Ranking Tokyo 2020 Basketball Teams At A Glance
With the NBA season winding down, and the European league being over, we have a clear image of who will be at Tokyo 2020 for Olympic Basketball. While the top is quite clear cut, we have seen the development of certain countries superstars putting people on notice. The governing body of international basketball FIBA has their own rankings, which uses a point system based on a variety of factors to determine team’s ranks. While certainly useful to distinguish position rankings heading into the Summer Olympic Games, it doesn’t necessarily project into the future of how the teams may do. Let’s look at some quick narratives for each team, and put them in order. If you disagree, please feel free to tell me where I messed up!
#1: United States
This should be hardly a shock to those familiar with the sport of basketball. Even with the recent loses that the team has suffered at the hands of Nigeria and Australia in friendly matches leading up to Tokyo 2020, they are still the favourites. That’s simply how dominant and deep their rosters have been every 4 years. It’s impossible to really go with anyone else at this ranking, especially once they figure out rotations, and it’ll be a shock if the United States don’t win gold. Since the IOC allowed pros from the NBA to play back in 1992, starting with the famous “Dream Team”, the USA has won every gold medal except for the games in 2004.
When the biggest controversy surrounding your team is if Kevin Love is good enough to make the roster, than I think you are sitting pretty. When your potential starting lineup includes the likes of Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Jason Tatum and Bam Adebayo, with the likes of Bradley Beal possibly coming off the bench, you should expect to win. We also can’t forget the future hall of famer Greg Popovich will lead the squad once again, with Steve Kerr being one of his assistants.
So coming in second I have Australia, who are actually ranked behind Spain in the world standings and by a decent margin in terms of points. But hear me out, there are several reasons I think they could end up in second. The Australian team has been on the rise for quite some time with a good mixture of young talent (now minus Ben Simmons), and proven NBA veterans in Patty Mills and Joe Ingles. The team is really poised to win now. This upward trajectory of course, coupled with their confidence boosting win over the U.S team for the very first time in 2019, and more recently this week, seems to be setting the squad up for success in Tokyo. Australia is also in probably the weakest grouping overall, being able to dodge the other top contenders like Spain, The United States, France and Argentina.
The Spanish basketball league (Liga ACB), is widely considered to be the second best league in the world. It’s the closest thing to the NBA there is, certainly outside of the United States, in terms of talent pool and developing top-level players. With multi-million dollar contracts and a rather loyal fan base, it’s easy to see why the best European prospects (I.e Luka Doncic), choose to make this their springboard to the NBA. The Spanish team is loaded with Euro League stars and some aging NBA vets, most famous being the Gasol brothers. Their team has high NBA draft prospect Usman Garuba joining the squad too, which should inject some young energy into the team. The Spaniards are always a dangerous bunch, claiming the world championships just two years ago in China.
The Argentinian team has been a strong contender since their epic run at the 2004 Olympics that saw them defeat Team USA in the semi-finals and Italy in finals. While a lot of their leaders from those teams are gone, the infrastructure of how to succeed on the international scene remains. Their most recent success came in 2019, when they took second place at the FIBA World Cup. The team has good chemistry with multiple players coming from the same team from Liga ACB, most notably Real Madrid and the teams has years of experience playing with each other.
I think French athletes often get a lot of flack, especially in North American team-based sports. But underestimating France’s Tokyo 2020 basketball team would certainly be a mistake, especially on the defensive end. It’s obvious that their team is anchored by three time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, but there are other pieces that make them particularly staunch defencively. Nicolas Batum who did a little bit of everything for the Clippers this year has great size (6'9"), and is just a year removed from a good defensive season with the Hornets. Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina, who despite often being labeled as a bust has shown the ability to at least defend well. For France it really is going to come down to if their offence can get enough going. All those players I mentioned, as much as they are capable defenders, they have struggled somewhat offensively.
This is by far the biggest riser in my list, and is probably not justifiable by any means. Of course they are deserving to be in the games, but definitely aren’t viewed so highly in the eyes of many. But two words for you. “Luka magic”.
