“Can the best NCAA team beat the worst NBA team?” has become a common question every March in the Talking Head era of sports coverage. The answer is a resounding no; they could not, and, probably, would not even come close.
But, with a historically weak Olympic field lacking a truly great team, could the Boston Celtics win gold if they were chosen as the representative for Team USA?
Maybe. Let’s take a look.
First off, Boston wouldn’t have access to Al Horford (Dominican Republic), Jonas Jerebko (Sweden), Kelly Olynyk (Canada) or Ben Bentil (Ghana, also, bet you didn’t know that, you learn something new every day). Olympic rosters have a cap of 12 players so we must say a tearful goodbye to Demetrious Jackson and John Holland who were cut in the Team USA Minicamp. So, the starting line up would probably consist of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, and Tyler Zeller. Marcus Smart, Ja
mes Young, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Jordan Mickey, Jaylen Brown, and Gerald Green would make up the bench. Super young squad. Not great for the Olympics but workable. Here’s how the minutes would break down (international basketball has 40 minute games).
Isaiah Thomas: 32
Avery Bradley: 30
Jae Crowder: 35
Amir Johnson: 27
Tyler Zeller: 21
Marcus Smart: 27
Terry Rozier: 9
Gerald Green: 9
Jordan Mickey: 5
Jaylen Brown: 5
R.J. Hunter: 0
James Young: 0
That’s a rough estimate that would obviously change with match-ups. As you can tell only 53 minutes were allocated to traditional big men, the other 27 would come from Crowder and Brown. Also either Smart or Green would close games over Zeller.
So looking at that roster the Celtics have two of the five best players in the Olympics in Thomas and Crowder along with a three veterans who have received significant NBA minutes (Green would probably get a lot more run than I am giving him credit for because of his shooting and experience).
This squad wouldn’t have the same chemistry issues as pre-2008 USA Teams, the team has played over a full NBA season together. Chemistry is more important than people think as Argentina showed us in 2004; it’s the reason Team USA has made such an emphasis on including a large pool of players and forcing players to commit to the team.
Shooting would be the team’s biggest weakness; Bradley and Thomas are the only guys who shot better than league average from the NBA three last season, and neither are sharp shooters.
Athletically our new Team USA would be far superior to any other national team and would be able to play ferocious defense (Boston was fourth in defensive rating last NBA season) much like the way the current Team USA plays.
Traditionally, small guards who control games have been a common international success factor. Thomas would have no problem blowing by slower European guards or finishing at the rim against less athletic European big men.
Defending big men would be this team’s greatest weakness; players like Pau Gasol (Spain), Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), or Miroslav Raduljica (Serbia) with NBA experience and extremely large bodies could eat our new Team USA under the basket.
A swarming defense led by Crowder, Bradley, and Smart would have the potential to double post players and then recover fast enough to shooters to diminish the impact of those big bodies, but defensive rebounding would still be a big worry.
All in all, I bet our new team would win the Olympics, especially with Spain’s slow start. Teams would just not be athletic enough to guard Thomas or to deal with the trio of elite defenders that our new Team USA offers. It would obviously be much less of a sure thing than the current Team USA but with the addition of over a year of chemistry I’m confident the Team Boston USA would bring home the gold.