Team USA easily won their first two games versus China (119-62) and Venezuela (113-69). During the last three games, it hasn’t been so easy as Team USA has had to grind out wins against Australia (98-88), Serbia (94-91) and France (100-97). The Americans look to get back on track in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
While winning the gold medal is obviously the top priority for Team USA, there’s an added benefit for the players who are participating: the opportunity to play with – and learn from – some of the best players in the word. Many young players have taken the next step in their development after playing for Team USA or participating in training camp and workouts as a member of the USA’s Select Team. Being immersed in film sessions, practices and game competition on a daily basis gives the young American players the chance to learn a lot and potentially model the processes that their fellow NBA players use to consistently perform at a high level. Throw in a Hall of Fame coaching staff that includes Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Tom Thibodeau among others, and it’s easy to see how Team USA members have the opportunity to gather key insights and make breakthroughs with their own individual performance heading into the 2016-17 NBA season.
Team USA players usually face off against each other as fierce rivals during the NBA season. Because of this, they are always looking for ways to improve while finding an edge against their opponents. One way that guys could improve is by imitating or modeling the best practices of their Olympic teammates. This could increase the versatility of their own game, while also allowing them to have a better understanding of their opponents.
Indiana Pacers and USA Select Team forward Myles Turner, who just turned 20 years old in March, is already beginning to do just this. Turner learned a tremendous amount by competing against Team USA players during their training camp in Las Vegas prior to the Olympics in Rio. He picked up on many of the tendencies of the Team USA players along with the characteristics that make them great.
“With all of those guys, they don’t ever truly feel like they made it,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “They really continue to work on their game and keep learning and are true students of the game. It’s [motivating] to see that from people who are at the superstar status.”
For instance, Carmelo Anthony’s leadership has given the Olympic team direction throughout the tournament. Through his example, he has essentially given teammates a template to follow when it comes to leading their own NBA teams. His vocal presence and ability to connect with peers has helped Team USA successfully maneuver through the early games. Anthony’s 14-point effort during the Venezuela game and timely words of advice for DeMarcus Cousins, who struggled with foul trouble throughout the contest, provided a calming influence for the team. Against Australia, Anthony recorded 31 points (including nine three pointers), which led the way over the tough Aussies. (In the process, he set the US Olympic career scoring record). The four-time Olympian’s vocal leadership and ability to come through with timely performances are things that Team USA members could learn from and take back with them when they return home to their respective NBA teams this fall.
Then there is Cousins, the 6’10, 265-pound dynamic Sacramento Kings center, who has played solidly for Team USA – averaging 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. Cousins’ footwork and feel for the game are off the charts. His ability to handle the ball like a guard in the open court is extremely impressive. He possesses an all-around skill set that younger players like Turner are learning from and are emulating.
“I definitely was a lot better guarding him this time than I was during the season when I played him (laughs),” Turner said. “It was cool to see how he uses his body and uses his footwork to get around other people. I always see it on TV and see what he does, but to see it in person, it’s definitely one of a kind. But yeah, I definitely feel like I did a lot better this time.”
Like Turner, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green are players that will face off against Cousins moving forward. Taking a page out of Turner’s book by observing how Cousins moves from the low-post, mid-post and perimeter could help these two defensive stoppers become even more effective in guarding Cousins this season.
Team USA easily won their first two games, but the group has struggled as of late. They are still the favorites to win the gold medal in Rio. Regardless, the players have largly benefited from the one-of-a-kind experience. When they return to their NBA teams this upcoming season, we can look forward to seeing Anthony possibly having his most successful season as a member of the Knicks. Cousins could take his game to new heights. The younger players will have increased their confidence, while the Warriors’ core will have some improved chemistry thanks to Durant, Green and Klay Thompson playing together in Rio. This Olympics provides a potential springboard for every Team USA player.
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