Does USA basketball have the right stuff?


The USA men’s basketball team came into the Olympic tournament as huge favorites. And they will win the gold medal, let’s just get that out of the way early. The team finished the group stage 5-0, winning their first two games over China and Venezuela by an average of 50.5 points. However, in games against Australia, Serbia and France, much more formidable opponents, that average decreased to just over 5. Some wondered if USA basketball was in decline and in trouble. Maybe they were just distracted.

Even though the team seemed to rebound in the quarterfinals, looking dominant against Argentina and winning by 27, it is fair to consider if Team USA is not all they could be. The upcoming semifinal against Spain and potential final versus Australia or Serbia will test their mettle. The rosters of these teams will also showcase players who some may wish were American citizens and were qualified to play for the U.S.

Without delving too deeply into all players on all foreign rosters other teams do have quality players. Do any offer VOUSRP (Value Over U.S. Replacement Player)? Would any of them be included over players on the current roster? Let’s take a look at the rosters of the other teams.

Argentina – Carlos Delfino was an NBA player. Andres Nocioni was a good NBA player. Luis Scola is a good NBA player. Manu Ginobili is a future member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Of these Ginobili is really the only one who could replace a current member of Team USA. His ability to makes shots and make plays is highly valuable, even as his age limits his minutes and defense. His international experience wold also be invaluable.

Australia – The Australian team has a number of current and former NBA players on its roster. But these players have no place on Team USA. Andrew Bogut is a starting center in the NBA but no match for Demarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan.  Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills are quality NBA backups but not much more.

Brazil – A few NBA players but none of any note. Nene is probably the best but has nothing for the U.S.

China – Their best player is Yi Jianlian, a former NBA lottery pick who flamed out but may sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. No.

Croatia – They have a number of current and potentially future NBA players but no one who could replace a player on Team USA. Some believe Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja are future NBA stars, but not current ones.

France – Five NBA players on the roster lead by Tony Parker. Some may argue Rudy Gobert would benefit the U.S. team but really he’s DeAndre Jordan only less developed. It can be argued that Tony Parker would have a spot on Team USA, but not in place of someone already on the team. While still a good player Parker is on the decline and at this point in his career is not as good a player as Kyle Lowry, the most likely player to be replaced.

Lithuania – Jonas Valanciunas is a good NBA player and Domantas Sabonis was a high draft pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Neither of them are good enough.

Nigeria – No.

Serbia – A couple of good players, but no.

Spain – Spain comes to Rio with more NBA players on its roster than any team other than the United States. There are a number of quality NBA backups in Sergio Rodriguez, Jose Calderon and Alex Abrines. Nikola Mirotic and Ricky Rubio have demonstrated they can start in the NBA. But Pau Gasol is really the only potential inclusion on Team USA. Gasol has been a very good NBA player for a long time, but he has declined. He can’t really move anymore and doesn’t play defense. He could offer quality mid-range shooting and rebounding for the U.S. but any better than Kevin Durant, Draymond Green or Carmelo Anthony?

Venezuela – No.

What makes it even more difficult for foreign players is that Team USA has no demonstrable weaknesses. Despite criticism of the team’s roster construction there is no skill not on offer. The U.S. has shooting (Anthony, Durant, Klay Thompson), rebounding (Anthony, Durant, Green, Cousins, Jordan), defense (Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Jordan, Lowry), guys who can get to the rim (basically the entire team) and playmakers (Durant, Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony). While much of the criticism has revolved around this last point, a team of ball-dominant players, the deficiency has been execution not capacity. As shown against Argentina and in earlier games Team USA has the ability to move the ball and play within a system. It is only when they derogate from team basketball and decide to go one-on-one that the team breaks down. This may be an issue of coaching, lack of practice time or simply selfish basketball but the answer is not replacement of one or two players.

When considering what other rosters have to offer and what Team USA may or may not lack the possibility of VOUSRP is lacking. The only true option would appear to be Manu Ginobili. His ability to make shots for himself and others along with his international experience would make him a quality option. He has also shown that at least in short stints with the Spurs during the NBA season and so far during the Olympic tournament that he is still a very good player.

The most likely player replaced would be Harrison Barnes. His minutes were always lacking and have decreased even further as Coach K has shortened his rotation. His inclusion on the team was always conditional on the non-participation of other players so when a viable replacement comes along his place would most likely be the first to be ceded.

A final important point to note is that this is only considering the current roster. A roster lacking LeBron James, Stephon Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis along with others who opted out this summer. The inclusion of these players would negate any conversation of foreign player replacement as many current U.S. players would not be included on the roster.

USA men’s basketball may have been disappointing so far but they are still winning. And they will continue to win.




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