Nigeria — Team USA’s opponent in the late game Thursday — is better than Tunisia, the USA’s last opponent.
Nigeria beat Tunisia by four points. Vegas odds makers have the USA as 42 point favorites, which is closer than predicted against Tunisia (it was a 54 points spread, a number the Tunisians covered). The two meet in a game that starts at 5:15 ET (live on the NBC Sports Network).
Nigeria isn’t going to put up much of a test for the Americans, who should run away and hide early. The USA is vastly superior at every position on the floor and this should be another chance for Mike Krzyzewski to get into his bench and give guys a lot of run. As he did the last game. Do look for Kevin Durant — who leads Team USA in scoring (17.5 per game) and rebounding (9.5) to get his, but anyone on the USA roster can put up numbers in this one.
Nigeria has two players that will be familiar to NBA fans. One is former Clippers lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, who was traded to New Orleans in the Chris Paul deal (and is now teammates with Team USA’s Anthony Davis). Aminu averaged 6 points and 4.7 rebounds a game last season, shot just 41 percent, doesn’t have great handles for a wing and generally shows promise but is not making NBA fans think he will live up to it.
Aminu has averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds through two games in London. Expect the USA to pressure him when he has the ball to get it out of his hands.
The leading scorer and rebounder for Nigeria has been former NBA player Ike Diogu, who has averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds a game. Diogu is an undersized (6’8”) forward who couldn’t get off the Spurs bench last season. He has some tools and is using the Olympics as a showcase to get a new NBA contract. That said, he is not a guy who can really exploit the “undersized” USA inside. Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love should have their way with him.
Look for the USA to experiment with lineups and throw a lot of lobs to Anthony Davis. There isn’t a lot else to do.
This should be another game that is only close if the USA doesn’t take it seriously. Things will get more challenging with Lithuania then Argentina next on the schedule, but for today this should be a stroll through Hyde Park for Team USA.
Tyson Chandler aggravated dislocated finger but he’s fine
Maybe Anthony Davis can be a franchise player — the Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett of a new generation. Maybe he will be something less than that. We’re a long way from finding that out.
What we do know — he can throw down some ally-oop dunks.
We kind of knew that from his time at Kentucky, but with Team USA he’s doing a lot of it. Davis isn’t playing until the game is decided — he didn’t enter against Tunisia until Kevin Love’s fluke and minor knee injury. By the time he did Tunisia’s defense (such as it was) had broken down and the USA was doing whatever it wanted.
And what guys wanted to do was throw lobs to Davis. And if nothing else, he can finish.
He unleashed that with a monster dunk in the USA’s easy win over Tunisia on Tuesday. Actually, that game turned into a dunk fest for t e USA but none were more impressive than this throw down by LeBron.
Mike Krzyzewski has said this will be his last Olympics as the head coach of Team USA. Personally, I wouldn’t turn down a free trip to Rio but Krzyzewski apparently wants out. You can bet USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo will try to talk him out of leaving, and sometimes those pitches work.
But if it doesn’t, who should be the next Team USA head coach?
There are serious fences to mend, but Gregg Popovich is the clear best choice. He’s respected by players, he has a system that fits the international game (look at the Spurs roster) and most of all he has the gravitas needed to coach a team with that many stars and egos. He’s the perfect fit. But there is real friction between him and Colangelo and Krzyzewski so it may not happen. Because adults will act like 6-year-olds with grudges.
He’s come to London to work in the studio for NBC Sports on Olympic basketball, but his trip’s been an excuse to grab a notebook and visit Spain and Brazil and Argentina practices. He has a resumé with USA Basketball, including one job as a gold-medal assistant in the Goodwill Games. USA Basketball will be searching for a national team coach in 2016, and however the structure of Olympic basketball changes, Rivers is an ideal candidate….
He’s the best coach for the traditional Olympic format of NBA stars, or the proposed under-23 change that could include his son, Austin Rivers…. “To represent your country is the absolute best honor,” Rivers said, “and if you ever get the opportunity, it would be hard to turn down.”
It takes a special personality to be the coach of Team USA. It starts with having someone in that seat that players respect and will come to play for. Put bluntly, Team USA’s roster isn’t as deep if Vinny Del Negro is coaching. Then you need a coach that is above the petty politics of the sport, a guy who can simply walk in and command the locker room and get the best players in the world to agree to take on smaller roles and be part of a team not the star.
That’s a small list of guys. Rivers is on it. Popovich is on it. While there are other great college coaches I’m not sure any of them have the gravitas to get a buy in from players the way Krzyzewski does. Then there are great coaches like Phil Jackson who have the gravitas but whose style — let the team learn over time from their own mistakes — are a poor fit with the condensed Team USA schedule.
It will be interesting to see who is next. The USA has redeemed its place atop the world’s basketball pecking order, but not many guys are set to keep it there.