Yes, this is it. The moment where you finally get to find out whether Team USA is truly ready to take on the best that the world has to offer. After losing an early lead to the experienced Argentina team and eventually only winning by 6, whispers of doubt are hovering in the air. Could this Dream Team, possibly the last of its' kind, fail to make gold? Could Team USA leave the golden era of olympic basketball with a bad taste in their mouths? Could Russell Westbrook possibly get any more ballin?
Those questions won't be answered today, but tonight's game should be a nice indicator of whether Team USA is still really head and shoulders over their international competition. Champions of the last two Eurobaskets, Spain is arguably the most talented, decorated, and deep team in the world.....aside from Team USA. They haven't faced Team USA since 2008, with their last matchup coming during the final of the 2008 Olympics. Team USA won that game by 11 points, and had cruised to victory by the final buzzer.
But today's Spanish team is much different than that one, and so is today's Team USA. On the Spanish side, the Gasol brothers are both arguably at the the peaks of their careers. Okay, so Pau is maybe a little bit on the down slope, and Marc might have some growing to do, but they're both pretty darn close to their respective peaks, making this a golden opportunity for Spain. Secondly, they've picked up our very own Serge Ibaka, providing them with a degree of athleticism that they've never seen. He's worked with the team since 2011 and is now comfortable in the Spanish offense, giving them three threats to score in the post. Thirdly, the team has picked up two guys domestically who could be essential as well: Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull. They'll both come off of the bench, but Rodriguez has NBA experience, and they're certainly better than Spain's 2008 options, Raul Lopez and Alex Mumbru.
And before I get to Team USA, I know that Spain has lost Ricky Rubio, and it has everybody screaming bloody murder about how Spain won't be as good this year. If you've only seen the fantastic run he's had in the NBA, then yeah, it might look like a bad loss. But having seen Spain play with him, he was little more than a backup point guard. He could never get into the offensive flow, scoring only 16 points in 171 minutes during the 2011 Eurobasket. He also only had 2 assists and 1 steal per game. Somewhat okay numbers, but hardly enough to justify the destruction of a team. Spain still has Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Sergio Rodriguez to lead the Spanish offense. All three have been successful in the NBA, and all three are better scorers. In all honesty, there are 7 or 8 other guys whose loss would have been much more critical than Spain. This team is still pretty darn legit.
Team USA hasn't really changed in terms of talent (since they'll always be top-notch), but they're tooled much differently this time around. In 2008, the team could rely on a post trio of Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, and Carlos Boozer to provide inside scoring, defensive intimidation, and rebounding. This year, they've only got Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love, meaning that the scoring effort is going to have to come mainly from their guards. Secondly, that 2008 team trusted all 12 of its' players, playing every single player during every single game. This team uses a 10 man rotation, likely leaving James Harden and Anthony Davis only garbage time minutes. Lastly, the team has exchanged Kevin Durant for Dwayne Wade. It's an even exchange in terms of numbers, but it also gives the team a lot more length and shooting range, something that was a problem for the 2008 team.
So, what does all of this mean? In my opinion, it means that these teams are a lot closer than they used to be. But Team USA is still the better club. While in 2008 I'd compare the matchup to something like a 60 win NBA team vs. a 30 win NBA team, this year I'd say the matchup is more like a 60 win team vs. a 45 win team. The 60 win team will win most series, but the 45 win team can put up a fight every single night. Pau and Marc Gasol will give Team USA's weak front court hell down low, while Spain's post-oriented back court will find it difficult to get the ball past the perimeter. Spain's swingmen are probably the team's weakest point, so it will be interesting to see how the hold up defensively. Lastly, it's still anyone's guess whether Team USA will go with two big men when the Gasol brothers are on the court, or try to keep the smaller Durant and Anthony in front of them. In any case, Team USA should be able to squeak out a win by a moderately small margin.
Prediction: Team USA 88, Spain 79