What this edition of team USA lacks in talent (compared to previous Olympics) they certainly made up for with their tenacity on the defensive end.
The defensive clinic that was put on Saturday night at the expense of the Chinese certainly begs the question as to whether this is the best defensive team that the United States has ever assembled.
From an individual standpoint, the starting five is full of defensive liabilities. 3/5 starters are known for their porous defense, those starters being Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony and DeMarcus Cousins.
But the defensive strategy implemented by Coach K, and certainly enforced by new addition Tom Thibodeau doesn’t really rely on individual defense, and includes a lethal a full court press, a tactic that not only shaves 9-12 seconds off of the shot clock, but because of team USA’s unfair length, forces plenty of backcourt turnovers, which almost always lead to dunks.
And for teams that struggle to get good looks against the Americans with a 20 or so seconds to play with (which is every team in the competition), they’re going to have an even harder time if they eventually do bring the ball past half court, with only about 8 seconds to shoot once they get settled into their offensive set.
The last United States Olympic team to commit to a full court press was the 2000 side. But they pressed for certain periods of the game, then eventually backed off.
This year’s team showed a full commitment to pressing on Saturday, as both the team and the coaching staff weren’t giving China any breathing room in the backcourt no matter the score, as Michael Lee noted on Twitter.
We already knew Tom Thibodeau was a mad man. He’s screaming at the top of his lungs every defensive possession. Angrily folding arms. Up 21!
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) August 6, 2016
And when it was a 50-point game late in the forth, they were still pressing:
I know Paul George got dropped in this clip, but all the other defensive clips from the game were taken down due to copyright.
But based on the defensive structure and the comment made by color commentator Doug Collins, you get the point.
And once a team eventually does bring the ball into the frontcourt, team USA does what all the other team USA’s do (apart from the 2004 team). They use their unfair athleticism and quickness to generate turnovers, and use their length to deflect passes an absurd amount of passes and alter almost every shot.
But is this the best defensive Olympic team ever? While we can’t make a conclusion yet, as they’ve only played a weak Chinese team, they do lack the individual defenders of past teams, shown by the fact that their starting five has a combined 0 first-team all defense honors. The 2012 team had 21.
Though they work well as a defensive unit, they don’t have the individual talent on that end to be crowned the greatest defensive team ever.
The defense won’t get it’s first real test until they play France on August 14th, but after a humiliating loss to Australia to open the tournament, they’re looking nothing like the team that some believed could challenge the United States.
International competition as whole isn’t what it once was, as the USA’s main challenger in recent years, Spain is missing key players and 2004-champion Argentina is in a transition stage.
So the United States will walk the gold medal, and may even end up with the lowest PPG allowed in Olympic history, but don’t be fooled. This is not the best defensive team ever.