olympic basketball since it was made a staple in the Games in 1936. Of the 18 Olympic basketball contests, the U.S. has won the gold 14 times and is the current fan favorite to win again. But this may be other countries’ prime opportunity to take down the U.S., as many of the best NBA players withdrew their names from consideration to play at Rio.
These players include Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. In addition to having some of the most well-known NBA players, the “withdrawn” lists also includes arguably the two best players in the world in LeBron James and Stephen Curry. But, regardless, the Olympic roster still has a variety of NBA stars and is highlighted with veterans and youngsters alike.
The roster includes Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving. The U.S. is in Group A with France, Australia, China, Serbia and Venezuela. It should have an easy victory against most of these teams, as we already saw them dominate China, Venezuela and Nigeria in exhibition games. But the two teams that might pose a threat to the U.S. in Group A are France and Australia.
The French team, featuring Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, has one the best chances at beating the U.S. Parker and Diaw have played together on the Spurs for years and have mastered perfect chemistry through their multiple playoff runs and a 2014 Championship. France, however, barely snuck into the Olympic tournament and had an extremely tough time beating Turkey and Canada at the qualification tournament. France’s core, versatility and unselfishness gives it great tools to use at the Olympics, but its lack of talent at the guard position (besides Parker), may ultimately lead to its downfall.
The Australian team also has some young talent, but its lack of overall depth will make beating well-rounded teams such as the U.S. extremely difficult. Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills are at the top of the Australian Roster. Delly and Mills give Australia great depth and the point guard position, but Australia does not have any shooting guards or forwards that can counter the depth that the U.S. has at those positions.
On the other hand, Group B is has a much more level playing field, and almost every Group B country has solid talent and a good chance to make it to the Olympic Final. But the main teams to look out for are Spain, Brazil and Argentina. In recent years, Spain has always performed well at the Olympics but has never been able to oust the United States. With a roster highlighted by Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon, the Spanish National Team has a shot at finally beating the U.S. this year. Gasol, one of the NBA’s big men, can easily exploit the U.S.’s weakness — size. Gasol is more experienced and more successful on the NBA level, than any of the U.S.’s big men.
But Spain will not have an easy road getting to the Olympic Final, as it has solid competition in Group B. It will have to beat both Brazil and Argentina, if it wants to have a good chance at playing the U.S. in the Final. Brazil’s roster included Leandro Barbosa, Nene Hilario and Marcelo Huertas, all decent NBA players. Hilario can easily match up well with Gasol, ultimately counteracting Spain’s biggest weapon. The Argentina roster has players such as Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola. Argentina has enjoyed great Olympic success in recent years, including beating the U.S. in 2004 for the gold medal. Ginobili and Scola will look to continue Argentina’s Olympic success once again this year.
These three Group B teams have good big men that can undoubtedly outplay the U.S.’s big men. But the question is whether that one advantage will be enough to overcome the pure Olympic domination of the U.S. Whether or not, we’ll find out soon enough, but one thing is for sure: Olympic basketball at Rio will be extremely fun to watch.
Contact Siva Sambasivam at [email protected].