Are the US Men’ Basketball Team Vulnerable?

By: Kento Kato

For those of you that are into the breakdown of basketball games, players, and teams, I highly suggest you guys check out the BBALLBREAKDOWN channel on YouTube. With the Olympics under way, they recently released a video of how the team has failed to execute and I’ve decided to a write up of the video to summarize what the problem has been for this year’s team. Now granted that they are 5-0 and have still won each game by an average of over 20 points, the last three games have been very close. The United States men’s team still has a very dominant +117 point differential and are doing so without some of their best players. But they are no longer dominating teams the way people are used to seeing them do so and there are people wondering if they could possibly lose and why?

Prior to the games, there were even a few discussion of which team was better, the 2008 team, the 2012 team, or this year’s team. From what I have seen and heard, that comparison should be put to rest and the main reason is because of the difference in the level of defense between the last two teams to represent the United States and this year’s team. On paper, this team looks to be a solid defense team with Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kyle Lowry and Paul George. All of them are known as good defensive players and one would think that they would be able to stop or at least contain players who do not play in the NBA. But Green and Lowry only combine to play 24mpg, and Butler and Thompson only play a combined 30mpg and neither Paul George or DeAndre Jordan play 20mpg. And even when they are playing, you have to remember that one good defensive player cannot stop an entire team.

What other teams have done, is isolate and attack DeMarcus Cousins in the pick and roll. Cousins is one of the best offensive threats in the game and is leading the team in rebounds but he also leads the team in fouls. Serbia especially, brought Cousins out of the paint and made him defense the pick and roll which saw him often out of position. DeAndre Jordan is not free of blame either as he has been out of position at times as well. While many of the teams are exposing the United States’ big men’s defense, the guards have not necessarily held their end of the deal either. Many of the guards are often caught watching or reaching in and this is one of the reasons that the big men have been caught in bad situations.

The troubling thing about all of this is that it is all due to a lack of effort and discipline. Kevin Durant, who isn’t exactly a shut down defender, but solid enough most of the time, has been caught watching the ball, DeMar Derozan, known to be a solid defender was seen reaching, and Paul George has even been seen reaching in and gambling. These players often do a good job of not reaching and staying disciplined during an NBA season but the fact that they are doing this now suggests that they still believe that they can just go out there and win with their athleticism, size, and skill. While that may be true as team USA is 5-0 so far, it is obvious that other teams are finding ways to keep the game close and give themselves a shot. With the sport becoming more global over the last decade and more international players gaining experience in the NBA, it is time for the US players to realize that they cannot go on like this for long.

That same lack of focus and discipline has also been seen on the other side of the ball. This team has had a lot of trouble getting into their sets and if it weren’t for the team’s superior skill, their offensive execution, or lack thereof, would have cost them a game already. Some of their offensive troubles have also come because of their defense. If you watch videos of the 2008 “Redeem” Team, you can see that they were able to force a lot of misses and turnover, which led to run outs and fast breaks, which ultimately led to them being able to use their superior athleticism. As coach Nick of BBALLBREAKDOWN points out, many of the offensive sets for team USA lacks movement and passing and the players are often looking confused. There are plays in which all 5 players are on the same side, or players resort to isolation or pick and roll at the end of games.

My explanation for a lot of this is the lack of leadership. Carmelo Anthony is playing in his 4th Olympics and Kevin Durant is playing in his 2nd but nobody else has any Olympics experience and while the roster is filled with great players, they do lack a vocal leader and players with international experience. The only 2 players to be looked at as the elder’s statesmen have no championships between them and neither are known to be lockdown defenders or floor generals. The 2008 team had Jason Kidd, LeBron James, and Chris Paul who are all known to be good leaders in their own way and they still had a very experienced Kobe Bryant as well. The 2012 team also had Tyson Chandler, and Andre Iguodala to go along with Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. That veteran leadership goes a long way in setting up an offense and holding guys accountable and disciplined on defense as well. While some of this responsibility is on the coaches, they have remained pretty constant throughout the years leaving the players to be the variables. Also, with it being a tournament without much preparation time, having a leader on the court becomes a whole lot more important.

Obviously this team is still expected to win the gold and will be the favorites in every game going forward. But if they are to keep up their uninspired, undisciplined play, they could be caught off guard. With other teams seeing ways to exploit the United States’ defense and lack of offensive cohesiveness, and gaining confidence, Coach Krzyzewski’s team will need to find a way to clean up some mistakes if they want to win and do so convincingly like so many of their past teams have.

If anyone is interested in the aforementioned YouTube channel, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSpvjDk06HLxBaw8sZw7SkA

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