NBA

Team USA Olympic Basketball Hopes In Tatters?

As part of their preparations for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, the US Mens National Basketball Team (USMNT) played Australia in Las Vegas yesterday and went down to a 91-83 defeat in the exhibition game.

Then following the game, USMNT coach Gregg Popovich had a run in with a reporter who claimed that in the past the USMNT had ‘blown out’ other teams in the past, a point which Popovich contested.

Popovich is now 13-4 as the head coach of Team USA and in their two warm up games for the Olympics they have now lost to Nigeria and Australia.

It is also the first time the USMNT has lost back-to-back exhibition games since the professional players began playing in the Olympics in 1992.

Calls For Coach K To Return

The loss of form and confidence, albeit in warm up games, has led to calls for former US Mens National team coach Mike Krzyzewski to take over at the helm, despite the fact he is already head coach at Duke.

Krzyzewski famously led the US Men’s National Team to three gold medal performances at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, as well as being FIBA World Cup champions in 2010 and 2014, finishing his spell as head coach with a 75-1 record.

He was also the first Division I men’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 wins, doing so in January 2015.

What’s The Issue With Team USA?

While taking into account the fact that the two defeats are in exhibition games, when the team is really just tuning up for the Olympics, the fact remains that fans of the USMNT are not used to seeing their team lose too many games.

Fingers have been pointed on social media at several factors including the fact that the squad was missing a few players and so had little stre

th in depth, the fact that the squad selected relies heavily on offensive specialists with not enough attention defence and, more controversially, that the head coach isn’t up to the task.

There is probably a grain of truth in a couple of these statements. The Team USA squad was down a number of players for these games, Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton all still involved in the NBA Finals.

There is also an element of truth that the team is heavily oriented towards offense, but it is perhaps a little harsh to claim that coach Popovich is not up to the task.

Development Of Basketball In Other Nations

What is being overlooked is that other nations in the world now have much stronger basketball teams than they used to possess. Australia, for example, have Aron Baynes (Toronto Raptors), Dante Exum (Houston Rockets), Josh Green (Dallas Mavericks), Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz), Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs) and Matisse Thybulle (Philadelphia 76ers) as part of their squad alongside players that play at a high level in the European and Australian pro leagues.

Similarly, Nigeria has eight players in their Olympic squad that are currently playing in the NBA, as well as two free agents who have plenty of NBA experience.

When you look at some of the top players in the NBA now, they come from all over the world. Luka Doncic is Slovenia, Giannis Antetokounmpo is Greek, Rudy Gobert is French and this year’s NBA MVP Nikola Jokic is Serbian.

Add to that another NBA MVP candidate in Joel Embiid and you have four of the six NBA MVP candidates this year hailing from outside the United States.

Ever since the NBA MVP award was awarded in 1955-56, it was not until 1993-94 that a non-US player won the award (Hakeem Olajuwon).

From then until the 2018-19 season only Steve Nash of Canada (in 2004-05 and 2005-06) and Dirk Nowitzki of Germany (2006-07) were born outside the US.

However, since 2018-19, the last three winners of the NBA MVP, Giannis twice and Jokic this year, have all hailed from outside the US.

The more cosmopolitan nature of the NBA has made the league more exciting and entertaining, but as a by-product of that, it has helped many other national teams improve their quality considerably and that does make things tougher for Team USA in these big international events.

The acid test will, of course, come at the Olympics when a full-strength Team USA take to the court. A medal is most definitely on the cards, but it will be interesting to see what metal it is made from at the end of the basketball tournament in Tokyo.

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