Midway through the third quarter of yesterday’s near loss at the hands of the French, I’m watching another failed isolation set from the inhumanly talented Americans, wondering what the heck is going on. Coach K, probably one of the three greatest living basketball minds, in the past has managed to mold his roster of superstars into a somewhat coherent “team” capable of actual defensive rotation, plays beyond the pick and roll, and at least a feigned willingness to pass the fucking ball.
Apparently, not with this 2016 roster.
Our beloved American super team is in the midst of its best Kentucky impersonation. Yes, I love Coach Cal and his annual pillaging of the ESPN top 25 prospects list and utter decimation of the lowly SEC, all while basking in the jealous disdain of his far less successful counterparts. Always having the most talented roster, and likely cheating but not getting caught to assemble it? That’s a TFM. But, like our hope of an Olympic gold, the Big Blue miniature NBA rosters suffer from a lack of continuity; the understanding of most players on the roster being that their several month stay in Lexington is nothing but a building block to future millions, a stepping stone towards basketball immortality. Unlike, for instance, Ben Simmons, who is surrounded by teammates that are likely disabled, allowing him to run shit however he wants, each member of the Kentucky blue chip parade has other future lottery picks to contend with. With that in mind, a lot of what you see in Lexington is an “I gotta get mine” mentality of self-preservation.
And, for what is a plainly unexplainable reason, this is what we’re seeing in Rio from a United States roster that looked simply unstoppable during their domestic tune up games.
In their last three American showings, in which they blurred the line between winning and losing while melting down like Mickelson at Winged Foot, the 2016 version of the “Dream Team” came within one or two possessions of gold medal elimination. All this even though France, for instance, trotted out a roster that wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
So what the fuck is happening? Aside from playing horrific team defense and folding like the French at the first sign of battle in fourth quarters, our team seems to be behaving as if the games are taking place in Rucker Park, not Rio. A total lack of defensive rotation, fundamental box outs and defensive position, and an isolation offense that would make late career Kobe proud. Like the Lakers and, at times, Kentucky, even extremely talented players playing with continuity and fundamentals can, and will, fail.
Klay Thompson is doing his best to supplant Draymond Green as “that guy we cared about before Durant got here” in Golden State, performing at such a low and undeniably disinterested level that I can’t decide if he just got dumped or is concussed. Maybe both. Paul George? Fuck it, I’ll be the one who says it: he’s a shell of himself since the injury, plays cautiously and still has a broken jumper, but now without the elite athleticism. Durant is Duranting all over the place, firing jumpers while apparently forgetting the other team has the ball. Inexplicably, despite Boogie Cousins being the most dominant big man on the planet and Deandre the most athletic, the Americans lowered their usage rate dramatically in the 4th quarter of their last three matchups, for some reason relying on what is probably the worst American jump shooting team in the last 25 years to make, yes you guessed it, jumpers, while their lead evaporates.
At this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Americans came up short in their quest for gold, a sentiment that seemed insane just a week ago. Every college basketball season I go through the same routine, looking longingly at Kentucky’s absurd version of their lottery pick roster, wondering why my alma mater can’t reel in just one of their dozen or so NBA talents, only to see their disjointed mess of an offense leave last second Ulis jumpers as their “go to” set.
This American team, like Kentucky most seasons, is so much more talented than their opponents that they can play this structureless one-on-one NBA Street style mess disguised as “basketball” and limp their way into the Final Four (pun intended). But they should be something so much more. Unlike Kentucky with Coach Cal (who is not only the nation’s best recruiter but one of its absolute best coaches (he’s unfairly criticized due to the immense talent of his teams)) having to mold 18-year-olds with huge egos and zero experience into a coherent team (though many did nothing but put on individual shows in high school and the AAU circuit), the American Olympic team has played and hopefully mastered “real basketball” while competing for and winning NBA championships. Well, besides poor Boogie Cousins in Sacramento.
This shit we see on the court is not what won the Warriors 73 games, nor the Cavaliers the NBA title. This style is exactly what Cousins is used to, the reason the Kings haven’t sniffed the playoffs since the Bush administration, and why we might come up short of what should be a slam dunk of a gold medal run.
Coach K, don’t go out like this..
Image via YouTube