Credit: AP Scanpix
Credit AP Scanpix

Team USA is vulnerable. Their complicated preparation and results, including two losses against Australia and Nigeria, raise concerns before the Olympic basketball tournament. Some teams are ready to upset the champs. BasketNews lists the Top 4 National Teams who can dethrone Team USA in Tokyo.

Spain

Let's enjoy The Last Dance, or El Ultimo Baile, to be more precise.

Gasol brothers, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez (4 of 12 Spanish NT members age average is 37 years), and the rest of La Roja will try to win the gold for one last time.

These guys are playing together for three decades, as crazy as it sounds. They already won three EuroBasket tournaments and two FIBA World Cups. In both the 2008 and the 2012 Olympics, only the Team USA stopped them from reaching the peak of the mountain.

Pau Gasol is already 41, and he's not their go-to guy anymore. But the experienced Spanish team has more tools at their disposal.

First of all, Sergio Scariolo and his team had a pretty productive preparation stage. They won 4 of 5 exhibition games, including two wins against Iran (88-61, 96-53) and France (86-77, 87-79) with a single loss to Team USA (76-83).

Don't forget that Spain is the reigning World Champions. Five of these World champions didn't make the Olympic roster, but you couldn't call it a downgrade. Quinno Colom, Javier Beiran, Xavi Rabaseda, Pierre Oriola and Pau Ribas were replaced by Pau Gasol, Usman Garuba, Alex Abrines, Alberto Abalde and Carlos Alocen. Not bad, huh?

Some of these new additions bring new guns to the Scariolo toolbox. Physicality, athleticism, and size are something that Garuba and Abalde can offer to their compatriots. We never doubted Spain's chemistry and tactical IQ, but these additions will make them even more complete.

The only concern was Juancho Hernangomez's injury. Both Sergio Scariolo and Pau Gasol pushed hard to get Juancho ready for the Olympics, despite the Minnesota Timberwolves' worries over their player's health. Juancho was the third-best scorer and third most efficient player on the World Champion roster, perfectly filling the stretch four role.

The expectations are high. Much higher than in 2019, when nobody dreamed of Spain winning the World Cup. Spanish basketball fans believe they can win the Olympic gold. It doesn't sound like a crazy idea.

For more, read the Group C preview here.

4 Pau Gasol PF 213 cm 113 kg 41 yr.
5 Rudy Fernandez SG 196 cm 84 kg 36 yr.
6 Sergio Rodriguez PG 191 cm 80 kg 35 yr.
9 Ricard Rubio PG 193 cm 86 kg 30 yr.
10 Victor Claver SF, PF 207 cm 107 kg 32 yr.
13 Marc Gasol C 216 cm 120 kg 36 yr.
14 Guillermo Hernangomez C, PF 209 cm 113 kg 27 yr.
16 Usman Garuba C, PF 203 cm 104 kg 19 yr.
20 Alberto Abalde SF, SG 202 cm   25 yr.
21 Alejandro Abrines SF 197 cm 93 kg 27 yr.
23 Sergio Llull PG, SG 190 cm 91 kg 33 yr.
41 Juan Hernangomez PF 206 cm 104 kg 25 yr.

France

There's always that one guy who ruins the family photo. With France, it was Evan Fournier, who took his bronze medal off his neck, put it in a sock, and later gave it to his dad. At the same time, the rest of his teammates were posing for photographers. The NBA wing had already been there, so only gold was about to please him.

Two years later, France is all about gold again.

Rudy Gobert, the other superstar of the French NT, also said publicly that they had only gold on their minds in the upcoming Olympic quest.

That confidence comes from 2019, when they upset Team USA in the World Cup quarterfinals, winning the do-or-die game 89-79.

As Vincent Collet recalled after the tournament, that French NT locker room was the best he ever worked. The unity, fighting spirit, and solid defense put them in a position to win the World Cup before Argentina surprised them with a semifinal defeat 80-66.

That was a great foundation to build on. Although the preparation wasn't easy, France lost all three games, twice to Spain (79-87, 77-86) and, surprisingly, to Japan (75:81).

