Unfortunately for Team USA basketball, elite players like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Kawhi Leonard will skip the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. But this won’t affect their odds of winning, though, since they’re overwhelming gold-medal favorites.
Vegas sportsbooks have the team at 1-10 odds of winning, which is vastly better than the two next-closest teams – Spain (10-1) and France (10-1).
What’s impressive about Team USA being such big favorites is that many of their top picks declined to play for reasons ranging from injury to the Zika virus. Aside from the players mentioned above, others who said no include Blake Griffin, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis.
Despite fielding a so-called “B Team,” the Americans will trot out a talented roster that includes 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant, 2-time Olympic gold medalist Carmelo Anthony, and 2016 NBA champ Kyrie Irving.
Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo, who went deeper into the reserve talent than he expected to, told Reuters that he’s please to have such a deep talent pool.
“We are blessed with a lot of talent here in the USA, we have the ability to withstand players dropping out for various reasons,” said Colangelo. “With the depth of our national team roster we were able to select a very strong team.”
Players who’ll be joining Anthony, Durant, and Irving in Rio include DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, DeMarr DeRozan, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kyle Lowry, and Paul George. The players will compete in the Olympic Games from Aug. 5 to 21.
With an interesting mix of outside shooters (Butler, Durant, Irving, Lowry, Thompson), low-post presences (Cousins, Jordan), and all-around players (Anthony, Barnes, DeRozan, George, Green), this team has all phases of the game covered.
The lone problem for Colangeo’s roster is the lack of Olympic experience because only Anthony and Durant have played on this stage. It’ll be head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s job to prepare the other players for what to expect in Rio, despite their immense talent advantage.
Kzyzewski, who’s won 5 championships at Duke University, has had great success with USA basketball, winning gold at the 2008 and ’12 Olympics, as well as the 2010 and ’14 FIBA World Cups.
As a whole, Team USA boasts a 17-game win streak that dates back to winning the bronze medal game at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Colangelo took control of US basketball operations following this disappointing third-place effort, instilling a more-detailed program that sees NBA players involved at all stages of qualifying. Before this, Team USA relied on putting together talent before the Olympics and forming a team concept shortly before the tournament.
The only time that a Colangelo-constructed team lost was in the 2006 World Championship semifinals, when a less-talented Greek team beat a squad that boasted Anthony, James, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, and Paul.
“That loss proved the point that on any given night a team that hits their shots, makes their free throws, doesn’t turn the ball over and you miss your free throws and turn the ball over (a loss) can happen and it did happen,” Colangelo said.
He added that this game was a turning point with how Team USA now approaches Olympics basketball. They haven’t lost in over a decade since that game.
The current group that’ll head to Rio may not be the 1992 “Dream Team,” which is considered the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled. But this will be a well-prepared group of excellent players.
“There is certainly enough shooting, a couple of players are outstanding shooters. Durant and Klay and Kyrie are three of the outstanding shooters in basketball,” explained Colangelo. “Each Olympics is a challenge and each one is a little bit different.
“Our biggest rival is ourselves. If we take care of business, if we maintain our focus, if we keep our eye on the prize then all things should work out because of our talent and coaching.”
Other teams that are expected to contend include France and Spain. France is especially formidable since they feature Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic), Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets), Boris Diaw (Utah Jazz), Rudy Gobert (Jazz), and Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs).
Spain will boast a roster that includes Pau Gasol (Spurs), Nikola Mirotic (Chicago Bulls), Willy Hernangomez (New York Knicks), Sergio Rodriguez (Philadelphia 76ers), and Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves).