One Lesson Every Olympic Basketball Team Learned in London
The 2012 London Olympics are over, and the basketball portion of the Games was anything but climactic. Team USA won just as everyone expected them to, but that does not mean that the other teams in the competition did not at least come away with a valuable lesson.
The 2016 games in Rio De Janeiro are not as far away as they seem, and many of the teams that did not medal still learned lessons that will help them be more competitive the next time around. However, some others learned lessons that probably will discourage them regarding their chances in the next games.
Very little of the basketball competition did not follow the script many expected. Team USA and Spain were obviously the two best teams, and everyone else was competing for Bronze. The lessons learned through the experience are varied and interesting to discuss.
Lesson: You have no NBA-caliber players.
This lesson is a sad one, but it is true. The Tunisia team did not have a single player who really looked like he could get on the floor for an NBA team. The one exception might be Makram Ben Romdhane, a forward who went off for 22 points and 11 rebounds against the Americans. Even he fell far short of being close to the other teams’ in terms of athleticism and talent.
Honestly, Tunisia is probably one of those countries that is just happy to be there. They are not a strong basketball country, and the fact that they even got the opportunity to play against the best in the world is something the country should be proud of.
Lesson: You need to find the next Yao Ming by 2016.
Yao Ming is gone, and it shows for this Chinese team. Yi Jianlian is the best player on the team, and he is still young enough that he will be around for the Olympics in 2016. However, he will not be able to win a medal for his country on his own.
China needs to find the next Yao because that is the only possible way they could realistically contend for a medal in Rio De Janeiro. Even with Yao, the Chinese struggled to compete with the best of the world, but without such a player to pair with Yi, they will never even be close. It is a tall order, but it must be fulfilled if China is going to have a shot next time around.
Lesson: Making your mark in the record books is not always a good thing.
The Nigerian team was the team that helped Team USA set records with their 83-point loss to the Americans. By the end of the third quarter, the US team had already scored 119 points and was continuing to pour shots into the baskets. Part of the problem was not the fault of the Nigerians. The United States simply made everything it threw at the basket.
However, it still should not have been this bad. The Nigerian team has more NBA talent than other teams in the competition who played the US much, much closer. Al-Farouq Aminu and Ike Diogu are a couple of the best players on this team. Granted, they are nothing compared to the USA talent, but they are NBA players who should have been able to put up a much better fight.
Lesson: Basketball is not your sport.
It is a good thing that the British were able to qualify for basketball since it was being played in London. However, they really did not have a shot at a medal this year, and they will not in 2016 either. Their severe lack of star power is the main reason. Luol Deng played is heart out for his country, but he is not good enough to make them a medal team or even to get past the round robin segment of the competition.
Basketball is not big in Great Britain, and I do not really expect it to get any bigger any time soon. I admire Deng and his teammates for going out there and playing hard for the queen, but the lesson to be learned here is that basketball success on an international level is not in the cards for Great Britain.
Lesson: You should shoot for a medal in 2016.
The Brazilians played very well throughout the course of the competition, as they should have considering that they have a decent amount of NBA talent on their roster. Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa and Tiago Splitter are all good NBA players and should be the basis for this team to make another run at a medal when they host the games in 2016.
They will be the team everyone is watching as those games will not only be in their biggest city, but it will also be the last time this current group will be able to contend for a medal. If they can develop a few more young players around that nucleus, they should have a good shot at a medal.
Lesson: You had the talent to do better than you did.
Lithuania has been a pretty good country for basketball over the last decade or so. Their team played well in spots during the competition, and their Olympics were highlighted by a five-point loss to Team USA. No other team came that close.
This Lithuanian team had the talent to at least make it to the second round of the medal portion of the competition. Linas Kleiza and Jonas Valanciunas were the highlights of a team that lost to a Russian team it probably should have beaten. The thing the Lithuanias need to learn for 2016 is this: you have the talent to medal, but you may not after the next games.
Lesson: Patty Mills is the player you must build around.
The Australians played well in this competition, and a big reason was the leadership of Patty Mills. He led this team as well as anyone in the world, and a case can certainly be made that he was the best point guard in the competition.
Australia must build around him. He can score and make the other players around him better. By putting players around him that can benefit from his play and play off of him, the Australian team will have a much better chance at continuing to matter in international basketball.
Lesson: Tony Parker’s health issues kept you from a medal.
The French team was one of most talented in the competition this year. Tony Parker, Nando De Colo, Boris Diaw, Ronny Turiaf and Nicolas Batum are all NBA-caliber players. This team was more talented than every team other than the Americans, Spaniards and possibly the Argentines. This team should have done better.
Although having to face Spain was a tough task, the French could have done it with a healthy Tony Parker. Parker accounted for 15 points and six assists in the loss that eliminated his team, which is not enough considering he played very near the entire game. His eye issues were a big problem, and had they not been, the French might have a Bronze Medal to show for it.
Lesson: You are no longer good enough to even contend for Gold or Silver.
It is time for Argentina to re-tool and regroup. This current team’s time has passed. Manu Ginobili is old and will probably never play in the Olympics again. It is time for the team to find a new leader to build around and get younger.
There really is not anything that the Argentines could have done differently that would have gotten them a medal. You could argue that they should have beaten the Russians for the Bronze medal, but it was clear that Russia wanted it more than almost anyone else in the whole tournament. This Argentine team is no longer capable of competing for Gold or Silver, and it will be even farther from that goal in 2016 if many things do not change.
Lesson: You could not have played any better.
I am of the opinion that the Russian team played just about as well as it possibly could. It finished first in the standings of its pool, and fought tooth and nail to get the Bronze medal. A significant segment of the viewing population wanted to see a rematch of the USA and Russia on the 40th anniversary of the controversial Soviet Gold medal in Moscow.
Still though, the Russians were pretty fun to watch and should be proud. They played very hard and nearly upset Spain in the semifinals. Defeating Argentina was also a pretty big achievement, given how good that team has been over the last decade.
Lesson: Exploiting a team’s weakness does not guarantee victory.
It was obvious from the beginning that Spain’s advantage was inside, where it boasted Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. No other team in this tournament had the size in the middle to rival them, including the Americans. Team USA’s biggest weakness was a lack of size inside, and everyone knew that.
And while that matchup helped Spain play the USA close, it was not enough to get the win. Spain had a huge advantage inside, but the mismatch on the perimeter was far more significant. Just because you have something that will cause an opponent problems in their weakest area does not mean you will win. Spain needs more athleticism on the perimeter to have a chance at Gold in 2016.
Lesson: Even with obvious faults, you are still the best by far.
This version of Team USA had faults, and they were obvious ones. Defensive lapses, an over-reliance on the three-point shot and a lack of depth inside were just a few of the most obvious issues with this team. However, none of it really mattered in the end.
That is what Team USA should take away from this. They are so good and so far superior to the rest of the world that even all of those faults were not enough to get them beaten. It is a testament to the level of basketball being played at every level in the United States and to the superior athleticism we devote to the sport.