Rudy Gobert and Nicolas Batum had a deep NBA Playoffs run, so they joined the National Team camp just before the second exhibition game. Thomas Heurtel joined the group only in time for their last preparation game against Japan. Real Madrid didn't want their new signee to go due to health issues.

But despite all these problems, France is a strong force. Their superstars Rudy Gobert, 29, and Evan Fournier, 28, are at their peak. Nando de Colo is 34, but one of the top EuroLeague scorers never gets old. Nicolas Batum, 32, made his rebirth with the Los Angeles Clippers. Frank Ntilikina has two more years of experience (22), Guerschon Yabusele (25), the EuroLeague version of Boris Diaw, will give his team a boost after a solid year with ASVEL.

Just look at France NT frontcourt. With Gobert (2.16 m), Moustapha Falla (2.18), and Vincent Poirier (2.13 m.) they will be as tall as a famous Tokyo Skytree.

Gregg Popovich said he has been preparing for France for two years. And he absolutely has a reason.

For more, read the Group A preview here.

1 Frank Ntilikina PG 196 cm 86 kg 22 yr.
3 Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot SG 198 cm 99 kg 26 yr.
4 Thomas Heurtel PG, SG 188 cm 91 kg 32 yr.
5 Nicolas Batum SF 203 cm 91 kg 32 yr.
7 Guerschon Yabusele PF 203 cm 118 kg 25 yr.
10 Evan Fournier SG, SF 201 cm 93 kg 28 yr.
12 Nando De Colo PG, SG 196 cm 91 kg 34 yr.
17 Vincent Poirier C 213 cm 106 kg 27 yr.
21 Andrew Albicy PG 178 cm 77 kg 31 yr.
27 Rudy Gobert C 216 cm 111 kg 29 yr.
28 Petr Cornelie C 209 cm 100 kg 26 yr.
93 Moustapha Fall C 218 cm 124 kg 28 yr.

Australia

Without their brightest stars on the court, they are still aiming for the stars in the sky.

Australia had hoped to arrive in Tokyo Olympics with the NBA star Ben Simmons. However, the Philadelphia 76ers player once again pulled out of the National Team mission.

Australians were born and raised with the notion that the Olympics and the country's representation are the pinnacle of a professional career. So Ben's decision disappointed many Australians, especially since he refused to join the Boomers for the second consecutive tournament.

Patty Mills once again proved why he was the best possible person for a flag carrier in the Olympic opening ceremony. When fans judged Simmons, Mills showed what Boomers culture was all about.

"This place right here, and the program we have developed, and how strong our culture is, this is one place for him that is always going to be here with open arms because we are mates. We are team-mates, we are a brotherhood, and to be able to represent the green and gold, that is the culture that we have," Mills told ESPN‘s Olgun Uluc. "The number one fact and characteristic of our group is how we support each other through the good, bad and ugly, whatever it maybe be, and Ben isn‘t an exception to that. No matter what he does, myself and the team will continue to support him because this is a safe place – everyone needs to know and understand that now more than ever, we need to support Ben on his journey."

Andrew Bogut is another Australian star we won't see on Tokyo's Olympic hardwood. He retired last December and passed the torch to veterans like Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, and Aron Baynes.

The Boomers lost one of the best passing bigs of the modern era. But Bogut's departure provided more options for faster free-flowing modern basketball.

Write down Matisse Thybulle's name. He gives the Boomers length and athleticism on the perimeter, which Australians were missing. For example, Thybulle did a decent job containing Kevin Durant in an exhibition game. He and other lengthy bodies like Dante Exum or Josh Green fit Brian Goorjian's style just perfectly.

A 67-year-old American, who was first appointed as the Australia National Team head coach in 2001, is well known for his defensive mentality. He's the big part of building the Boomer culture, emphasizing strength and conditioning training, having his teams one of the fittest in the competition, and highlighting the importance of defense. 

