USA Men's Basketball Team Finds Another Way to Mask Ominous Flaws

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterAugust 14, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Klay Thompson #11 of United States moves the ball past Nando de Colo #12 of France while Carmelo Anthony #15 of United States looks on during a Men's Preliminary Round Group A game between the United States and France on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Four games into the 2016 Olympics men's basketball tournament in Rio de Janeiro, several glaring weaknesses remained for Team USA's men's basketball giants despite its clean slate. Critiques include apathetic defensive intensity, an overindulgence in one-on-one, break-your-defender's-ankles offense, and reckless ball-handling in the open court.

But entering Sunday's group-play match against France, one objective was paramount: fight the urge for solo artistry. "We just gotta start getting some movement," Paul George said on NBCSN after a three-point win over Serbia on Friday (via CBS Sports’ James Herbert). "We're relying on our natural talent so much. It's so easy to guard us. Teams are just loading up and watching us play one-on-one."

Consider one priority addressed. 

Team USA’s sluggish attack kicked into higher gear during a 100-97 win over a veteran French squad, aided by Klay Thompson's reclaimed shooting stroke. After hitting just 3-of-16 three-point attempts through four games, the All-Star swingman drained seven treys en route to a game-high 30 points.

Thompson was the biggest benefactor of a decidedly more pass-happy American offense. Kevin Durant also found a groove, shooting a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, and Kyrie Irving dealt 12 of USA’s 32 assists on 35 total makes. 

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Paul George #13 of United States moves the ball against Thomas Heurtel #4 of France during a Men's Preliminary Round Group A game between the United States and France on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca A
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Americans still indulged their hero-ball tendencies from time to time but generated good shots off ball movement more than we've seen to date. That approach gave Thompson space for easy makes early, stockpiling confidence for a second-half splash-fest. In one signature third-quarter moment, he turned an errant cross-court fling from Durant into an improbable three points—his final trey of the game—heaving unconsciously while teetering toward the baseline.

While Team USA corrected course in one department, there's still cause for concern elsewhere. 

The Americans were plagued by the same sloppiness seen in close contests against Australia and Serbia. Their 13 turnovers were their highest total of the tournament so far.

The turnovers fed life to France, which sat Tony Parker on account of a toe issue. Nando de Colo and Thomas Heurtel (Parker’s replacement) burned the USA backcourt for 18 points apiece and 14 combined assists on quick cuts and mid-range finishes around and over lagging defenders.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski once again started DeMarcus Cousins (nine points, five rebounds, four turnovers in 20 minutes) at center but didn’t find much in the way of rim protection from either him or DeAndre Jordan (seven points, three rebounds) off the bench.

Antoine Diot’s three before the final buzzer, which sliced France’s ending deficit in half, ensured that the Americans would be outshot by their competition for the third consecutive game—two days after narrowly defeating Serbia at Carioca Arena.

Team USA's Shooting Percentages at the 2016 Olympics
FG%Opponent FG%Differential
vs. China51.4%35.7%plus-15.7%
vs. Venezuela54.5%34.4%plus-20.1%
vs. Australia39.1%50%minus-10.9%
vs. Serbia49.1%51.7%minus-2.6%
vs. France55.6%56.2%minus-0.6%
USA Basketball and ESPN

Irving had his issues keeping track of the French backcourt’s kinetic energy. So did the Toronto-based duo of DeMar DeRozan (nine points) and Kyle Lowry (no points on 0-of-1 shooting, three assists). Thompson wasn’t without his missteps on that end, either.

Is This Sustainable?

After a 5-0 run through group play, it’s clear that Team USA, for all the stars who stayed home, has enough talent nonetheless to scrape by without Tom Thibodeau-caliber effort and execution on the defensive end. 

This is an All-Star team, with big names capable of mind-blowing feats, plagued by self-inflicted mistakes and inattentive defense. The Americans smothered France from three (5-of-19), which ultimately played into their opponent’s hands. Vincent Collet’s club, with its abundance of skill inside the arc, found enough space for floaters and clever finishes off pass-and-cut connections in the paint.

For all their obvious ability, the Americans can’t take their top seed in the medal rounds for granted. The stronger, more experienced competition that Team USA has encountered in its last three games has laid bare this roster’s lack of cohesion and commitment to locking up its opposition with any consistency. 

As CBS Sports’ Matt Moore pointed out, this edition of Team USA has slipped considerably compared to its predecessors.

The two-time defending Olympic champions haven't yet translated their on-paper dominance into an overwhelming on-court product. The world clearly doesn’t fear the Americans, perhaps thanks to scores of international NBA players having seen the mortal sides of America’s hoops heroes up close. 

Chris Hine @ChristopherHine

Paul George: "I thought personally we were going to dominate these games and they were going to come easy."

USA Basketball can take some comfort in seeing Thompson get on track, along with the rest of a previously stagnant offense. But America’s defensive underbelly remains exposed, with the next combatant—whoever finishes fourth in Group B—to be determined on Monday.

Until then, Coach K and his staff will have to continue preaching defense and ball movement to avoid elimination in the knockout stages, let alone in the gold-medal game. 

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.