We finally made it to the Tokyo Olympics and it’s time for Team USA to play basketball.
The men’s team has come down a difficult path. The team has already lost Bradley Beal and Kevin Love, replaced by Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee. Zach LaVine and Jerami Grant were on the COVID log but have safely returned to the team. Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker arrived in Tokyo on Saturday after a long final.
The Americans played four exhibition games. They lost the first two, including a surprising opening defeat to Nigeria, the US team’s first loss in basketball to an African nation. Three of the four exhibition games closed late, and a team that was once an unaffordable gold favorite has seen their chances decline.
Still, the US is very popular with DraftKings for winning gold at -320. That’s an implied chance of victory of 74.4%, and the hunt for gold begins Sunday morning against a strong French veteran team. This is a group game so it’s not about the win or the home game, but these are the top two teams in Group A and the winner is practically guaranteed to advance to the round of 16, effectively making them within three wins of gold.
So will the American fighting continue or is Team USA ready now that the real games are here?
France is not easy to convince. This team is number 7 in the FIBA rankings and has been pretty good for the past decade. France finished in the top three in five of its six best non-Olympic tournaments this decade, but the French finished in a disappointing sixth place in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Most of that core remains, including head coach Vincent Collet, though he won’t see Tony Parker, Joakim Noah or Boris Diaw this summer.
Even so, Rudy Gobert is still the anchor of this team and Gobert is amazing, even more so in the international game where the color expands and players can legally hit the ball from the edge in what would normally be an offensive goal.
Gobert has had its best season, leading Utah Jazz to the league’s best record with dazzlingly advanced metrics. NBA teams can sometimes play Gobert’s knockdown defense off the field, but that’s not the case on the international ball.
You are a vital defensive force and will control the crystal too, especially against a small American team centered around Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green. Both of them can’t shoot long enough to push Gobert out of his comfort zone in the paint, and either of them could have a hard time defending the balloon, too. If Gobert can avoid foul, it becomes a problem.
On the offensive, the French will rely on Evan Fournier and Nando de Colo for a large part of their goals. Fournier had a stellar season for the Magic and then the Celtics, and De Colo was never in the NBA, but he’s one of the best basketball players in Europe. Either you can heat up quickly and knock down triples.