USA (-12) vs France
Team USA kicks off the Preliminary Round against a very, very good France squad in Japan. Especially given how poorly USA played in their exhibition games, it is not a given that they’ll win this one by any means.
I’m surprised to see the point spread as high as it is, but the reality is that Team USA has an alarming advantage in terms of talent compared to the field, it’s just a matter of playing their best basketball, as most other teams are well-oiled machines.
As far as NBA talent goes, France is led by Rudy Gobert, but also features Frank Ntilikina, Timothe Luwawu-Kongbo, Nic Batum, Guerschon Yabusele, Evan Fournier, and Vincent Poirier. This is a long, stout defensive team that lines up well alongside Gobert, who is an even larger menace at the rim in international play given the rule difference.
The U.S. clearly has much, much more offensive firepower, but the French will have the personnel to slow that firepower down, led by Gobert shutting down the rim. If France is able to manufacture some points, this will go down to the wire.
That leads me to my biggest question heading into the Olympics: can the United States guard ... anybody? It was a real problem in exhibition play, and concerning aspect is that the guard defense will once again be brutal unless Jrue Holiday is somehow able to play big minutes just a few days after joining the team.
I’ll admit I could be overreacting to a few mostly meaningless games in Las Vegas, which is a combination that probably didn’t equate to the most locked-in Team USA.
As far as big picture stuff goes, I’m most interested to see who embraces being a role player. Outside of Keldon Johnson and Draymond Green, the rest of the players on the team are not used to being role players. Jrue Holiday is a natural fit for a guy to embrace that as the defensive ace in the backcourt, but other players will still have to do so.
For instance, on a team loaded with scoring, might it make sense for Jayson Tatum to exert a bit more energy on the wing defensively and sacrificing some of his offensive responsibilities? I think it may. Given the difficulty embracing being a role player, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Johnson actually be a key member of the squad. He’s the least talented player on the roster, but he could excel as a defender and by attacking in transition.
Ultimately, I want to pick the talent of Team USA, but I’m still weary. They do not have anyone to deal with Gobert, and the defense is a legitimate concern. I’ll say the U.S. survives, but France covers the 12-point spread with relative ease.