2008 Beijing: USA Men's Basketball Preview
There is an excitement that follows Team USA for these Olympics that we haven’t seen in years. Through four impressive exhibitions, this star-studded team seems poised to reassert its dominance on the rest of the world.
This is the best team that the USA has had since ’96 and is definitely talented enough to win the gold. However, nothing is guaranteed.
WHY TEAM USA WILL TAKE THE GOLD IN 2008:
Class of 2003 – This 2008 team has some familiar faces left over from the 2004 team that took home the Bronze in Greece, most notably LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade. That was four years ago. These Olympics will be their third major international competition. Wade wants to prove that his name still belongs with the NBA’s elite, James is a perennial MVP candidate, and Carmelo has been regarded as the MVP of this team for a few years now. They have the experience to lead this team to the gold and the memory of past losses to fuel them along the way.
Leadership – They’ve had the talent for a while but lacked the direction and poise provided by veterans. Enter Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant, replacing selfish players with cancerous reputations like Iverson and Marbury. Furthermore, the Class of ’03 is four years older, and their younger players all play with the maturity and confidence of seasoned veterans.
Hunger – The United States is supposed to win every year. When FIBA allowed NBA players to compete in 1989, that was supposed to be it. The United States would never lose again. Then…sixth place in 2002. Wait, what? Follow that up with bronze in 2004 and 2006, and suddenly, people are questioning whether or not the best basketball in the world is actually played in America. This group is hungry to put those questions to bed. The best basketball in the world is played in United States. Period. And this group is ready to prove it.
Balance – They have pass-first players to complement their scorers; snipers to complement their slashers; and defensive specialists to provide identity and tenacity on the other end of the floor. They have youth and experience, athleticism and intelligence, talent and hunger. They’ve got it all.
System – Remember the days when Magic, Michael, and company could walk onto the floor surrounded by other Hall-of-Famers and just dominate? Well, those days are long gone. Through the globalization of the NBA and efforts by the United States to improve the international game, this country is no longer able to win glorified pickup games en route to the gold medal. Now, with the coaching staff and system instituted by Jerry Colangelo, this isn’t simply a team; it functions like an organization.
The best talent in the world with the best coaching? There’s no way they can lose…well, not so fast.
WHY TEAM USA WILL DISAPPOINT AGAIN:
Size: This is, by far, the most glaring weakness that Team USA has. Dwight Howard is a beast and should be able to dominate his competition, but then again, that’s what we thought about Tim Duncan in 2004. Although younger and more athletic, Howard isn’t as polished or skilled as Duncan and could get into foul trouble just like Timmy did. After Howard, there is not another center on the roster. Chris Bosh has the size but lacks the muscle, and Carlos Boozer has the muscle but lacks the size. And both of them prefer to face up and shoot midrange jumpers rather than bang down low full-time. Teams with size such as Spain’s Pau and Marc Gasol could give them trouble.
Outside Shooting: It was a huge weakness in 2004, so players like Shane Battier, Kirk Hinrich, and Joe Johnson were added in 2006. It didn’t make a difference. Sure, Kobe and Carmelo can shoot, but the only player on the current roster considered a shooter/ 3-point specialist is Michael Redd. If I were coaching against Team USA, I’d still pack it in and make guys like James and Wade shoot from outside their comfort zones. This team will need to shoot well from the perimeter to win the gold, and they cannot afford an off night.
Bulls-Eye: Despite recent failures and all the critics, countries around the world still acknowledge the United States as the kings of the basketball world. In the past, international players were happy just to be on the same court as Team USA. Now, lacking the dominance we had in years past, teams come hungry to compete every night, eager to knock off the mighty Team USA. We will get the best effort from every team we play, and if we fail to match that intensity on a given night, other teams are talented enough to take us down.
Biggest Threats to US Gold
Spain: The most NBA level players of any team besides the US with size (Gasols, Garbojosa) and quality guards (Calderon, Navarro, Fernandez).
Argentina: The defending Olympic champions have good players all over the floor, led by Manu Ginobili.
Greece: They beat us in 2006, and although they have no current NBA players, it’s not because they lack the individual talent.
Ranking the Best American Olympic Teams
The Original Dream Team (’92): Michael, Magic, and Larry Legend. 10 of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. Average margin of victory = 43.8 points per game. Chuck Daly not using a single timeout in the tournament. Simply put, the best team ever assembled in any sport.
Dream Team 2.0 (’96): Add two all-time great centers in their primes (Shaq and Hakeem) to a team with five original Dream-Teamers and young superstars like Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, and you’ve got yourself a squad.
2008 US National Team*: They have three surefire Hall-of-Famers (Bryant, Kidd, and James) and four others superstars that look headed to the Hall as well (Wade, Anthony, Howard, Paul).
*Gold medal required for #3 Ranking
1960 US National Team: Oscar Robertson and Jerry West in the same backcourt? This team also had Jerry Lucas, Walt Bellamy, and coaching great Pete Newell. Considered by many to be the best US Olympic team prior to the Dream Team.
2000 US National Team: While lacking the star power of other US Teams, this team makes this list for the simple reason that, despite the advancement of international basketball, they were still able to win surprisingly close games en route to the gold medal. Oh, and the Vince Carter dunk on Frederic Weis. That has to count for something.