By: Jeffrey Newholm
What do Lebron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook have in common? They’re all NBA superstars, yes, but more notably they won’t be on the Olympic team. Past USA squads have been given such monikers as the “dream team” and “redeem team”. The 2016 team, featuring the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, could well be labeled “the B team”. And yet the Red, White and Blue blew through its exhibition schedule by an average margin of 43 points a game. The biggest challenge I can see isn’t lack of talent, but rather lack of motivation. What makes America’s team the favorites, yet again, to walk away with the gold?
By what I’ve seen Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson will be lighting up foes from downtown. (It should be noted that next season’s prospects look bright for the Warriors). Deandre Jordan has been having field days against undersized foes, delighting American spectators with monstrous dunks. Veteran Carmelo Anthony, per Team USA’s own reports, has stepped up as the team’s leader and mentor. There’s definitely enough pieces here to make a run, and it’s unfair and useless to focus on who didn’t choose to come along. However, fans do have some reason to be concerned about star defections.
Team USA’s defense has been stifling, allowing only 34% shooting from the floor. Their defense passes the eye test as well, as the opposing ball-handler can count on being harassed by a poking and prodding American defender. But at times America’s offense can look out of sync. For much of the first half against Venezuela, the team answered each miss with their own, making for a rather uninspiring game. USA even let Nigeria hang around for a while before seeming to remember that they were playing a foe bested by 83 in 2012. This can be a common problem for all-star teams. There can be so many egos on the team that the whole is just a collection of talented parts. But the Rio team can write a happier script.
True, there will be moments where the thought of “who’s that?” will flash across the minds of casual NBA fans this August. But that’s precisely what makes this team so interesting. Emerging stars like Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving can establish themselves as the next face of the association. Perhaps a young player can gain confidence and become a more bold locker room presence next year. This is not a preordained team of destiny jaded with previous Olympic conquests. But I see this year as an intriguing change of pace. If the team savors the gold, it will be the first taste for ten players. There may be no dream or redemption for this year’s team. But wherever America goes, it will all be a novel experience.
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