The 2021 Olympics are fast approaching and there is a ton of chatter about Team USA’s poor performances in the last exhibition matches. Even if they took care of business by defeating Argentina 108-80 yesterday, they also suffered defeats against Australia and Nigeria. The defeats were particularly humiliating because Team USA’s talent is off the charts, yet struggled to showcase their desire to play defense or actually win the games.
Looking ahead to the actual tournament, Team USA is still the betting favorite. They have the biggest names in the world and the most renowned coach in the tournament. But how would they match up against Team Yugoslavia? Yugoslavia could be the biggest threat to Team USA because their squad is stacked with NBA players. In fact, the entire starting lineup have either been All-Stars or role players on championship teams. Here is the official breakdown of Team USA and Team Yugoslavia and the predicted winner if both nations played each other for the gold medal.
At first glance, Team USA clearly lacks size. Yugoslavia will field a dominant frontcourt duo of All-Stars Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Jokic, while Bojan Bogdanovic offers girth and strength on the perimeter. Their lineup offers tremendous size and that will cause a host of problems for Team USA in the paint. Bam Adebayo is only 6’9” and is one of the most undersized centers in the NBA. Jokic and Vucevic will also dominate Kevin Durant, a slender forward who does not have the meat on his bones to manage.
The starting lineup of Team USA is clearly not the strongest they can field. The likes of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard are missing among many others. But this lineup is still the most talented offensively. Team USA will have no problem starting games on offense with 5 All-Star players who are all offensively proficient. Lillard and Durant are the two best players on the team, and they will show it early in the tournament. Overall, both lineups offer superstar talent but Team Yugoslavia have the more complete lineup with Doncic running the show on offense.
Bench: Goran Dragic, Milos Teodosic, Vasilije Micic, Vladimir Lucic, Dario Saric, Nemanja Bjelica, Boban Marjanovic
Bench: Bradley Beal, Draymond Green, Zach LaVine, Jerami Grant, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love
Yugoslavia have some notable names off the bench including Goran Dragic, Dario Saric, and Boban Marjanovic; but none of them are considered All-Star players at this stage. Yugoslavia will try to go (very) big with Marjanovic throughout the game, and Team USA will struggle to grab rebounds against him. But the USA’s scoring is off the charts and they have a host of versatile players who outmatch any bench of any opposition.
Team USA’s bench is tremendously good. Bradley Beal, Draymond Green, Jrue Holiday, Zach Lavine, Khris Middleton, and Kevin Love have all been All-Stars at some point in their careers. Jerami Grant has also had a case after averaging a career-high 22.3 PPG for the Pistons this season. That means USA has an advantage anytime they bring in a player off the bench against the opposition. Even without any true size; Green, Holiday, Middleton, and Grant can all defend the perimeter at an elite level.
Coach: Zeljko Obradovic vs. Gregg Popovich
Coach Zeljko Obradovic is one of the most accomplished coaches around the world. Even if his name is not recognized in the United States as much, Obradovic has won 63 club titles including 9 EuroLeague titles. His most notable achievements also include winning gold in the 1997 EuroBasket and 1998 FIBA World Championship while Obradovic is also the current head coach of Partizan Belgrade of the Adriatic League and the Basketball League of Serbia.
It is very hard to argue against Gregg Popovich as the best coach in the Olympics. He has the most respected resume in the world right now, winning 5 NBA championships and proving to be one of the best locker room leaders in NBA history. Even if Popovich did not show his best feathers during the most recent FIBA Tournament as Team USA crashed out early, he has the best basketball mind in the world right now.
As great as Zeljko Obradovic is as a coach, Team USA can have the confidence of entering the Olympics with arguably a top-3 coach of all-time with the most incredible resume of all coaches.
Team Yugoslavia Advantages
It is clear that Yugoslavia is the best possible opponent for Team USA in the Olympics and it mainly has to do with their superstar players and their incredible size. Yugoslavia will punish Team USA down low with NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and All-Star Nikola Vucevic, each standing 6’11” and pushing 7’0”. Yugoslavia will also throw in Boban Marjanovic early, a 7’4” monster who is adept at grabbing the ball off the rim and contesting shots on defense. Even Dario Saric offers great size at 6’10” and can spread the floor along with playing in the paint. Yugoslavia will have to focus their efforts on feeding the bigs, and with the 2021 MVP on the roster, Team USA will have big problems controlling the paint. That means Yugoslavia will get easy buckets at multiple periods throughout the game.
Yugoslavia also have the best playmaker in the game. Luka Doncic averaged 8.6 APG for the Mavericks this season, even if he averaged 27.7 PPG as th. Doncic will run the floor and set up teammates better than anyone on Team USA, especially since LeBron James or Chris Paul are not competing in the Olympics. With Doncic using his basketball IQ to feed the bigs, Yugoslavia would have a massive chance to be the most dominant team in the Olympics.
Team USA Advantages
Team USA have the advantage in prestige, depth, and natural talent. Even if the rest of the world is catching up to America in basketball and no longer have any fear, Team USA have the most daunting aura. They have the biggest names in the world on the roster and coaching staff and have the capabilities to destroy any team when they are focused and hungry. That also comes down to their incredible natural talent.
Gregg Popovich admitted that he would have cried and begged Kevin Durant to join the Olympic team if Durant was not sure about joining. The fact that he is 100% available means Team USA have the best player in the world on their side. This is Durant’s time to prove he is one of the all-time greats because, in terms of scoring ability, no one comes close. Other than Durant, Team USA also have incredible scoring talent in Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum among many others. Team USA can get a bucket anytime they want, which is a massive advantage if any set plays break down.
Finally, Team USA has an incredibly deep bench. Yugoslavia have solid players to throw out there when the likes of Luka Doncic or Nikola Jokic are tired, but not on the level of Team USA. USA can afford to let any player on their roster (perhaps outside of Kevin Love) play heavy minutes in this matchup and can rotate without fear of losing steam on offense.
Who Wins If They Play In The Olympic Finals?
The game will be tight, and there will need to be big plays by the best players on both teams. But in the end, with the gold medal on the line, Yugoslavia will shock the world and prove they are the best nation in the tournament. Their size will be too much, with nearly 4 different 7-footers who offer skill and strength. Even if the modern NBA game has changed to favor guards, basketball will forever be a big man’s game. That is why Jokic was the 2021 MVP, and why Deandre Ayton has had such a special impact for the Phoenix Suns who are favorites to be NBA champions this year.
Other than size, Yugoslavia have the best superstar duo in the tournament. Kevin Durant is the best player in the world, but Damian Lillard offers too much of the same skillset as the 2-time NBA champion. Rather, Doncic and Jokic are the best all-around duo who affect all areas of the floor. Luka is the best playmaker in the tournament, while Jokic can also pass the ball (arguably) better than anyone on Team USA. Jokic also offers a massive presence on defense, with Nikola Vucevic and Boban Marjanovic backing him up.
Team USA, led by Durant and Lillard, could realistically outscore any team in the tournament but Yugoslavia will be a force defending the rim. Scoring in the paint will not be easy for Team USA, who could fall in love with the three-point shot. If their shots do not fall, Yugoslavia will have the biggest advantage in the game. Even with the All-NBA talent on the floor for Team USA, they do not have the size nor the defenders to match up with Yugoslavia and that means the latter will win gold on the brightest stage of them all.