It was not too long ago that Team USA, led by the late great Kobe Bryant, featuring superstars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, obliterated a helpless Nigerian team 156-73 setting Olympic records in the process. Fast forward to 9 years later, a young, enthusiastic Nigerian team stunned the hosts with a dominating and clinical performance.
Gone are the days where you could predict that a USA team filled with NBA stars will blaze through competition to clinch the gold. The spread of talent was lopsided in the previous years, hence you could see the Americans bully their competition due to higher skill levels and talent.
Times have changed, and the game has progressed to a global scale hence unearthing hidden gems from other corners of the world. The competition has become more intense, and that is a delight to hear for every fan as no team would walk on to win gold, and that they will have to claw and fight to earn every inch.
The competition would incentivize the players to be at their dominant best, producing some breathtaking moments of Basketball. Team USA will have their task cut out with young teams with enough firepower and talent levels to gun for their crown. Here are the five teams expected to give the US National Team a run for their money.
An Australian squad featuring NBA veterans Patty Mills, Joe Ingles and Aron Baynes, gives the team one of the best chances to offset the perennial favourites in the USA, with their ability to find spaces and hit clutch shots when needed.
Patty Mills is one of the most underrated scorers in the game and has come up with clutch performances when needed. Joe Ingles is another vocal leader with an uncanny ability to get buckets when needed.
Aron Baynes has a crucial role as the enforcer on this team with his knack for setting hard screens, and his ability to box out and rebound. The team will be hoping that the injury he sustained against the US is not serious and that he would be back soon.
The ex-factor of the team would be young Philadelphia 76ers star Matisse Thybulle, whose long rangy physique and pesky defence will prove vital in key matchups with players like Kevin Durant. The Boomers are expected to finish on the podium irrespective of not having their best player in Ben Simmons, who dropped out to focus on his game.
The Spaniards have managed to finish on the podium during the last three Olympics, and this year is no different. The presence of savvy veterans such as Ricky Rubio, the Gasol Brothers and Rudy Fernandez gives Spain an advantage over others since they have forged strong chemistry.
Lack of talent compared to the others seems to be a concern, but their unselfish brand of Basketball can offset that if they manage to hit open shots. La Roja is expected to compete in the finals yet again, but the road will be a lot tougher than their runs in the previous years.
Led by three-time NBA Defensive Player of The Year Rudy Gobert, the French have assembled one of their strongest squads and are expected to battle it out with the best. Loaded with a mix of young, hungry talent such as Frank Ntilikina and savvy veterans like Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum, France have the ideal opportunity to cause an upset and etch their names in Olympic history forever.
Having a player of Rudy Gobert's caliber to anchor your defense is not a luxury most teams can boast about having, and hence the onus is on the team to make the most of the opportunities presented to them.
Nigeria is one of the most underrated teams in the tournament and has one of the lowest odds to reach the finals. That does not mean that they would stop at anything to prove their doubters wrong and get to the promised land. The D'Tigers have a roster featuring seven NBA players capable of competing with the best in the world despite the preconceived notion that they would be pushovers.
Their exhibition matches against the USA and Argentina proved the fact that they cannot be counted out. The Nigerians came out with a physical approach and dominated showcasing their athletic prowess in front of the best. Led by NBA veteran coach Mike Brown, Nigeria are expected to make some noise.
Luka Magic is set to take over Tokyo, and Slovenia is sure to cause stunning upsets despite lacking the squad depth compared to the other teams. A fairytale run through the qualification might make it seem like the team may have hit its ceiling, but Luka and his men would have other things to say about it. This moment might be the start of what might be the most historic run in Olympic history by an underdog team.