So far, so good for Team USA. Two blowouts in the preliminary round against France and Tunisia, and the United States looks like they’ll be coasting to their second straight Olympic gold in London.
Team USA’s star-studded Olympic roster has drawn comparisons to the fabled 1992 USA Men’s Basketball “Dream Team,” with superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James claiming that the 2012 team could get the upper hand on their legendary counterparts.
But while Bryant and James have received most of the face time due to their NBA resumes, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony have been the co-MVPs of team USA thus far, with Durant shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc against France (scoring 22 points on 3-of-5 from three-point range) and Carmelo Anthony leading Team USA off the bench against Tunisia with 16 points.
With outstanding performances in the first two games and Bryant and James performing average at best, a bit of a debate can be spurned over who is more valuable to Team USA in this tournament. Bryant and James’ NBA resumes make them two of the most revered players on the planet, but Durant and Anthony might just have the upper hand on them in international competition.
It’s not that Bryant and James aren’t adroitly talented, it’s just that their playing styles aren’t as form-fitting to international competition as they are in the NBA. International ball is more predicated on finesse, quick ball movement and pick-and-roll opportunities. While this is a style that Bryant and James are more than capable of a adapting to and thriving in, it’s not the traditional tempo that the two are accustomed to.
Bryant excels in the triple threat and is best suited for one-on-one opportunities coming from the wing, which is something seldom effective in up-tempo Olympic competition.
James is at his best when he uses his size to penetrate the lane to draw sliding defenders and distributing to open teammates, but the lack of a three-second rule in FIBA play makes this style somewhat ineffective for James.
Durant and Anthony, however, fit the international game almost seamlessly. Durant’s lethal mid-range game turns into a volatile three-point shot with the international three-point line a bit shorter than the NBA’s, and his notorious catch-and-shoot game coming off picket fence screens suits Team USA well.
Anthony, on the other hand, also processes a deadly outside game and is superb at moving off ball to create scoring opportunities thanks to his play in former New York Knicks head coach (and current team USA assistant) Mike D’Antoni’s point guard-predicated seven-seconds-or-less offense. Both should continue to be the 1A and 1B scoring threats for Team USA throughout this tournament.
While Bryant and James’ MVP and championship accolades should continue to keep the world gazing in awe (and some of the opposing players, as Bryant found out when a Tunisian asked for his autograph after their game with the Americans), it will be Durant and Anthony blazing the path to gold for team USA throughout the tournament. It won’t be a knock on Bryant or James’ skill set by any means, but Durant and Anthony just have better international-style playing tendencies.