2020 2021 Tokyo Olympics are set to begin on July 23rd, and Team USA’s men’s basketball roster was finalized a few days ago. As usual, it features a star-studded group that should be considered the runaway favourites to bring home gold.
Team USA's 12-man roster for the Tokyo Olympics:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 23, 2021
This roster might pale in comparison with the 1992 Dream Team or the 2008 Redeem Team, but having legends like Kevin Love and Jerami Grant means that they’ve got a shot against anyone. In all seriousness, there were a few puzzling selections made to Gregg Popovich’s team that could expose some of their potential weaknesses — although it should be pointed out that these are unusual circumstances, with the NBA Playoffs running so late and several stars dealing with late-season injuries. Even so, USA’s firepower should blow the competition out of the water, and it all starts with their ability to score.
Looking at the roster, would anyone be surprised if this team dropped 200 points in a game? USA’s guards are especially potent, as it includes two of only four backcourt players in Damian Lillard and Zach Lavine who averaged over 25 points per game on over 60% true shooting this season. That doesn’t even include last year’s scoring champion Bradley Beal or two of the game’s brightest young stars in Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker.
Oh, and they also have some guy named Kevin Durant, a 7-foot alien capable of doing this:
The most difficult decision for other teams is deciding how they’d like to defend the Americans. Durant, Lillard, and Lavine were three of the top five isolation scorers this year among players who averaged at least two such possessions per game, with Jrue Holiday and Jerami Grant not far behind.
If opposing coaches choose to play man, all of those players will be able to score at will. If they elect to trap the ballhandler or go into a zone, then the Americans can pass to open shooters and rain threes; Team USA includes five players who shot at least 38% from deep during the regular season and the roster only has two non-shooters in Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo.
In other words, there’s really no hoping in containing this team. And even if they somehow go cold on offense, the Americans will still be able to smother opponents in their own zone.
Seeing defense listed under strengths might be a bit surprising given that a number of Team USA’s guards could give up as many points as they score.
With that said, the Americans have enough depth to bench anyone who proves to be a defensive liability and trot out five-man units that can stifle other countries.
Imagine checking into a game and matching up against a lineup featuring Holiday, Tatum, Durant, Green, and Adebayo. All of those players are capable of guarding multiple positions and three of them (Holiday, Green, and Adebayo) were just named to this season’s All-Defensive teams.
On the surface, it might seem like such a lineup lacks a traditional big who is an elite rim protector such as Rudy Gobert. However, those types of players can see their value diminished when opposing teams force them to switch on to perimeter scorers, which won’t be an issue for Team USA.
Adebayo, in particular, is capable of both offering rim protection and can hold his own against smaller guards, as was evident when Booker called for an iso on him earlier this season only to see his shot blocked from behind.
Furthermore, offensive players saw the largest dropoff in their field goal percentage at the rim when guarded by Green among defenders who appeared in at least 36 games this season and contested four such shots per match. He might be undersized, but Green more than makes up for it with his defensive awareness and basketball IQ.
By now it might seem like the Americans just assembled the greatest team ever, but there are a few question marks surrounding the roster that could prevent them from reaching even greater heights.
The most glaring weakness for Team USA on offense is their lack of natural playmakers. Lillard is arguably the only true point guard on the roster and even he prioritizes scoring over getting his teammates involved.
Ironically, Green and Adebayo might be the two most willing passers but they probably won’t have the ball much given the number of scorers beside them. I find it particularly interesting that there hasn’t been any news of a player such as Trae Young getting invited to join the team. He’s consistently shown a knack for stepping up in big moments during these playoffs and finished second in assists per game in the regular season after averaging 9.4.
Young’s diminutive size and defensive issues were likely the main reason why he was left off the team, but Nate McMillan has proven that it’s possible to hide him on defense through a combination of hedging and preventing easy switches.
Even without an elite playmaker such as a LeBron James or Chris Paul, this is a small issue given the overwhelming talent that Team USA has. Every one of those players is good passers at the very least and will be able to collectively make up for the lack of a natural floor general.
But it’ll be interesting to see if the offense gets stagnant at times even when they pile up points with ease.
Another potential problem for Team USA is their lack of size in the interior. Adebayo, Green, and Love are the only two natural bigs on the roster, even though Durant and Grant can both play some minutes at center.
Fortunately, the Americans don’t need to worry too much about potential mismatches down low since none of the other teams have an intimidating big after Nikola Jokic decided not to represent Serbia this summer.
Moreover, there just currently aren’t any elite American players who are physically imposing centers. Adebayo was used mainly as a power forward prior to this season and Anthony Davis (who elected not to come) prefers playing the four as well. All of the best centers in the league are also foreign players, such as Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Deandre Ayton.
Team USA will likely outscore any issues they might encounter, but one thing that should be monitored is Adebayo’s minutes, as he’s the only player on the team who’s used to playing consistent minutes at center.
Perhaps this will all be a moot point when Pop decides to play five out and the Americans outscore everyone by a hundred points. They certainly have the talent to do it, and it won’t be surprising if Team USA captures gold without much resistance.