LONDON – Anyone searching for the biggest difference between the basketball competition at the Olympics 20 years ago in Barcelona to now need only scan the rosters and check off the list of NBA players each team can claim.
When the Dream Team suited up they had twice as many active NBA players (11) than the rest of the field combined (five). Fast forward to the competition that kicks off here Sunday and there are 41 current NBA players (59 total when you count former NBA players) on the different rosters and just 12 of those players (we’re counting No. 1 overall Draft pick and Hornets rookie Anthony Davis, since he’s already signed his rookie contract) are on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team.
In fact, when the U.S. tangles with France in their opener Sunday, it will mark one of at least several times when potentially all 10 starters on the floor are current NBA players.
“It’s a different world in that respect,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I didn’t really think about it like that.”
A different world with different factors that aren’t lost on U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, an assistant with the gold medal winning team in 1992.
The U.S. team is facing a France team that boasts not only Spurs All-Star point guard Tony Parker, but also quality NBA players in Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, Clippers forward Ronny Turiaf, Spurs swingman Boris Diaw and guard Nando de Colo and Wizards center Kevin Seraphin.
“Parker is the first key,” Krzyzewski said. “Diaw is a very important guy for them and he’s really their best passer, that point forward they run a lot of their offense through. Batum, his shooting is outstanding. And then their athletic ability to run up and down the court, we’re not going to out-athlete them like we have with some of our opponents.”
Not if their exhibition win over Brazil, a team with a similar complement of NBA players on their its roster, is any indication. Because there are guys who are role players in the NBA who are difference makers in the international game.
“Just look at Nicolas Batum,” U.S. point guard Chris Paul said. “He’s great player, really a great player. And I feel like the NBA holds him back in a lot of ways just by virtue of his circumstance. He can’t do in Portland what he really can do.”
And France is far from the toughest competition the U.S. will face in this competition. It might not be a fair fight yet, but there is no doubt it’s getting closer in some instances.