Monday, July 22, 2024

Oldest Olympics roster in USA Basketball history appears creaky in exhibition win against rival Canada | Sporting News

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If it has escaped your attention, you are among the blessed, but age is a big issue in America right now. It is surprising it has taken on such importance so early in the process, but the opinion of even a few can be amplified quickly and rapidly through the wildfire of social media.

Indeed, the USA Basketball roster for the 2024 Olympic Games is really old.

Did you think we were talking about something else?

Drue Holiday is 34. Kevin Durant is 35. Steph Curry is 36. LeBron James is by far the oldest United States men’s Olympic basketball player in history, at 39 years, 194 days. Stuck with having to replace injured Kawhi Leonard, 33, USA Basketball chose the Celtics’ 30-year-old Derrick White.

MORE: Replacing Kawhi Leonard with Derrick White is a mistake

The average age of the roster for the Paris Games is 30.1 years, the first time in history it’s not been in the 20s. And it seems reasonable to wonder whether that becomes an issue as the U.S. pursues a fifth consecutive gold medal in the sport invented here.

Year Age
1992 28.6 (Gold)
1996 29.5 (Gold)
2000 27.7 (Gold)
2004 23.6 (Bronze)
2008 26 (Gold)
2012 25.8 (Gold)
2016 26.7 (Gold)
2020 27.7 (Gold)
2024 30.1 (Gold)

Head coach Steve Kerr watched his team commit eight turnovers in the first quarter of an eventual 86-72 victory over rival Canada. He saw Joel Embiid looking as though he’d just been awakened by a 3 a.m. fire alarm. Kerr put together a starting lineup featuring four 30-somethings – Holiday, Curry, Embiid and James, plus young’un Devin Booker – that averaged a plus/minus rating of negative 1.4 points during their combined 90 minutes on the floor.

The group that replaced them – Tyrese Haliburton, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Edwards and Anthony Davis, with an average age of 26 – had an average plus/minus of 14.4 points.

MORE: Ranking the 12 players on Team USA’s roster

During the game, Kerr was interviewed by Fox Sports’ Kristina Pink and said, “We’ll get there. It’s just going to take some time.” But every day that passes, this team gets older.

There is some logic to building a couple of separate units that no team in Paris will be able to match from a talent standpoint. But one thing the Canada game suggested is he may need to reconsider whether it is wise to go with an exclusively older group, with Kevin Durant presumably stepping in for Booker once he’s healthy, and then a high-energy second-quarter bunch to exploit presumably weary opponents.

LeBron is in his fourth Olympics. He was the most important component of the Redeem Team, the 2008 squad that restored USA Basketball to what once seemed a preordained position on top of the international basketball world. Although Kobe Bryant scored the biggest baskets in the sizzling 118-107 gold medal victory over Spain, James was across-the-sheet elite throughout the tournament: 15.5 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 60.2 percent shooting.

He was an even more inclusive force in 2012, when he led the team in assists and and was third in rebounding and scoring.

James hasn’t played internationally since, although there have been three FIBA World Cups and two Olympics. He was recruited to this team by managing director Grant Hill, who approached him at halftime of a Lakers game in April 2023 with a simple request.

“Hey, man, we need you in Paris,” Hill told NBC Sports.

James is to be admired for accepting the challenge. He has played more high-level minutes than any American player, ever, with a career-record 68,456 in NBA regular-season and playoff games plus another 707 in FIBA competition. It’s not a comfortable decision to add more mileage to those wheels.

MORE: Tyrese Haliburton addresses gold-or-failure aspect of Olympics

Embiid was an absolute wreck against Canada, missing two uncontested layups and heaving an unnecessary 3-point brick, turning over the ball four times and fouling out in 13 minutes. Coming off a regular season in which he played only 39 games for the Sixers – but was productive in a first-round series against the Knicks – there should be concern about how much he’ll be able to contribute.

USA Basketball only practiced four days in advance of this game. The players arrived in Las Vegas on Friday, worked out daily against a select group of younger players including Duke recruit Cooper Flagg, then took the court against Canada looking very much like they’d just met.

“You could see the rust from the offensive end – a lot of turnovers in that first half, especially,” Kerr said. “But I love the defensive intensity and the work on the glass. So it was a good first effort.”

There will be four more exhibition games. The first two are in Abu Dhabi: July 15 against Australia at 10 a.m. ET, and July 17 at noon against Group x rival Serbia. Then come two more in London, July 20 against South Sudan and July 22 against Germany. All games will be televised by FS1 or Fox.

MORE: Pre-Olympics schedule for USA men’s, women’s teams

This group needs all the work it can get.

And some rest along the way.

This is not just a matter of biding time.

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