This year’s Team USA squad has too many eerie similarities to the 2004 nightmare team in Greece. In recent games against Australia, Serbia, and France this team has shown its flaws for the entire world to see. Although they are still the favorites to win the gold in Rio they have looked beatable. This version of Team USA has struggled with their offensive and defensive identities. Selecting this year’s Olympic squad presented several challenges for Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski. These challenges have left Team USA with its weakest team since they took over after the 2004 Olympics.
That 2004 team was built around superstar talent but never played like a team; it was a collection of individuals with the expectation that their natural talent would be enough. It led to a major shift in how Team USA formed their teams, and from that point on members on the team would serve specific roles. It gave opportunities for Tyson Chandler to anchor the defense in 2012, for Tayshaun Prince and Andre Iguodala to serve as utility men in their stints. Point guards ran the system, setup their teammates, and America reclaimed its seat as the dominant basketball country.
As the Olympics have started it is clear team USA is missing that key component. That critical playmaker lead to two Olympic goals in the past two Olympic. In Olympics past, players like Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and LeBron James thrived in that role. In Rio, Irving and Kyle Lowry are the point guards but are not quite the playmaking point guards team USA needs. Their style has lead to Team USA playing more one-on-one basketball much in the way Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury played for team USA in 2004.
After narrowly beating Serbia in the pool rounds this Olympics, Paul George was quoted as saying “We just have to start getting some movement. We’re relying on our natural talent so much. It’s so easy to guard us. Teams are just loading up and watching us play one-on-one”. Does this style remind anyone of how team USA played in 2004? If it doesn’t, it really should.
During the selection process players began to withdraw from consideration, some due to their own injuries others were worried about the Zika virus and their own safety in Brazil. Paul pulled out saying he wanted to rest his body this summer. James fresh off winning the championship announced he needed a break as his reason for pulling out. Stephen Curry was out to let his knee heal, and many players kept dropping out. Despite the pool thinning, Team USA collected a team of all-stars from around the NBA, very similar to the 2004 team.
There are many offensive possessions where the ball doesn’t move from side to side and just sticks in one player’s hands for too long. Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the NBA if not the world only took four shots against Serbia and despite being perfect from the field only got six shots versus France.
On possessions where the ball goes side to side and there are multiple passes Team USA looks unstoppable but those are few and far between. This highlights the need to have a true floor general on the roster to set up teammates. Despite their point guards not displaying the skill set of a true setup men, it does seen they have one player on the team who can assume that role.
The Golden State Warriors have found success by using Draymond Green as a point forward and running players like Klay Thompson and Curry off of screen. Green unfortunately has not had that opportunity with this team. Green is averaging only 11.2 minutes a game. Even in those 11 minutes a game he’s not getting many chances to handle the ball and create for his teammates. It is a missed opportunity for team USA.
Even with these problems offensively, team USA is still averaging more than a 100 points a game. The other problem is that their defense has more holes than Swiss cheese. Australia, Serbia, and France have all picked America apart with deadly pick-and-roll games and well timed cuts. Constantly not being able to defend the roll man coming down the lane and giving up layups on back cuts. The US has struggled on that end of the floor. Team Australia held a halftime lead on the US; the last time that happened was in 2004. Despite having defensive guru Tom Thibodeau on the bench, team USA has given up 92 points per game over the last 3 games and haven’t been able to plug the holes that are keeping these teams in games.
Even though players were withdrawing left and right, the selection committee could have looked at a few players that would be better fits than some on the current roster. Over the past two seasons the NBA’s best American born backup point guard in the NBA has been Shaun Livingston of the Warriors. With his tall frame he would be able to defend multiple positions as well as create for a second unit that lacks an offensive punch.
To add more offensive firepower Team USA should have looked into bringing sharpshooters like JJ Reddick or Kyle Korver to help keep the floor spread. Add one of those shooters on the floor to second unit with Jimmy Butler, Livingston, and DeAndre Jordan and Team USA could have covered both ends of the floor.
In addition, there is no utility man like Prince and Iguodala. Even though Iguodala was left off the roster, team USA could have looked at a player like Evan Turner who did all of the little things for the Boston Celtics. He would have slide easily into that spot for Team USA and provided the intangibles to help the US grab the gold for a third straight Olympics.
On paper the collection of talent on Team USA looked unbeatable, and during the exhibition games it appeared as if the reality on paper was coming to life. The Olympics however have shown that this team is the most beatable team the US has sent to the Olympics since 2004. Struggling with finding an offensive system that works for them, not playing their one potential playmaker, their defense has more holes than the Titanic, and they panicked when the NBA stars withdrew. Team USA won their group and are still expected to win the gold in these Olympics. Their play heading into the knockout round games is a worrying sign that they might have slipped into 2004’s bad habits.