After Andrejs Lemanis era, Goorjian added some aggressiveness on the defensive end but allowed his team to play their way on the offense and didn't change the Boomers style much.

The Boomers now are even faster and more aggressive than ever. Considering that they understand each other from one look and playing as a team lifts all of their players to another level, you should be aware that they're probably the biggest threat to dethrone the mighty USA.

For more, read the Group B preview here.

4 Chris Goulding SG 192 cm 92 kg 32 yr.
5 Patrick Mills PG 183 cm 84 kg 32 yr.
7 Joe Ingles SG, SF 203 cm 98 kg 33 yr.
8 Matthew Dellavedova SG 191 cm 89 kg 30 yr.
9 Nathan Sobey PG, SG 188 cm 86 kg 31 yr.
10 Matisse Thybulle SF 196 cm 91 kg 24 yr.
11 Dante Exum PG 198 cm 86 kg 26 yr.
12 Aron Baynes C 208 cm 123 kg 34 yr.
13 Jock Landale C, PF 211 cm 116 kg 25 yr.
14 Duop Reath C 211 cm 111 kg 25 yr.
15 Nick Kay PF, C 206 cm 104 kg 28 yr.

Slovenia

The dark horse of Tokyo. Luka Doncic is ready to surprise us all in the Olympics.

You might be shaking your head right now, thinking that there's no way this one guy could lead his team to the podium. But you should believe in Luka magic, which I witnessed personally and up close just two weeks ago in Kaunas.

Luka is the best guard of the Olympic tournament, and his strengths shift his teammates into another gear. Doncic is unstoppable in one-on-one basketball, while confident shooters and great pick-and-roll partners surround him. And they all play with such ease that sometimes they look a bit cheeky. But that's just because they enjoy each other's company on and off the court. And they follow their leader. 

"I’m proud of these guys. They've just played amazing. They played together. They fought together, they got through tough times together," Slovenia National Team head coach Aleksander Sekulic said after the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. "We have Luka on a team, and everything looks easier. He’s making players good and better than they are. Also, me, myself."

Slovenia undoubtedly played the most beautiful basketball in all Olympic Qualifiers. They averaged 106 points per game, beating the opponents by an average of 33.5 points. All four wins came in double digits.

Lithuania National Team tried to stop this machine by putting their best roster in years, with NBA bigs Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis, CSKA Moscow guard Marius Grigonis and others. But they ended up watching Luka's dominance with 31 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists. 

Slovenia might face problems against physical teams with NBA-level bodies. Luka's supporting cast could not be ready for the first-ever Olympic challenge. But that will probably be the most entertaining team in the tournament that will at least become the champions of our hearts.

For more, read the Group C preview here.

5 Luka Rupnik PG 186 cm 71 kg 28 yr.
6 Aleksej Nikolic PG 191 cm 80 kg 26 yr.
7 Klemen Prepelic PG, SG 191 cm 75 kg 28 yr.
8 Edo Muric SF 201 cm 86 kg 29 yr.
10 Mike Tobey C 213 cm 117 kg 26 yr.
11 Jaka Blazic SG 196 cm 96 kg 31 yr.
15 Gregor Hrovat SF, SG 196 cm 87 kg 26 yr.
27 Ziga Dimec C 212 cm 113 kg 28 yr.
30 Zoran Dragic SG, SF 196 cm 90 kg 32 yr.
31 Vlatko Cancar SF 203 cm 107 kg 24 yr.
55 Jakob Cebasek SF 200 cm 102 kg 30 yr.
77 Luka Doncic SG 201 cm 99 kg 22 yr.

 

Show comments
Highlighted (0) All (3)
Anonymous
bullshit
2021-07-24
+2
Reply
Anonymous
because the average age of a spanish player is 48 years old.
2021-07-24
Reply
Why is everyone underestimating Spain so badly? They won the world cup and will do just as well in the Olympics.
2021-07-23
+1
Reply
Thank you for reporting a comment

Add comment
Nickname:      
  Symbols left:     Total comments: 3

We have the right to remove comments which are offensive, contains abusive language, or violates other rules of the website