The Rio GOLD might be the shiniest of all, by Clay Kallam
Yes, Candace Parker should have been on the Olympic team – even though it’s unclear who she should have replaced, given the outcome.
And yes, the whole UConn thing is a bit annoying, but there are two main reasons Connecticut has been so good: 1) great players; and 2) great coaching. So it’s not surprising those players and that coach stole a lot of the spotlight in Rio.
But beyond those obvious nits to pick, and the predictable trolling from UConn-haters, celebration should be the order of the day, as this team might well be the most dominant one, past or present, that ever takes the floor in the Olympics. Why, you ask? Well, here are Three Points to consider:
1) Look at the numbers. The average margin of victory was 37.2 points. In a 40-minute game. Which means, the U.S. was better by pretty much a point a minute. One reason was a great leap forward in the two weakest areas of the American game internationally: Three-point shooting and assist/turnover ratio.
Led by Diana Taurasi’s incredible 57% three-point accuracy, Team USA shot 45% overall – and coupled with a phenomenal 224/125 A/TO, there just wasn’t much the opponents could do.
In addition, the Americans made nine more free throws than the other folks attempted, and did so at a 77% clip. The U.S. was plus 28 in steals and plus 15 in blocked shots.
Or, to put it in perspective, any time the U.S. trailed it was big news. Any time the game looked like it would be closer than ten points in the second half was time for panic. And the 19-point semifinal win over France was considered a disappointing performance.
2) Deep depth. There were a couple teams – notably Australia, which was upset in the medal round – that looked as if their starters could hang with Team USA. But games were 40 minutes long, and the schedule was basically every other day for more than two weeks, so keeping players rested and healthy was crucial for every country.
But for Geno Auriemma, that wasn’t much of an issue, because usually the U.S. had a big early lead, and the dropoff from starter to reserve was minimal. (In fact, it could be argued that the dropoff from the 12 in Rio to the next 12 that stayed home wasn’t that great either, but that’s another column.) Breanna Stewart, the baby on the team, played just 10.9 minutes a game, the second lowest amount. But she shot 73% from the field, hit three of seven threes, was second on the team in blocked shots and took more free throws than anyone else.
And a lot of people felt she really didn’t belong on the roster.
Sure, Candace Parker is better than more than a few members of the team, but it didn’t really matter in the end. The bottom five for America was a gold-medal group in this Olympics, and if the machine ever sputtered in Rio, there were elite replacement parts just ready to be inserted into the lineup.
3) The future. In the short run, the likely loss of Taurasi, Sue Bird (31 assists, four turnovers), Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings and maybe even Sylvia Fowles (who will be pushing 35 in 2020) and Angel McCoughtry (34) shouldn’t derail the train, but without that group, it won’t roll down the tracks quite as smoothly.
Stewart and Elena Delle Donne look to be the focal points down the road, and the 6-4 and 6-5 do-it- all wings are pretty much impossible to stop. Brittney Griner will still be in the middle and though there are no obvious replacements for Taurasi and Bird, there are plenty of candidates, ranging from Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims to Jordin Canada and Kelsey Mitchell.
In the long run, though – we’re talking 2028 and beyond – there may be issues. Participation in girls’ basketball at the high school level is being eclipsed by volleyball and soccer, and long-time observers of the youth basketball scene are hard-pressed to locate the next superstar on the horizon. There are plenty of very good players, but right now, the superstar successors to Stewart and Delle Donne are conspicuous by their absence, and with more and more elite athletes choosing other sports, the talent pool might get shallow enough for Olympic gold no longer to be almost a certainty.
But that’s a long time from now, so best enjoy what we have – and what we just witnessed. After all, it might have been the most dominant exhibition of international basketball ever, and we very probably won’t see anything like it ever again.