The United States has played in back-to-back competitive games in the Olympics for the first time since the Athens Olympics. While the team has won both games, they’ve looked utterly beatable in both.
They’ve been forced to rely on a heavy dose of iso-ball, something that plagued them the last time they failed to earn gold in the Olympics in 2004. Unselfishness and ball movement was a hallmark of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic squads, but is something that has been absent in Rio.
Judging by the social media presence of various members of the team over the past month, the players seem to genuinely enjoy being around each other, so their lack of on-court chemestry does not appear to come from a place of dislike.
That’s not even to say the U.S. have played with a me-first mentality, but that they just don’t have the on-court familiarity previous iterations of Coach K’s Team USAs have possessed. Many of these players have suited up for the U.S. in the past – be it in mini-camps or non-Olympic international tournaments – but few have played with each other in those instances.
This group only came together midway through July; it has not even been a month since USA Basketball began their training camp in Las Vegas.
The positives for the U.S. is that they’ve pulled together when the games have gotten tough, rather than splintering and getting chippy on the court. And their best players, besides Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving, haven’t even played particularly well.
Kevin Durant, who led the U.S. in scoring in London, is averaging 13 points on 30% shooting over the previous two games. Klay Thompson, one of the best shooters in the NBA, is still struggling mightily from all over the court and is averaging just under three points per game on 15.4% shooting. Similar statistics can be rattled off for Draymond Green, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins; the list goes on.
But still, they’re 4-0. They’re the top team in Group A and they knocked off one of the hottest teams in the tournament in Australia.
France presents a big test for the men of Red, White and Blue. The French entered Rio as a medal favorite and still are, even though they haven’t looked as sharp as many expected. It’s an opportunity to play another high-level team and see if they’ve learned anything from the previous four games.
France rosters one of the best starting lineups in Rio with Tony Parker, Nic Batum, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert. Parker, Batum, Diaw and Gobert currently play in the NBA, and de Colo has in the past (and is coming off of a Euroleague MVP). They may not have the depth that the U.S. does, but neither did Serbia, and Serbia has significantly less talent than France.
For France, this game is mostly meaningless; they’re already assured a spot in the quarterfinals and are a virtual lock for the third seed, knowing that Australia is playing an overmatched Venezuelan team.
France won’t throw their A game at the U.S. in the preliminary round. There’s just no point. For them, it’s a good barometer on how they can play with a U.S. team they may face in the semifinals. If France can stick with the U.S., great; they’ll feel even better if they play each other in the medal rounds. If not, they regroup and take it as a learning experience.
While the U.S. never wants to lose a game, they should look at this as a throwaway. Yes, they should win, but if they don’t, improving as a team is much more important for their golden aspirations than the result of a meaningless group phase game.
Win or lose, the U.S. needs to show that they can play together. That they can move the ball and play offense in the half court. The U.S. look awfully vulnerable and they feel it. The players have said as much. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has said as much.
France will give them another shot before it really counts to show that they can play together and they need it.