Biggest threat to USA in men’s basketball

LAS VEGAS — The odds on Team USA winning gold in men’s basketball at the Tokyo Olympics have been steadily dropping over the last 10 days. Exhibition losses to Nigeria and Australia did not help, but this adjustment has been mostly due to the status of the roster. Bradley Beal and Kevin Love pulled out and Zach LaVine will miss at least the beginning of the tournament with COVID-19 issues. Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker are on their way, but will not arrive in Tokyo until the day before the tournament begins and must acclimate themselves to FIBA basketball.

Still, the situation is not as dire as some would have you believe. The price of -350 (77.8 percent) is apt and, one could argue, cheap. The U.S. is the best team in this tournament, and when Team USA is firing on all cylinders, a gap exists between them and the competition. Gregg Popovich has implemented a switch-all defensive scheme that is perfect for a team with this size and length. Team USA might have trouble covering the big numbers it is laying early, but as the Americans get comfortable, expect them to look better the further they advance.

Here are some thoughts on the teams that will be trying to shock the world (odds by BetMGM):

Team USA
Team USA lost to Australia on Monday, its second-straight exhibition game loss.
NBAE via Getty Images

Australia (15/2): The Boomers are the biggest threat to Team USA. The roster includes six NBA players, and the Aussies can shoot and play defense. Patty Mills leads the way, but with him are Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle and Aron Baynes. Josh Green, coming off an underwhelming rookie year in Dallas, is a solid rim runner who can attack the hoop, and Dante Exum, when healthy, is a rangy defender who can guard multiple positions. They are the odds-on favorites to win Group B over Germany, Italy and Nigeria, and with a favorable draw they could find their way to the gold-medal game.

Spain (9/1): La Roja was once a basketball power, even in the FIBA World Cup in 2019, but the best days are behind this geriatric basketball squad. Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez and the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, are all still major role players for this team, but all are 35 or older. Ricky Rubio, who will turn 31 in October, is the young gun of the starting lineup. Spain does, however, have some youth. Alberto Abalde, 25, is a massive 6-foot-7 guard who can shoot the lights out, and Usman Garuba is a 19-year-old NBA prospect who will likely be drafted in the first round while he is in Tokyo. There should be some value in betting against Spain on a night-to-night basis, especially in group games against Argentina and Slovenia.

France (16/1): The French team is best suited for the rules of FIBA basketball. With Rudy Gobert, no three-second violations and the ability to rebound inside the cylinder, Les Bleus will be a nightmare to score on. They also have legitimate perimeter talent. Evan Fournier and Frank Ntilikina provide dynamic defense at the point of attack, and Nicolas Batum is still as crafty as ever on that end of the floor. Add Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who is a fine defender, and this group has the potential to be the best defensive team in the tournament. The French are not short on offense, either. Batum and Fournier are solid shooters, and Gobert provides a legit lob threat that could provide the edge in many matchups. The glaring weakness at point guard will likely be what holds this team back. Ntilikina is not a threat on offense, even as a ball-handler.

Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic
EPA

Slovenia (20/1): The Slovenians have Luka Doncic, so they have a chance, but bettors are getting a watered-down price due to his presence. Slovenia ran through its Olympic qualifying tournament, hitting one speed bump against Lithuania. In that contest, Doncic had to play 33 minutes, dropping 31 points on 56.5 percent shooting with 13 assists and 11 rebounds. Doncic’s efforts allowed Slovenia to clinch its first spot in the Olympics, but the competition it will face will be similar to Lithuania. Can Doncic keep up that kind of play for three group games and a potential run to a gold medal? He’ll have some help in former Virginia Cavalier Mike Tobey and Jaka Blazic, but after them the roster lacks depth, which will ultimately lead to its downfall.

Nigeria (25/1) and Argentina (33/1): Nigeria got the attention of the basketball world by beating Team USA in an exhibition, but many did not notice when Nigeria got crushed by 39 points by an Australia team resting four starters. Nigeria has some quality athletes and seven NBA players on its roster, but this team has some major limitations. As for Argentina, I don’t find much to like in the big picture. Luis Scola is playing 20 minutes per game, and Facundo Campazzo is a major role player. Luca Vildoza is a decent shooter but has hit only 35.9 percent of his 3-point attempts in his international career. This team is not a legitimate threat to win gold, or even to medal.

Italy (40/1), Germany (66/1), Czech Republic (80/1), Japan (1,000/1), Iran (1,000/1): Nicolo Melli, Danilo Gallinari and Nico Mannion make up Italy’s core, so the Italians will sometimes turn in competitive performances. Tomas Satoransky will be a key cog on a sneaky solid Czech team, and Rui Hachimura will have his time for Japan. Any money spent on futures here, however, is better off donated to your favorite charity.