The 2008 Summer Olympics kick off August 8th, 2008 in Beijing, China. The biggest story among American sports is the U.S.’s Men’s Basketball Team’s attempt to win their first Olympic gold medal since 2000. Before I get into the makeup and potential of this year’s team, let’s review the failures of the past 8 years. After winning their third consecutive gold medal in 2000, the team lost their first international game at the 2002 World Championships since using strictly NBA players. The Americans finished a shocking 6th in the World.
In 2004, the team journeyed to Athens composed of a group of very inexperienced, young players. Notables on the team were veterans Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, but also the youngsters Lamar Odom, Shawn Marion, Richard Jefferson, Stephon Marbury, Carlos Boozer, Lebron James, and Carmelo Anthony. In the quarterfinals, the team squeaked by a Spain team composed of Pau Gasol (29 pts) and future NBA players, Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro. After defeating Spain by 8, the Americans lost to Argentina by 8 in the semifinals. The Argentina team composed of Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino, and Andres Nocioni had their way against the porous American defense. Argentina went on to win the Gold defeating Italy by 15.
Following the 2004 debacle, the U.S. committee replaced head coach Larry Brown with Duke Head coach, Mike Krzyzewski. In 2006 led by Krzyzewski, the U.S. team won the Bronze medal again after losing to Greece, a team with no NBA players. Spain subsequently pummeled Greece to win the Gold; Pau Gasol was named MVP of the tournament. A second consecutive bronze medal earned James the nickname ‘Lebronze.’ Another horrible failure motivated many NBA players to dedicate themselves to returning U.S. basketball to where it belongs. The major addition to the U.S. team was current NBA MVP Kobe Bryant. Kobe led the team to the FIBA Americas Championships in the Summer of 2007. The team coasted to a Gold medal; they dominated opponents by going 10-0 with an average margin of victory of 39.5 pts per game. The team defeated Argentina twice en route to the gold medal. Kobe was one of the standout performers of the tournament locking down the tournament’s leading scorer Leandro Barbosa (22 ppg) and holding him to 4 pts.
Now let’s get to this year’s squad:
Jason Kidd – oldest player on team by far (35), not the best PG on the team, but provides necessary leadership and experience
Chris Paul – best PG in the NBA, but has very limited international experience
Deron Williams – tough, rugged player who is also the best shooter of the trio
Kobe Bryant – second oldest player (29); will guard opposing team’s best perimeter player; significantly less pressure to produce on offense compared to on Lakers
Dwyane Wade – coming off injury-plagued season; his effectiveness is uncertain
Michael Redd – possibly team’s premier shooter but is coming off his worst shooting NBA season in years
Lebron James – should be able to physically dominate and manhandle opponents as he does in the NBA; his superior passing ability is a big attribute from the small forward position
Tayshaun Prince – selected as 12th man over Tyson Chandler; probably will only play in blowouts unless team suffers significant injuries, but if needed can defend practically all 5 positions
Carmelo Anthony – playing out of position, but has the size to guard and rebound against most international PF’s; quickness and versatility will benefit team on offense
Carlos Boozer – toughest guy on team; I worry he will be in constant foul trouble similar to Tim Duncan in 2004
Dwight Howard – freakish athletic ability should allow him to dominate opposing centers on both ends of the floor; also must stay out of foul trouble
Chris Bosh – FT shooting ability (84%) could provide him minutes in the clutch
As can be seen, the players that played significant minutes in Athens are all gone. The young guys, Carmelo, Lebron, and Boozer did not play much in Athens but received valuable experience as well as the agony of losing. The starting lineup will be the same as it was last year at the FIBA Americas: Kidd, Kobe, Lebron, Carmelo, and Howard. This lineup has it all: Leadership, Passing, Toughness, Rebounding, Athleticism, and Strength. If teams are sagging off of Kidd and Lebron, Coach Krzyzewski can insert Williams and Redd to create a deadly three-point shooting lineup. There are no glaring weak links on defense on the squad, perhaps Boozer against quick PF’s. There are several teams the Americans need to worry about it. Of course the defending gold medalists Argentina will be very tough. Additionally China, with a healthy Yao Ming and youngster Yi Jianlian, could provide matchup problems along with the raucous home crowd they’ll bring every game. Carlos Arroyo leads a deceptively tough Puerto Rican team and Spain has quite a few experienced NBA players led by Pau Gasol. The U.S. is in a tough round robin group which includes China and Spain.
I believe this team will coast to the semifinals where they will meet some challenge but eventually win the final two games and return the Gold medal to U.S. soil. The differences in this team compared to the 2004 team are vast. The major difference is the strength and athleticism. The guys that played major minutes in Athens, Iverson, Duncan, Odom, Jefferson, and Marbury have been replaced by Kobe, Wade, Lebron, Carmelo, Howard, Williams. The U.S. team needs to use their athleticism and strength to physically dominate their opponents while staying out of foul trouble. International rules are different; they cannot expect fouls called in the NBA to translate to international play. The next major difference is the point guard play. The score-first mentalities of Iverson and Marbury have been replaced by the pass-first mentalities of Kidd, Paul, and Williams. The last key difference is the commitment to defense. Kobe displayed this commitment emphatically last year at FIBA. The team has the ability to lock down any team in the World and if they can commit to this, they will win the Gold medal.
I tried to keep this post shorter even though I had a lot more detail that could have been included. Draft Review will be up next following this Thursday’s exciting NBA Draft.