Monday, July 14, 2008

America goes for gold

The Beijing Olympics begin on August 8, and perhaps no American athlete or team will be scrutinized as much as the men's basketball squad. The team, selected by USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and the head of USA basketball, Jerry Colangelo, is comprised of NBA stars. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James headline the team, but there is all-star talent from top to bottom. A collection of players of this caliber should have no problem running over the competition on their way to a gold medal, right?

The answer is not so simple. On the one hand, all signs point to the Americans reclaiming their place atop the basketball world. After a disappointing showing at the Athens Olympics is 2004 when the U.S.A. struggled to a bronze medal, the committee was determined to make international competition more of a priority. Coach K was brought in, and a three-year commitment was required of all players. Americans began to get smart about why NBA players, considered the best in the world, were losing to supposedly inferior international competition. Athleticism and flare are less important playing under international rules, and defense and outside shooting become critical. The roster was altered, adding dynamic playmakers like Chris Paul, outside shooters like Michael Redd, and defensive specialists like Shane Battier. The proof was in the pudding, as the American team coasted to an undefeated showing at the FIBA Americas tournament last year. The Dream Team, it seems, is back.

Not so fast. While the American team has made drastic improvements over the past two years, the rest of the world is keeping up. An increasing number of international players join the NBA every year, and many have become stars. Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol are just a few that have proven that international talent can succeed at the highest level. Perhaps more importantly, many pundits believe that the U.S. Olympic team is flawed. Only one true center, Dwight Howard, was added to the roster, meaning that players might have to play out of position (LeBron James will see considerable time at power forward). A lack of size could hurt the U.S. against bigger, physical teams like Argentina.

Also, Redd is the only consistent outside shooter, and if he is not making his shots, the U.S. could struggle against a team that played an aggressive zone defense. Many have questioned the rationale behind taking three point guards (Paul, Deron Williams and veteran Jason Kidd) and leaving off a great shooter like Mike Miller, or another big body like Amare Stoudemire.

So what will happen? If I was a betting man, I wouldn't bet against the Americans. Their combination of incredible talent and a renewed desire to bring the gold medal back to the states should lead to victory in Beijing. But anyone that expects it to be easy is fooling themselves. There are great basketball players around the world, and for many prideful American basketball fans, this is a necessary but painful realization.


nitrkulja said...

If the U.S. played like a real team they would no doubt win the gold. The problem though is that the U.S. is going to Beijing with like you said 3 PGs, and 3 of everything pretty much. But its not 3 players per position like you have in Spain where it is known that Gasol, Navarro, Fernandez, etc will be in the Starting 5 will be the stars, will get the ball and the plays, no... With the U.S. there is the problem that you have too many stars, each needs x number of minutes on the court, x number of plays called for him, x number of spots, and the greediest wins...
That becomes the U.S. team's weak-link.

Yeah that and the minor fact that every single team that plays it would like nothing better than to become national heroes for bringing down a team that has a combined paycheck larger than their entire national league's combined budget.

Rob Dauster said...

That's a point that gets overlooked so much in Olympic basketball and I'm glad you mentioned it - the Americans are always the team playing with the targets on their backs. Like you said, a team can become national heroes if they beat the US.

And here, we don't really care about the Olympics unless we lose. There's a motivational aspect that I feel never really gets talked about.