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2020 Olympics: Tokyo’s winners, losers and what we’d like to see for future basketball games

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Here’s our last piece on the Olympics before we head back to the Mystics’ season and the Wizards’ summer league.

Women’s Basketball Medal Ceremony - Olympics: Day 16
Tina Charles holds her gold medal.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The 2020 Olympics is now complete. The United States won the gold medal in the men’s and women’s tournaments. They also won the inaugural women’s 3x3 tournament.

Winners

  • Everyone who participated — I’m not a “participation award for all” kind of person. But I’m also never going to say that participants aren’t winners. Congratulations to Tina Charles, Ariel Atkins, Leilani Mitchell, Emma Meesseman, Issac Bonga and Rui Hachimura for participating for their countries.
  • Washington Mystics — All of their participants weren’t injured. Meesseman was the leading scorer of the entire tournament. Charles, the WNBA’s leading scorer, was a reserve on the Olympic Team and had the best of both worlds: getting a gold medal and not having the bulk of the scoring load on her. Atkins was also a reserve and was able to get valuable experience playing alongside many of the best players in the WNBA. Now, the Mystics should be in better shape for their second half playoff push!
  • Japan’s women’s basketball team — Rui Machida was like John Stockton out there averaging over 12 assists per game and their squad was the best three-point shooting team in the tournament, scoring big wins over FIBA Europe powers Belgium and France in the knockout stage. Japan is one of the best teams in the world, so the wins aren’t entirely unexpected, but few expected them to win the silver medal in this thing.
  • FIBA Asia in the women’s tournament — Japan, China and Australia represented Asia in the quarterfinals. While the Opals, in particular, were expected to be a medal threat, China wasn’t expected to win Group C, but still did after upsetting Belgium which helped clinch their spot.
  • Non-American NBA players leading their teams to deep runs— Luka Doncic led Slovenia to the bronze medal game. Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert were a force for France as they led Les Bleus to the gold medal game. Patty Mills was a scoring machine for Australia and led the Boomers to the bronze medal. NBA players are excited to play for their countries and take their teams on deep tournament runs.

Losers

  • Bradley Beal — We were all really excited to see him make the USA men’s national team initially. But after entering coronavirus protocols during the friendly period (and speculation around the internet that he may not be fully vaccinated), it was a bummer not to see Beal playing in Tokyo where we could have seen him getting a medal with Kevin Durant and friends.
  • Washington Wizards — The Wizards had Hachimura as their biggest face on the Olympic stage where he represented Japan as a flag bearer in the opening ceremony. But Japan was the weakest team in the men’s tournament so he never got to play in the quarterfinals. Bonga began a Wizard but is all but out from D.C. after the team didn’t give him a qualifying offer. And we already mentioned Beal’s issues with the coronavirus. Instead of having three players on three national teams, including the USA, the Wizards will likely only have one representative from Tokyo at opening night this fall.
  • USA Basketball men’s national team selection process — This team was haphazardly put together, just. like the 2019 World Cup team, and just like the 2004 Olympic team that won bronze. While the Americans won the Gold Medal this year, they did so in a very sloppy way and that type of process just won’t work in the longer term. I’ll get to that later.
  • FIBA Europe in the women’s tournament — Seeing Spain and Belgium lose in the quarterfinals was a bummer for the world’s best continent.
  • Nigeria’s men’s and women’s basketball teams — D’Tigers and D’Tigresses assembled their teams with many Americans who hold dual citizenship. The men’s team in particular also had a lot of NBA talent and the women were trying to get Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike on their squad, though it wasn’t successful. Ultimately, neither team made the quarterfinals or won a game in the group stage. Still, they are laying the groundwork to become a power in FIBA Africa and make deeper Olympic and World Cup runs down the road.

What would I like to see in future Olympics?

Here are three quick things I’d like to see.

  • The USA men must develop a team of players over several years, not throw a hodgepodge squad like it’s 1992 — The Americans did this after the 2004 Olympics, which helped set up a consistent core group for their success from 2008-16, but especially from 2008-12. The women are also facing a similar issue by assembling a hodgepodge squad, but it’s not quite as prevalent as the men because the best women’s players are more likely to accept invitations and remain on the team for longer periods of time.
  • The NBA partnering with FIBA to allow all players to participate in World Cup/continental qualifiers — NBA teams don’t want to have players risk injury for international teams, but this is something that FIFA, FIBA’s soccer equivalent does all of the time. The leagues in Europe especially agree to break at various points to allow for these competitions so I can see the NBA do something similar as well. It will allow all national teams, not just the USA to develop chemistry before major tournaments and I think it will improve basketball overall. The women’s team doesn’t have to worry about this as much because the WNBA isn’t played during the winter.
  • A coed 5x5 tournament and coed 3x3 tournament — The Olympics has been promoting coed/mixed-gender events in these Olympics and FIBA has experimented with a coed 3x3 tournament before. It will be another opportunity for players worldwide to showcase their skills though the rules of these leagues can vary, especially at intramural levels where females often get point handicaps. That said, a higher-level coed tournament with highly skilled players can standardize and normalize how this format of basketball is played much more quickly than a local rec center.