LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 29: Carmelo Anthony #15 of United States reacts after a play against France during their Men's Basketball Game on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Basketball Arena on July 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
There seems to be a bit of a sour taste left in people's mouths following the US's 156-73 win over Nigeria, as if there was malicious intent by the US men to level the Nigerian team when the actuality was an unbelievable shooting exhibition against a team willing to give up three pointers. Is that really the US's fault? Moreover, is it even a bad thing?
My initial reaction watching the US men jump out to a 13-0 lead against Nigeria, putting the game on ice in the opening minutes as Carmelo Anthony went on to Jordan shrug and Anthony Davis forgot his jersey was that "at least the starters showed up tonight." I found myself incredibly disenchanted with the starters' effort against Tunisia, one that gave Tunisia a lead and allowed them to play within ten points throughout the first half despite a strong effort from Anthony and Russell Westbrook in the second unit's first half run that should've shut the game down.
It seemed LeBron James was too preoccupied with setting his teammates up on cutesy passes and Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant were fine with just standing behind the arc jacking up three pointers. There was little effort on either side of the ball until the high energy second unit ended it. While there was certainly no concern at all in the US losing to Tunisia in a full 40-minute exhibition regardless of how poorly the starters played, the fact Tunisia, an even bigger underdog than Nigeria, would be able to keep the game within ten points against the starters through their own exceptional efforts was only part of the issue; most of it simply fell on the starters playing entitled and pompous basketball.
That's precisely why the US, in particular those same starters, laying it on the Nigerian team was just what they needed to do. In a sense, Nigeria decided to play the numbers, knowing three point shooting was a weak point of the US men, but they showed no effort to adjust to everything going in. Watching Anthony line up three pointer after three pointer against Nigeria sure took some Pacers fans back to Jim O'Brien's stalwart decision to play the numbers on Anthony not being a great three point shooter and not adjust despite the fact every three pointer was going in.
In the end, I am in favor of the US men trouncing Nigeria in a hope it gives the starters more willingness to play as motivated moving forward, but more of this could spawn greater favor for the under-23 idea that would shut the world's best players over 23 out of the Olympics. On one hand, it would certainly create a more exciting level of competition. Most of the people complaining about the US's win over Nigeria didn't even watch the game, since the outcome was all but decided.
But it's a bit of a copout stance to take because NBA fans are spoiled by the exceptional young talent coming up in the league today. Locking into an U-23 team would be great for years like this one (look at the Select Team roster and tell me they wouldn't be a blast to watch), but it was ten years ago the league was seeing some of the worst young talent entering the league before the class of 2003 signaled a huge sea change. So while competitive games would be more fun to watch, as long as the US men are committed, why should there be any competitive games? If effort leads to an 83-point win, so be it.