Italy is another one of those countries that seems to get disrespected, in terms of their basketball ability. They may not have the stars that some of the other European countries may have, at least in terms of NBA talent, but their roster is full of professionals from high level leagues. They were able to defeat one of the best teams in the world in Serbia in the finals of their qualifying tournament. They would best the Serbs on their home soil with the final score 102–95 Italy. They did so by running good half court offence and shooting over 41% from 3pt range. They also were able to get an advantage over the opposing team by outworking them on the glass, amassing more offensive rebounds and converting those second point chances.
Nigeria is truly the wild card of the games. Heading into last weekend many would have put them possibly in the bottom 3, but after an international friendly match that was held July 10th, people (including yours truly) have been put on notice. Sure many have said how team USA looked as though they were still trying to figure out things, like lineups and chemistry, but give Nigeria credit. They are long, move the ball incredibly well amongst each other and hit their shots from deep. It’s great to see an African country showing such strong performances, with more resources being put into the basketball scene throughout the continent. The NBA has begun to pour money into NBA Africa to help develop leagues there and we’ve recently seen rapper J.Cole appear in the BAL (Basketball Africa League), bringing some viewers along with him.
#9 Czech Republic
The Czech Republic bring a wealth of experience and size with them. They were able to use the two to bully their way into this year’s Olympic Games. They did it by squeaking by a talented Canadian team on home soil in the semi-finals, and in a dominant performance over Greece in the finals of their qualifier. For the Czech Republic this is a big moment for their basketball team, as it is the very first time they have qualified since separating from Czechoslovakia. They have been placed in one of the most top heavy groupings with the United States and France being the odds on favourite. But with the U.S struggling as of late and France being questionable on the offensive end, the veteran Czech squad will look to create some major upsets, and history along the way.
Regardless the sport, the Germans are always a tenacious bunch regardless of the talent pool. They do have some familiar names for the Wizards fans out there ,with both Isaac Bonga and Wagner (now with Orlando) suiting up for Washington’s team this year. With their most publicized NBA star in Dennis Schroder opting out, it will be interesting to see who will lead the team. After a rather disappointing showing at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, finishing 18th out of 32 teams, there isn’t a lot of pressure heading into the tournament. I think a real asset to their team is head coach Henrik Rodl, who took over the program 4 years ago. Rodl was the point guard for the men’s national team in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, playing the likes of the Dream Team in Barcelona back in 1992, and contributing to Germany claiming the European Basketball Championship in 1993. Rodl will look to get the most out of his team, when the games kick off in just over a weeks time.
Iran is currently ranked 24th in the world, the lowest amongst those who actually qualified through competition. Iran’s final roster hasn’t been fully completely set as of publication of this post, but should be coming in shortly. If their roster for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is the same as the qualifying events, we see a rather mature roster, with most being in their late twenties or early thirties. Iran was able to utilize the fast break in their Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, turning defence into easy points. That being said, it will be hard to see them be able to have the same kind of success against upper tier competition, due to a somewhat lack of athleticism. They seem to be willing passers and let their unselfish play put their team in advantageous positions, but it remains to be seen if this will translate against more talented teams.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the host nation of Japan lands itself in 12th spot. Despite the recent progress the sport has made in the country, with a revitalization due to NBA players like Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, the Japanese national team is pretty much unanimously seen as the weakest at the Tokyo 2020 Games. This is because, they are currently ranked in the 40’s according to FIBA’s international rankings and were automatically qualified due to the host nation’s slot. In Japan other teams sports tend to still draw in much of the athletic talent, and the relatively new focus the sport of basketball has Japan in the position to not really threaten in terms of medals. However I don’t believe the Japanese men’s basketball team’s success will be measure by wins and losses, but rather by good showings. If they can hang with these top teams on home soil, while getting good performances from their stars, this could be a great launching point to send the future of Japanese basketball into orbit.
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