Following the qualification of France, Serbia and Croatia this weekend, the final field is set for the Olympic men’s basketball tournament. And even though they’re sending their “B” team, the United States are still resounding favorites to capture their third straight gold medal and 15th all-time.
When you first think of the best basketball players in the USA, your mind probably doesn’t immediately drift to Harrison Barnes or DeMar DeRozan; but they are two of the dozen men representing the red, white, and blue, after names like Steph Curry and LeBron James passed on the Rio games. While it may not be the sexiest team the States has ever sent, it’s Margot Robbie compared to what some of the other “top contenders” are offering up.
After raising concerns about the Zika virus, Pau Gasol eventually came around to playing for the Spanish national team. It’s great news that the team has their centerpiece back, until you remember that Gasol is 36 years old. As for Pau’s spry younger brother? A foot injury is likely to keep Marc out of the Olympics all together. Throw in the fact that Serge Ibaka is skipping Rio, and it’s tough to get excited about this Spanish side … unless you’re a huge Jose Calderon fan.
France was the last team to qualify for the Olympics, but may have best chance at a medal (of non-USA teams). Led by more old dogs – former Spurs teammates Tony Parker and Boris Diaw – France at least has a quality starting five for Rio, now that Rudy Gobert wants back on the team in the wake of their Olympic qualification. He’ll join fellow NBAer Nicolas Batum and perhaps the top international player out there, Nando de Colo. However, a lack of depth makes it hard to see France knocking off the States.
If everything breaks down according to plan, France and Spain should meet in the semifinals for the right to play the USA; but there are plenty of teams here that can alter those projections. Argentina – the last non-American team to win the gold (2004) – is still led by Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, the same pair that led them to victory 12 years ago. Perhaps they have one last upset in them?
Then there’s the powerful and difficult to pronounce frontcourt of Lithuania: Jonas Valanciunas, Domantas Sabonis, Donatas Montiejunas; the syllables go on. As much as small ball is the way of the future in the NBA, these big-bodied behemoths have pushed their way to top-four finishes at the last two World Cups.
The host Brazilian’s have a collection of recognizable, but also past-their-prime NBAers (Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao, Nene). Yet, homecourt advantage has to count for something, right?
Rounding out the contenders is Serbia, which has a capable roster, but one that would be way more fun if it included Boban Marjanovic.
So as you can see, it’s not exactly murderer’s row standing in front of the States. But, after the perfunctory round robin, it is a single-elimination tournament, and Kevin Durant, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, and Klay Thompson are all capable of having off-games. Perhaps there’s a scenario where they all have a bad game simultaneously and USA doesn’t advance?
Sure, I suppose that could happen.
Would I bet on it? No.
But if you’re feeling like a longshot, here the odds for men’s Olympic basketball.
Odds to win 2016 Men’s Basketball Gold Medal:
- USA: 1/12
- Spain: 11/1
- France: 11/1
- Brazil: 22/1
- Argentina: 25/1
- Serbia: 25/1
- Lithuania: 33/1
- Croatia: 50/1
- Australia: 100/1
- China: 175/1
- Nigeria: 500/1
- Venezuela: 500/1
(Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)