Kyrie Irving is feeling quite good about Team USA’s chances at the Rio Olympics.
Irving told reporters that he doesn’t really see any reason why the Americans should be tripped up in their chase for a gold medal.
“I don’t know…nothing,” Irving said Thursday when asked what could stop Team USA, via Michael Lee of the Vertical. “Honestly, that should be our attitude. If things get hard, we should be able to withstand it. And we’ll be ready for anything.”
Is Irving right? Well, yes. Rationally, nobody should really be able to challenge Team USA. That doesn’t mean, however, it’s a foregone conclusion. There are a few teams that could, conceivably, throw the Americans off on their quest. They’re right to be confident, but avoiding overconfidence and complacency will be vital.
Team USA rules over the international basketball landscape with an iron fist. A starting lineup of Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis with Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Blake Griffin coming off the bench would probably be a shoo-in for the gold medal, not just in basketball, but in handball, judo, synchronized swimming, and the triathlon as well. Instead, those are all players who WON’T be suiting up for the good ol’ US of A at the Olympics this year. But the bad news for the rest of the world is that America’s 12-man junior varsity roster still boasts a combined 33 All-Star appearances, 24 All-NBA honors, 10 All-Defensive Team selections, five scoring titles, and Harrison Barnes. USA Basketball has blasted opponents by an average margin of victory of 43 points in five exhibition contests, and, realistically speaking, nobody, not Papua New Guinea, not Mordor, not Vanessa Carlton, has a Drummond’s chance at the free throw line of stealing the gold away from them.
But is anything really that guaranteed, especially in a world where the foul stench of bronze in the 2004 Athen Games still reeks about as badly as the Zika-infested Brazilian countryside and where the ineradicable mental images of Draymond’s donkey may have traumatized the entire team into a permanent state of mediocrity? For the sake of competitive spirit (something that one lanky small forward for Team USA could use a lesson in), here are the four countries best suited to compete with America for basketball gold in Rio.
Perhaps the lone Achilles’ heel for USA Basketball is the relative lack of experience at the Olympic level. Kevin Durant and grumpy grandpa Carmelo Anthony are the only two players on the roster with any prior Olympic experience whatsoever. That’s not going to be a problem for the Baltic nation of Lithuania, a team returning six members from their 2012 squad that competed at the London Games. They’re also coming off a strong recent performance on the international stage, making it all the way to the championship game against Spain in EuroBasket 2015. The team is led by Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, a smooth post-up/pick-and-roll player who is battle-tested against the NBA’s top talent and who may be the team’s most effective weapon against DeMarcus Cousins considering his knack for baiting Boogie into near-ejections.