USA Olympic Basketball 2012: Players in the Field Who Will Give America Problems

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2012

USA Olympic Basketball 2012: Players in the Field Who Will Give America Problems

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    The U.S. men's basketball team enters London as the prohibitive favorite (once again) for Olympic gold, but the talent gap has closed considerably.

    More countries are fielding competitive rosters than ever before, as the NBA continues to broaden its horizons and become a truly global game.

    Accordingly, more and more NBA players find themselves on foreign squads, eager to beat the guys they play nightly in the States. And as we saw against Brazil, there are also a few hidden gems out there whom the NBA has never seen but who are still capable of playing at an Olympic level.

    Here are the five players in the field who can give Team USA the biggest fits.

PF Boris Diaw (FRA)

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    Much ado has been made about Team USA's dearth of true centers. This has been overblown from a minor weakness to a CODE-RED Achilles heel.

    In reality, the lack of size is a tad discouraging, but it's not the team's biggest weakness; Team USA's biggest weakness is team defense.

    Let me emphasize something there: I said team defense. Team.

    The roster is loaded with superb individual defenders, but they're too vain to work together properly. They prefer to press uncontrollably and bait offensive players into potential blocks.

    And what beats poor team defense? Passing. Boris Diaw is one of the single best post passers in the world, a converted point guard who can dominate a game without scoring.

    If Team USA's defensive unit doesn't play as one, Diaw could carve them up.

C Marc Gasol (ESP)

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    When Spain trots out the Gasol brothers to start a game, Tyson Chandler will presumably take Pau, the more gifted low-post option.

    By my calculations, that would leave LeBron on Marc Gasol, a legitimate seven-footer who plays like a feral animal down low.

    LeBron has occasionally looked like a demi-God on defense, but against Boston, Kevin Garnett made him look mortal in the paint.

    Whichever Gasol doesn't have Chandler matched up against him should give LeBron and Co. fits in the post.

Manu Ginobili (ARG)

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    Doesn't take sophisticated analysis to figure this one out; he's just Manu.

    Ginobili has made a career out of giving teams fits, even all-star dense rosters like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers.

    His style of play is impervious to athleticism and defense; he's too methodical and patient to care. The best you can do sometimes is force him to shoot and hope he's off.

    His team is just good enough for him to avoid double-teams, and even Kobe Bryant has sometimes struggled going one-on-one with Manu in the past.

PG Marcelinho Huertas (BRA)

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    How about a player who's already given Team USA some problems?

    Like Diaw, Huertas is one of the best passers on the planet, which leaves the leaky USA team defense susceptible to his bravura.

    He has always given the Americans problems and continued to do so in Team USA's final home-court exhibition this summer. Huertas went five of eight from the field, scoring an efficient 11 points, to go along with a game-altering 13 assists.

    Team USA escaped Brazil with an 80-69 victory, but that game was no fluke. Huertas is exactly the type of player they have trouble guarding.

C Jonas Valanciunas (LIT)

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    Perhaps the best young big man in the world, Valanciunas has beat up the USA at youth levels and could continue that success this summer.

    In the FIBA U-19 Championships last summer, Valanciunas scored 30 points with 15 rebounds against the USA, almost leading his team to victory in a 105-107 overtime loss. Jonas would have the last laugh, though, leading Lithuania to the gold medal and winning tournament MVP. (The USA lost to Russia in the quarterfinals.)

    Tyson Chandler represents a different level of competition for the young Lithuanian, but with a host of talented three-point shooters around him, he should have ample room to maneuver around the ponderous Knicks center.