Olympic Basketball 2012: Serge Ibaka's Right About Spain's Talent vs. Team USA

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2012

BEIJING - AUGUST 24:  Pau Gasol #4 of Spain dunks over the defense of Deron Williams #7 of the United States in the gold medal game during Day 16 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium on August 24, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Serge Ibaka made headlines on Saturday by saying (via espn.com) that Spain's Olympic basketball team has enough talent to hang with Team USA this summer.

"They are just like us, they also have players with a lot of talent," Ibaka said, according to the Associated Press. "They are a different team to 2008, but their players are still very good."

Naturally, many Americans were quick to denounce Ibaka on Twitter.

Conventional knowledge says that unless LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant became Spanish citizens without anyone's knowledge, Team USA still enters the Olympics with the three best basketball players in the tournament.

With that said, Ibaka's comments aren't all that inaccurate. Spain does have the talent to hang with Team USA this summer, just as they did in 2008.

It'll be up to Team USA to see just how far that can get Spain.

I've made my feelings clear on Team USA's chances at the London Olympics this summer, even before the official 12-man roster was announced. Barring further injury, Team USA enters as the clear gold medal favorites this summer, bar none.

No player in the world is playing basketball at the level that James has been playing of late. Assuming James' recent championship run wasn't a complete fluke, and that he continues to dominate the post, Team USA's perceived size disadvantage will be obliterated.

He dissected the Oklahoma City Thunder while playing down low in the NBA Finals, passing to open teammates and orchestrating a three-point barrage all series long. When he didn't give up the ball, James physically dominated his defender and backed him down for an easy basket.

In all likelihood, James will start at the 4 for Team USA this summer, with Durant holding down the 3.

No other team in the Olympics can dream of matching a forward combination like that.

Durant's assuredly still furious about his loss to James and the Heat in the NBA Finals. The rest of the world should officially be on alert.

The spindly sharpshooter averaged over 22 points per game for Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and has won three consecutive NBA scoring titles.

At this point in his career, it's become pretty evident that no player in the world can stop Durant from averaging 20 points a game.

Throw in Bryant—a five-time NBA champion—the best point guard in the world in Chris Paul and the reigning NBA defensive player of the year, Tyson Chandler, and Team USA touts easily the most talented starting lineup of any team in the Olympics.

Realistically, Team USA has more talent at every roster spot than any team in the Olympics.

It's just a matter of how cohesively that talent blends together. That, more than anything, will determine how far the Americans go in their gold medal quest.

Seeing that Chandler, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are the only three conventional big men on the final roster, Spain fans will be quick to point out Team USA's potential size disadvantage against their team.

With both Pau and Marc Gasol alongside Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Serge Ibaka, Spain's frontline is more formidable than any other in the Olympics. There's no questioning that.

Ibaka's comment seems to overlook one tiny detail, though.

How does Spain plan on matching up with Team USA's insanely athletic backcourt?

Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon will take the Spanish team only so far.

Team USA will toss out Paul and Bryant as starters, with All-Stars Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and James Harden ready to come off the bench. Those five players—who are all somewhat interchangeable in the backcourt—will make for a relentless American death machine.

Expect Team USA to come out running with an up-tempo offense this summer, looking to push every fast-break opportunity available. They'll count on the five aforementioned guards to create steals and frequently generate offense from defense.

If Spain's backcourt can somehow neutralize that perimeter defense and pound the ball into the Gasols or Ibaka down low, Team USA will have a serious problem on its hands.

If the Spanish team can keep the game close into the fourth quarter and the Americans start getting jumpy like they did in 2008, all the momentum will favor Spain.

But without Ricky Rubio, who's missing the Olympics due to a torn ACL, Spain won't be able to neutralize Team USA's backcourt enough to take advantage of the power of their frontcourt. That's my guess, anyway.

Royce Young of CBSSports.com and the Daily Thunder blog tweeted it right Saturday when he asked, "Love the fretting about how the US can stop Ibaka and the Gasols. How does Spain stop Kobe, LeBron, Durant and Melo?"

Spain has a chance to prove us both wrong on July 24, when they meet up with Team USA for the Americans' fifth and final exhibition game before the Olympics begin.

Beyond that, their next matchup can only come in a gold medal game.

Depending on how well the 12 members of Team USA coexist over the next month and a half, the gold medal may very well be ripe for the taking for Spain.

But, if Team USA figures out a way to put together its individual talents for the greater good, stays relatively healthy and maintains its hunger for the gold, that will mean lights out for Spain's gold medal chances.

From the sounds of things, the Americans are headed into the Olympic Games with the right mentality.

"We have to play like we're the underdogs (and) play with a lot of heart and we have to play as hard as we can to win that gold," said Kevin Love after Team USA's first practice, according to ESPN.com.

It's on Team USA to live up to that mantra this summer.

If they do, not even the Gasol-Ibaka-Gasol frontcourt sandwich can deny the Americans another gold medal.


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