After the announcement of Team USA Basketball’s roster for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the divisive NBA community can agree on one thing: It’s far from the country’s best.
In 1992, the U.S. “Dream Team” consisted of 11 future Hall of Famers, including players such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. In 2012, the U.S. roster was led by some of the most skilled athletes the world had ever seen, including the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
Meanwhile, for 2021, there are only three familiar faces on the roster with Olympic experience: Durant, Draymond Green and Kevin Love.
As such, many basketball pundits have begun questioning the chances of the current U.S. roster. Though there have only been three instances in which the USA hasn’t won gold, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that a silver medal might be the country’s ceiling.
But I argue that there’s really nothing to worry about at all. Team USA will do just fine, and here are some of the top reasons why.
Unparalleled scoring ability
Year after year, the U.S. has had a deep pool of talented scorers to pull from the world’s most coveted basketball league — the NBA. 2021 is no exception.
From what we’ve seen so far, putting points on the board is the winning formula for Team USA. In 1992, the average margin of victory for the “Dream Team” was 43.8 points. In 2012, the “Redeem Team” set an Olympic record while beating Nigeria for the most points scored in a game at 156.
Sure, defense matters to some extent and it is arguably one of Team USA’s biggest weaknesses. But does that really matter when you have more than 10 players who can tally up 30-plus points on any given night?
With players such as Durant, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal – who have all dropped 50 or more points before in a 48 minute NBA game – Team USA is spoiled for choice. If one player has an off night in shooting, there are 11 others who can effortlessly pick up the slack.
Moreover, the team’s scoring ability from the perimeter is among the best we’ve ever seen. Because the Olympic three point line is closer in distance to the rim than on a standard NBA court, players should have little trouble knocking down shots from downtown.
Though critics have also pointed to size as being a potential issue for the U.S, the team’s bigs make up for their size with efficiency and versatility. Bam Adebayo and Green are agile forwards who defend large swaths of space and possess a virtually limitless range.
In other words, there’s not one person on the roster who is physically incapable of shooting a jump shot.
One justifiably common concern by fans, coaches and media is that Team USA will have had little to no rest leading up to the Olympics. From the end of the 2020-21 NBA season, which saw the shortest offseason in league history, there are about three weeks for players to adjust from competing against one another for an NBA championship to competing alongside each other for a gold medal.
Though this drastic turnaround is far from ideal, it’s worth noting the value of Team USA’s deep, star-studded rotation. Most, if not all, of the players on the roster are used to playing more than 30 minutes a game in the NBA as a focal point on their respective team. Such an expectation for every player to spend equivalent time on the floors of Tokyo’s courts would simply be implausible.
As a result, the otherwise-jaded players will have in-game opportunities to rest that they don’t regularly have in the NBA. Sure, fatigue from practices in-between games may eventually carry over. But Team USA has an infinite number of interchangeable lineups to justify a shortened “load management” strategy for multiple players.
Many fans would say that coaching a roster such as Team USA is hardly a job at all. With the sheer talent of NBA All-Stars, timeouts will be a rarity in games against Iran, Japan and the Czech Republic.
But if there’s one takeaway from the 2004 Olympics, where the U.S. succumbed to a surprising bronze medal finish, it’s that structure is everything.
Luckily for Team USA, the players will be guided under the helm of the San Antonio Spurs’ legendary coach, Gregg Popovich.
Why is he such a good fit, you may ask? It’s because of Popovich’s unabashedly blunt leadership style – perfect for managing 12 of some of the best basketball players (and biggest egos) on the planet.
Popovich, who holds the third-most wins by any NBA coach, will also be joined by the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr, Indiana Pacers’ Lloyd Pierce and Villanova’s Jay Wright – three additional coaches who have proven themselves capable of succeeding at the highest level of basketball. The star-studded coaching staff is essentially a cherry on top for an already stacked 2021 Team USA.
Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].