Olympics: How to Beat Team USA (or Die Trying)

August 20th, 2008

By: Mike Moreau





If opponents keep turning the ball over and Team USA makes perimeter shots, no team in these Olympics - or on the planet for that matter - can beat them. Team USA is getting better with each game as opponents get tougher – a truly scary combination. This team is a juggernaut and clearly the best team in the world.

But, not until they win the gold medal.

This team has some weaknesses and can be beaten. But, it will take great execution and shot making by an opponent, coupled with defensive breakdowns, poor decision making and dreadful shooting on the part of Team USA.

That may be an impossible combination for the rest of the world to put together. All of the X's, O's and game planning in the world won't do any good if Team USA is on their game.

But, in an attempt to create this scenario, opponents' game plans might look something like this:


The strength of Team USA's swarming defense is ball pressure and denial of passing lanes. This is where athleticism, quickness and anticipation can be best utilized, and this is where the turnovers and easy baskets are occurring. To limit these mistakes, look for opponents to:

  • Play with more two guard fronts and use the high post as a pressure release to reverse the ball. This keeps the ball moving quicker on the pass so defenders have to adjust, preventing them from just locking in on pressure and denial. It also draws center Dwight Howard away from the basket, opening driving lanes and backdoor cutting areas.
  • Initiate more backscreen action. This is the screen NBA players see the least. If the defense plays straight, it is a good way for the screener to get an open three-point shot. And with Team USA switching many screens, this also allows the screener to slip to the basket for an easy score.
  • Run more "screen the screener" action on the perimeter and in the post. This catches Team USA in the middle of a switch and can cause momentary confusion. Spain had good success with this when they weren't throwing the ball all over the gym.
  • Isolate the point guard on the switch. When point guards Chris Paul or Deron Williams switches onto a bigger man, take advantage by posting that man on the smaller guy. Bury him and make him pay.
  • In high ballscreen action, skip the screener and make the pass to the shooter in the corner, whose man is cheating to the roll man. Greece did this very well. This guy is open and must make a high percentage.
  • Also in high ballscreen action, flatten the other three offensive players on the baseline. This creates space in the middle, allowing shooters to roll to the top on the help rotation. Spain had success with this as well. It's there but again, the shots must get knocked down.
  • Don't concede the rebound. This is a double-edged sword since attacking the offensive glass leaves fewer defenders back in transition. However, offensive rebounds lead to lay-ups and free throws, and could keep Team USA from breaking out early.


The easy baskets after turnovers allow Team USA to turn close games into blowouts; they may be the best transition team in the history of basketball. Opponents must make this a slower, halfcourt game. To force this pace, look for opponents to:

  • Sprint back to the rim in transition. Don't get caught trying to match up outside or stop the ball between the circles. Spanish center Marc Gasol digging in and trying to stop Chris Paul at halfcourt was comical. Australia did the best job of getting back and protecting the paint.
  • Sag and play ridiculously soft defense on the perimeter. Lay off so much that you just beg Team USA to shoot jump shots. Just keep backing up - all jump shots, all the time.
  • Play combination defenses – Triangle and Two, Diamond and One, changing from man to zone every possession, etc. You can't play them straight up – they are in a groove against both man and zones. You have to do it with smoke and mirrors, anything to create hesitation or give them pause.
  • Foul hard at the rim. You dunk, you go down. Simple as that. It might start an international incident, but there will be no highlight reel dunks. This can also get Team USA caught up in physical play, officiating, and create a distraction to get them out of their rhythm. Get in their heads by making it more of a fight and less of a game.

Every opponent of Team USA up to this point has tried some combination of all of these and had limited success. Can any of these teams put together an intricate game plan like this in a couple of days, execute it to perfection, shoot a high percentage and force Team USA into it's worst performance of the Olympics?

Not likely. But the medal round is one and done – back-to-back-to-back Game 7's. Anything can happen.

What is most likely to happen? More of the same for the rest of the world, and a gold medal for Team USA.