Team USA

Jeffrey Swinger—USA TODAY Sports
Aug 17

Heading into the 2016 Olympics, it was frequently noted the calling card for Team USA basketball would be its defense. With defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau, an American assistant, barking at signals from the sideline (“ICE! ICE!”), and a fleet of long-armed athletes patrolling the floor, it was a logical conclusion.With a combined wingspan that roughly approximates a B-52, Team USA should just be able to wall off the paint. Unfortunately that isn’t how basketball works, and it certainly hasn’t been the case for the Americans down in Rio. Ball moves faster than man, and teams have sliced Team USA apart with spread pick-and-rolls and timely passing.This isn’t a hot take. It’s the simple, hard truth.Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving are phenomenal basketball players who can get buckets against any (known) creature in the entire galaxy, and their commitment to their country is a treat to see. The same can be said about DeMarcus Cousins. These are, without a doubt, three of the 15-20 best players on the planet. But it’s essentially impossible to build a functional defense when some combination of this trio is on the floor for a majority of the minutes.International opponents have cracked Team USA’s code and penetrated their aggressive man-to-man defense relentlessly. Outside of Anthony Davis, who is sitting out these Olympics to recuperate from a collection of injuries, Cousins is the best young big man in the American system. But teams have picked on him relentlessly.Despite the liabilities on the defensive end, these guys have so much offensive firepower it’s ridiculous. This team can win games even with a stagnant, iso-heavy offense and a Swiss-cheese defense. It’s not always pretty, but this team can style win even when some of their most important players are off. Poor Klay Thompson’s jumper missed its connection flight down to Rio. Aside from the game against France, when Thompson sizzled for 30 points on 16 attempts, the Golden State Warriors sharpshooter has been a disaster. Thompson has shot 30 percent from the field, making just 10 of his 35 threes (28.6 percent). This guy is arguably the second best shooter in the world and he’s looked like a YMCA chucker in the Olympics.Irving and Anthony saved the day against Australia, and after playing well but mostly snoozing through the first five games, Kevin Durant erupted against Argentina. KD was his usual hyper-efficient self, pumping in 27 points on just 13 attempts (7-9 on 3-pointers). Outside of Durant, the Americans were just 4-24 from beyond the arc.Even though they laid enough bricks to build a house from the perimeter, that Argentina victory was important. The 27-point win was the first time since this squad arrived in Rio that they’ve looked like a complete team against real competition. It was also easily their best performance on defense. And it couldn’t come at a better time, with the gold medal game coming Sunday at 2:45 p.m.After falling down 19-9 to start the game, the Americans roared back with a vengeance. Ignited by their bench, the United States — led by a line of Durant, Cousins, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry — ripped off a 27-5 run, which effectively ended the game. USA’s bench outscored Argentina’s 28-7 in the first half alone. Team USA corralled Argentina’s pick-and-roll action and flooded passing lanes, which allowed their transition game to finally kick in. When they’re running and gunning, no team can hang with the Americans, especially if Durant and George play like that. No one else has athletes like those two.INSERT SOMETHING ABOUT THE SPAIN GAME AND WHO DID WHAT?????George was phenomenal, and Mike Krzyzewski will need the Indiana Pacers star to continuously bring that ubiquitous floor game of his to competition. It’s what can help balance out Kyrie, Boogie and Melo.Defense hasn’t been the only issue, though. International teams know they can’t run with America. They muck up the game and commit fouls to prevent transition opportunities, which forces the United States to operate in the half-court.This is where an offense that mostly runs through Irving and Anthony can become problematic. Team USA has fantastic chemistry, these guys love playing with one another, but those two players, both of whom ranked in the top 15 in the NBA last season in usage percentage, are ball-dominant scorers, who earn their keep cooking dudes one-on-one. This makes the Americans far too easy to defend at times. Team USA runs one basic action, the opponents snuffs it out, and then those two get sticky with the ball. Movement stops. Then they dribble out the clock until it’s time to hoist a jumper.It’s not an issue of selfishness, but this is a cause and effect of running an overly simplified offense. In most cases, an Irving or Melo shot is a solid outcome. Those are good players and when they shoot the ball, good things normally happen. But it’s making a team with a dozen awesome players way too easy to contain.It’s clear this team misses Chris Paul and LeBron James, who starred for the last two Olympic teams. Paul and James are probably the two most clever passers in the NBA, and when the offense flows through them, the ball is constantly in motion. The lifeblood of their games is getting others involved. Team USA lacks playmaking in its lineup, and this stationary offense wouldn’t fly under the guidance of Paul or James.Draymond Green has been relegated mostly to the bench as he tries to find his niche on this roster, but it may be worth increasing his playing time. Green is known for his defensive, but he’s a willing and ambitious passer who could facilitate more ball movement.Ultimately, though, basketball is a game of makes and misses. It’s cliched, but the team that makes the most shots generally wins. With the ball in the more-than-capable hands of Irving and Anthony, Team USA has the best shot at a third-straight gold medal.