From 1992 to 2019, Team USA men’s basketball was 54-2 in exhibition play. The first loss came in 2004 when the team finished with a bronze medal that year. That is the only time they did not win the gold medal since 1992.
Two years ago, the U.S. lost its second exhibition game. In the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup that year the team finished in 7th place, by far the most disappointing outcome that USA basketball has ever had since NBA players were eligible to play.
Why is that relevant to this year’s Tokyo Olympics? Team USA has finished its exhibition matches 2-2. It took them 28 years to lose two exhibition games, but now they have lost two games in the same year. Who would’ve thought that this star-studded team would be struggling? Well, in May I wrote about how this team was going to struggle, and everyone would be shocked. Basketball fans thought I was crazy.
The roster that the U.S. assembled did surprise me. Six-time All-Star guard Damian Lillard was upset he didn’t make the 2014 FIBA World Cup roster, but new Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich convinced him to join this 2021 team. The player that shocked me the most was Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant. I expected to see the Nets playing in the Finals in July, and Durant recovering during the offseason since he has battled injuries the whole season. He is the biggest X-factor on this team, if he was not on the roster the U.S. would have no chance to win a gold medal.
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine and Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant all entered the health and safety protocols, and Beal has been ruled out. Arguably the second scoring option on Team USA, Beal now will not be able to play in Tokyo.
LaVine was not able to travel with the team but hopes to join the team later in the week. Grant only spent a few days in protocols and was cleared. After spending 10 days in Las Vegas with the team, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love decided to withdraw from the Olympics.
On July 16, the team announced that veteran big man JaVale McGee and 21-year-old forward Keldon Johnson will replace them. Johnson was previously on the USA select team and performed well in the exhibition matches.
Team USA has been struggling with size compared to other teams. McGee is now the tallest on the team at 7’0. Another concern has been adapting against international play with not much experience. They aren’t that used to the physicality and offense that is ran. Nigeria and Australia were able to capitalize on that. The U.S. showed huge improvement with it in exhibition matches against Argentina and Spain.
Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Devin Booker are all committed to playing for the U.S. but are also currently in the NBA Finals. If the series goes to seven games, then it will end on July 22. The Olympics start on July 24, so there is a chance they lose those three players for at least their first game against France two days later. Saddiq Bey and Darius Garland are all on the select team, and both have seen minutes in exhibition games that could potentially fill that hole.
Legendary Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski coached every U.S. Olympic team since 1992. But this year future hall of fame coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs is the leader of this team. He also coached the aforementioned World Cup roster which was a disappointment. Popovich is arguably the greatest NBA coach of all time, but he is already showing struggles in international play.
Nigeria and Australia aren’t the biggest threats to Team USA winning the gold medal this year even though they lost to both of them in consecutive exhibition games. In May, I said it was Spain, Argentina and Serbia, but that list has changed for me.
The Olympics Qualifying Tournaments were a week-long event from June 29 to July 4. The 16 teams that were in the tournament were divided into four groups, and the winner of each would move on to the Tokyo Olympics. The four teams that won their sides were Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Germany. One of the teams that were eliminated was one of the U.S.’ threats in the Olympics — Serbia. It lacked its two best players in NBA MVP Nikola Jokić and Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanović.
From the qualifiers, one team shocked me with their depth and proved to me that they could be a threat this year. That team is Slovenia, led by superstar guard Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks. This roster does not look amazing with Dončić being its only active NBA player, but this offense is fast-paced and can match the U.S. point-for-point.
My personal favorite to win the Tokyo Olympics is still Spain. This roster has about the same team that was expected to play. Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio is one of the best guards in international play. The intelligence of brothers Pau and Marc Gasol can lead Spain to its first-ever gold medal in basketball in the Olympics. Team USA has always had close games with Spain, but every time the U.S. wins. This year, I guarantee it will be a different result if they play each other in Tokyo.
France and Argentina are another two teams with plenty of veterans and young stars that can give the U.S. problems. Even though I do not think Australia will win gold this year, you can never rule out San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills in the Olympics. Mills is a veteran NBA role player, but in international play, he is a superstar. He already showed success against Team USA in their exhibition match on July 12.
My final prediction for the 2020 Tokyo Basketball Olympics is the bronze medal will go to Australia, the silver medal to France and the gold medal will be awarded to Spain. Argentina and Slovenia would also not shock me if they won a medal. This will be the first time ever that Team USA does not win a medal in the Olympics
Basketball is a growing game, and we will continue to see countries like Slovenia and the Czech Republic, who made their first-ever Olympic bid, expand. This is a beautiful sport. Enjoy the competition this summer.