If there is one word to describe the play of Team USA basketball, it would be dominance. Both of America’s men’s and women’s basketball teams took home the gold once again after winning their 2016 Olympic tournament finals against Serbia and Spain over the past weekend, completing the USA’s surge to 121 medals, by far the best among all nations at the Rio Games.
Throughout this year’s Olympics, Charles Barkley, a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, commented on the current men’s roster, claiming they were poorly structured and that they can’t be dominant like the teams of old.
“Well, I hope they win gold,” Barkley said in an Arizona radio interview last week as reported by Fox Sports. “I want always us to win the gold medal. It’s not a good team to put together. I don’t think they did a good job because if you watch all those guys — they’re all good players, don’t get me wrong — they all need the ball.”
I understand where Barkley is coming from, however, just because they played a certain role on their respective teams in the NBA doesn’t mean they can’t come together and accept different roles to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the gold.
To Barkley’s comments, Team USA did struggle offensively in a couple of the exhibition rounds and even some of the early games within the Olympics against Serbia and France. Their stagnant motion, lazy turnovers and lack of consistent outside shooting from their key players made it very tough to score at times. USA’s leader Carmelo Anthony only shot 39 percent from the field, while Klay Thompson shot 36 percent and 32 percent from three-point range, according to USA basketball.
In helping assist the offensive woes, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski replaced Demarcus Cousins with DeAndre Jordan, creating motion in the paint, strengthening the first unit’s defense and igniting a fire offensively that the starting lineup could only add more power to. Jordan’s contributions, the hot shooting of Kevin Durant, the timely resurgence of Thompson and the leadership of Anthony helped led a charge that no team could slow down.
While USA’s offense picked up, their defense presence escalated. In the last three Olympic medal round games, they held their opponents to under 40 percent shooting, and kept teams under 43 percent shooting throughout the entire tournament. They outrebounded every team and led each game in blocks and steals.
USA had a strong starting lineup, but their bench was just as valuable. As far as offensive talent, they were not the best, but they were so defensively sound that the offense they did bring was able to be carried over along with their aggressive defensive play.
The smothering perimeter defense of Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler made it difficult for opponents to dictate their offense and often times knocked them out of their rhythm. Not to mention that if opponents made it to the paint they would have Paul George, Draymond Green and Boogie Cousins on the back line waiting for them.
Once again Team USA had the most talented team in the Olympics but compared to most other Olympic teams fortified with NBA talent they were not among the most talented, and international competition has become much more respectable over the years. Neither of these developments, however, were enough to stop 2016’s Olympic representatives from winning with an overall 20-point average margin in the tournament.
After physically seeing Team USA play at the United Center as part of their exhibition slate and continuing to develop through Olympic play, I didn’t just see dominance — I saw the emergence of chemistry. Barkley saw a team that couldn’t work, I saw a team that made it work.
Many scorers that after only one week of training, limited exhibition play and practices along the way come together and accept limited roles to become a part of something bigger than themselves: to represent their country and continue its successful legacy on the hard court. No matter how USA basketball constructs a team, with unselfishness on their side, no one can defeat them.
Joshua M. Hicks is a sports writer and broadcaster and a recent graduate of Roosevelt University