Is USA Basketball’s Rio Olympics Gold Medal A Sign The World Has Fallen Behind Again?

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The United States didn’t send its best possible men’s basketball team to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Not even close.

The squad played some sloppy basketball, with too much one-on-one play and inconsistent outside shooting.

None of it mattered, though, as the Americans cruised to another gold medal — their third in a row and sixth in the last seven Olympics — with a 96-66 win over Serbia on Sunday.

The U.S. completely dominated the Olympics with the Dream Team and Dream Team II in 1992 and 1996, respectively. The world began to catch up, though, and that was evident in 2000. By the time the 2004 Athens Games came around, the U.S. no longer was king of the hill.

Argentina defeated Team USA in the semifinals, snapping the Americans’ streak of three consecutive golds. Led by the “Redeem Team” in 2008 in Beijing and the encore in 2012 in London, the U.S. regained the throne with gold medals, but the results weren’t guaranteed despite the lopsided average margin of victory.

The world was shrinking the talent gap with the United States, but after watching the competition in Rio, it appears that gap is widening again.

Make no mistake: From a talent perspective, this might be the worst U.S. Olympic roster in a while. Only the 2004 bronze medal-winning roster comes close.

The two best players in the world, LeBron James and Steph Curry, didn’t even participate. Russell Westbrook, who’s the third- or fourth-best NBA player, also didn’t play. Neither did Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard nor Kawhi Leonard.

Despite not fielding its best possible roster, the U.S. marched to an 8-0 record in Rio with a plus-182 scoring differential and four victories by 20-plus points. Sunday’s gold medal game was a joke. The Americans’ 30-point win was the fifth-largest margin of victory in men’s basketball gold medal game history.

The outlook for the rest of the world heading toward the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo isn’t great.

Argentina’s golden generation, which won gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008, is over. Manu Ginobili has played in his last Olympics, and other veterans such as Luis Scola no longer are capable of being a factor on an Olympic champion.

Spain, which has enjoyed a lot of success over the last decade, also is aging. Pau Gasol and brother Marc, easily the best Spanish players of the last 10 years, will be 40 and 35, respectively, in 2020. France has some decent NBA players such as Nic Batum and Rudy Gobert, but isn’t a legitimate gold-medal threat.

Simply put, the U.S. has no chief rival. There are no teams capable of coming close to matching Argentina’s 2004 upset if the United States brings its best squad (or very close to it) to Tokyo. None of the top teams have multiple superstars who could knock the U.S. off its perch. Andrew Wiggins (Canada) might be the only top-20 or top-25 player who’s not American-born.

Would any country beat this potential 2020 starting lineup?
PG: Steph Curry
SG: Russell Westbrook/Kawhi Leonard
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis/Karl-Anthony Towns

Don’t bet on it.

The Americans’ competition peaked in the 2000s, and unless the talent pool drastically changes, there’s no reason to believe the U.S. will fail to dominate even more than it did in Rio when the 2020 Olympics roll around.

Thumbnail photo via RVR Photos/USA TODAY Sports Images

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