July 30, 2016, 1:39 pm
One Big Thing: Routine in Rio
I’m generally a fan of the Olympics.
Any time you can get the best people in the world at something to go head to head I’ll pretty much watch it. Chess. Cooking shows. Sometimes even the weird arm wrestling stuff they put on ESPN2 when there’s nothing else on at three in the morning.
Point being, there’s something satisfying about watching top level performers go to work. They say that people watch sports, or most things really, to see something that they can’t get anywhere else; to watch people whose skills are so far and away above their own that it becomes a spectacle. If that’s the appeal for normal competition, think about what the Olympics should be.
For many events, it is.
Basketball, on the other hand, has grown droll. It’s like watching a movie that’s already been spoiled for you. There’s fun in seeing immensely talented American squads put up videogame numbers but eventually it gets a little boring. Not to mention the fact that basic human decency kicks in and you can’t help but feel bad for whatever overmatched country happens to be on the menu that day.
Predicting the medalists is almost a sure thing. Even if you don’t get all three, your incorrect pick probably finished fourth or *gasp*…. Fifth. It’d take a major upset for the pecking order to really reshuffle.
Add it all up, and it makes for Olympic tournaments that have been mostly devoid of drama since the Redeem Team joined forces.
Basketball is growing around the world, and that’s obviously a good thing. It just so happens that the talent gulf is still remarkably wide. More and more people are getting into the game but we won’t see the results of that until years down the road. Like I said, that’s good. It just doesn’t do anything to pique interest for the upcoming Rio Games.
The Rio Olympics are set to be a major debacle. Between the corruption, political unrest, displacement of the poor, widening wealth gap, unsanitary conditions and serious health concerns, there’s going to be a whole lot that goes wrong. If you thought people were picking on Sochi in 2014, buckle up.
All that turmoil might do some good in the theater regard thanks to all kinds of player withdrawals but anything other than gold would be a massive disappointment for the US. It probably helps out USA Basketball in the end too; they now get the chance to look at a swath of players who would never appear on this stage if not for all the typical players who have chosen to sit this one out.
Good for the point guards. Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry both deserve their spots on this team. If not for all the dropouts, neither would have made it in front of Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook or John Wall. Hell, Lowry wasn’t even on the preliminary roster: he was behind Mike Conley and Damian Lillard in the pecking order too.
The same goes for Harrison Barnes. Probably DeMar DeRozan and maybe even Jimmy Butler too. If LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard wanted to play, they’d be there instead. There’s also a case to be made for James Harden taking one of those spots too.
Up front the injuries to Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge almost assuredly opened up spots. DeMarcus Cousins is going to be a treat to watch and he might not have made it if not for Blake Griffin’s injury troubles or Aldridge’s desire to proceed with caution. Anthony Davis’ boneitis will give DeAndre Jordan a platform to shine as well.
The US might have household names like Kevin Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Klay Thompson in attendance but it’s a far cry from the roster that they would assemble in a perfect world.
Again, that’s good. It’s a fresh coat of paint for a team whose dominance approaches the mundane. They’re still the favorites by a sizable margin but at least there are some nice stories floating around the roster.
Their exhibition dismantling of both China and Argentina speaks to the fact that it’s looking like the US will only run into one, maybe two dangerous games. Exhibition results shouldn’t mean too much but it’s hard to envision either giving the US a run for their money when the games are for real.
Short of just sending over the USA Select Team, it doesn’t look like it’ll be a fair fight barring some kind of epic collapse. That’s happened before, yes. It just hardly seems plausible this go around.
For better or worse, Olympic basketball has an excitement problem. When one team is just too stacked, the tournament feels like a formality.