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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Team USA's Rout of Iran Should be Expected, Not Celebrated

In the longstanding media tradition of overreaction, Team USA's 120-66 win over Iran in the 2020 Olympics (being held in 2021) has been touted in some quarters as proof that Team USA made great adjustments--media members love to talk about adjustments, because it makes them sound like sophisticated basketball analysts--and that order has been restored to the basketball universe. 

Before jumping to conclusions, let's consider the facts. In the most recent FIBA rankings, Team USA is ranked first, while Iran is ranked 23rd and France--which defeated Team USA 83-76--is ranked seventh. Team USA's next opponent, the Czech Republic, is ranked 12th. Iran is in no form or fashion a medal contender. Team USA lost to a fringe medal contender, and faces a bigger challenge next game than Iran is capable of mounting. 

Team USA versus Iran is a massive mismatch. Hamed Haddaddi, who tied for Iran's team lead with 14 points, is a 36 year old former NBA player who averaged 4.1 ppg in his best NBA season (2012-13). The other Iranian who scored 14 points, Mohammad Jamshidijfarabadi, apparently last played professionally in the Philippines in 2016. If Team USA Coach Gregg Popovich needed to make adjustments to beat a team led by--with all due respect--a washed up ex-NBA reserve and a player who has not even played in a lower level professional league in five years then that does not speak well of Team USA's pre-Olympics preparation. 

This particular game had nothing to do with coaching, because the tremendous talent disparity was far too much for Iran to overcome. Iran shot 25-67 from the field (.373) while committing 23 turnovers. Team USA shot 42-76 from the field (.553) while committing just six turnovers. Team USA's athleticism and pressure defense overwhelmed Iran, and led to numerous uncontested or lightly contested scoring opportunities for Team USA. Damian Lillard scored 21 points, and five other Team USA players reached double figures as every player on the team scored at least four points. 

In contrast, coaching mattered in the game against France, and the results were not pretty for Team USA. Coaching may matter to at least some extent versus the Czech Republic, and it will certainly be very important in the medal round. 

So much emphasis is placed on Team USA's shooting and specifically Team USA's three point shooting that it is worth mentioning that Team USA could have missed 37 three point shots and still beaten Iran by three points! Team USA shot 19-39 from three point range versus Iran, but had those numbers been 2-39 then Team USA would have still won 69-66. That says a lot not only about the talent gap between the teams but also about the relative importance of three point shooting for Team USA. As I have explained for well over a decade, Team USA's keys for success in FIBA play are guarding the three point shot effectively without giving up easy points in the paint, forcing turnovers, and scoring a lot of fast break points so that they do not have to rely too much on their half court offense.

It would be great if Team USA's win over Iran is a preview of coming attractions and the first step toward winning a gold medal, but anyone who understands FIBA basketball realizes that this game is not a valid measuring stick for how well Team USA will do against the medal contenders.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:21 PM



At Friday, July 30, 2021 9:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing to note is that since NBA players started featuring in the team, there has never been a tournament where Team USA loses a game but wins the gold medal.

All gold medals have been won by winning all games.

That's actually almost true before 1992 too, with one exception -- they lost a game in the groups in 1986 but won the FIBA World Cup.

And there is a reason for it -- when the team was problematically put together to such an extent that it loses a group game, then it inevitably got exposed even further in the elimination phase.

At Tuesday, August 03, 2021 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is an interesting point.

This year's team is the most talented one in the Olympics and "should" win the gold medal, but I agree with you that the earlier losses revealed flaws--and I would argue that those flaws are visible even in some of the team's wins. It would not be surprising if Team USA fell short of the gold medal, though I am beginning to suspect that Durant has activated the mode in which he will do whatever it takes to ensure victory--which might involve him scoring 35 or 40 points in the gold medal game if Team USA gets past Australia.

At Tuesday, August 03, 2021 6:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am beginning to suspect that Durant has activated the mode in which he will do whatever it takes to ensure victory--which might involve him scoring 35 or 40 points in the gold medal game if Team USA gets past Australia." but at what cost to KD's health? coming off very serious injury and missed time last season, along with playoff run w/ Nets --> now going hard in August... can't be a good thing for his health prospects next year

At Wednesday, August 04, 2021 3:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is a valid point. I was focusing more on what it may take for Team USA to win than on the possible long term implications for Durant's health and for the Nets' title prospects.


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