The field for the Rio Olympics is up to three, with Australia in. The race for the gold medal remains at one — as it will for the next calendar year.
Nobody is going to come within 30 points of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s SuperTeam next summer, and it will be five long years before we know whether Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Olynyk, Tristan Thompson and coach Jay Triano can build a team good enough to throw a scare into the Americans at the Tokyo Olympics.
Spain is washed up; Argentina was washed up a long time ago, and no matter how much of a pest Matthew Dellavedova turns out to be when he is facing LeBron James instead of lining up alongside him, the Boomers — as Australia’s team is known, will be bounced by 40 if they have the misfortune of being aligned with the U.S. when the draw for the Rio Olympics is announced.
First we must get through the qualifiers, which will take place over the next 40 days from the FIBA-Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa regions.
As noted above, one qualifier is already complete, with Australia having taken out New Zealand 89-79 in Game 2 of their two-game series, completing a sweep. New Zealand cut a late 20-point deficit to five before Dellavedova hit a 3-pointer that ended the rally.
It remains to be seen whether Dante Exum will be healed and whether top NBA draft prospect Ben Simmons (LSU) will join the Boomers a year from now, the former after recovering from a torn ACL, the latter after he is taken No. 1 or No. 2 in the draft (depends on whether you believe Chad Ford or Jonathan Givony). But let’s face it, even if Australia trots out a starting five of NBA-caliber players (Delly, Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, David Andersen and Exum), they are not going to stand a chance against what should be the deepest Team USA ever — yes, even deeper than the original Dream Team from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, as Jerry Colangelo has noted.
Two teams will come out of the FIBA-Americas region, and we would predict the Dominican Republic as one of them if coach Kenny Atkinson had been able to convince Al Horford and Karl-Anthony Towns to play in the qualifier, which he wasn’t able to do. The two qualifiers will be determined in the FIBA-Americas semifinals to be held Sept. 11 in Mexico City.
That means there will be four teams (one-third of the 12-team field) from FIBA-Americas in the Olympics, as the United States (the reigning World Champion) and Brazil (the host nation) have already qualified.
Only two teams from Europe will be determined this summer as Eurobasket — with a stacked 24-team field — is held in four countries, Croatia, France, Germany and Latvia) from Sept. 5-20. The semifinals, which will determine the qualifiers, and Sept. 17 and 18.
For those expecting Spain to be a lock, consider that Pau Gasol is playing but Marc Gasol is not. Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro also are sidelined, and Nikola Mirotic has been chosen over Serge Ibaka as the team’s one permitted import player. The powerhouse team looks to be France, which will have Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gobert, Alexis Ajinca, Nando De Colo, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus also on the roster.
Serbia, coming off a silver medal finish at last year’s World Cup, is one of the contenders but will not have incoming NBA center Nikola Jokic, who was profiled here by our European editor, A.J. Mitnick.
The Afrobasket tournament begins today in Tunisia, with the gold medal winner on Aug. 30 getting the Olympic berth.
The last of the nine teams to be determined by the end of the summer will come out of the FIBA-Asia tournament in China, with the gold medal game being played Oct. 3 on Yi Jianlian’s home turf.
The final three teams will be earned next year when FIBA selects 18 teams to play in three pre-Olympic qualifiers at sites to be determined. With any luck, we’ll get another appearance by New Zealand, because one never gets tired of the Haka.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.