By Frank Gogola | @FrankGogola
Sports Capital Journalism Program
CHICAGO – There’s no concealing the fact that this is Mike Krzyzewski’s most inexperienced Olympic team. There’s no LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul. In fact, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant are the only players on the 12-man roster with Olympic experience.
That doesn’t mean this team can’t win Olympic gold. And it most certainly doesn’t mean this team is bad. It’s just different.
Past USA Basketball teams under Krzyzewski could shoot any opponent out of the building. This incarnation, with unmatched speed and length among other Olympic teams, will hang its hat on defense and rebounding. That was on display in Friday’s 80-45 win over Venezuela as the offense stagnated.
Through four exhibition games, Team USA is outrebounding teams by 22 boards on average and holding opponents to 58.25 points per game. Yes, it is exhibition play, but two of the teams they’ve played (China and Venezuela) they’ll see again in Brazil.
Compare the defensive performance to the 83.4 points allowed by the 2012 team or the 78.4 given up by the 2008 squad, and it’s no wonder Krzyzewski didn’t look or sound worried when discussing the team’s preparedness for Rio.
“You can play really good defense and you can rebound every night because it’s about effort,” Krzyzewski said.
As for the offense, the two-time Olympic gold medalist coach expects it to come and go. He noted the first-time Olympians are being too unselfish on the offensive end and passing up shots.
There’s also the adjustment to the international basketball, which has more panels and a different feel, although Krzyzewski shied away from blaming the ball too much.
The 80 points in Friday’s win came on two days’ rest. The team had scored 111, 106 and 107 with one day’s rest in between games.
By comparison, the 2012 team averaged 115.5 points and the 2008 team scored 106.3. The fewest a Krzyzewski-led team had scored in 16 Olympic contests was 92 points.
Don’t expect low-scoring contests like Friday to be the norm. But they are a possibility.
“We will shoot well,” Krzyzewski said. “We have too many outstanding players.”