Olympic Basketball: Five Men’s Players to Watch
Olympic basketball is an opportunity for NBA players to take a big step in their development and popularity. On some teams, bench NBA players will be the number one option now. Guys who often don’t get playing time will be key members of their national team. Some players may be the only great player on their team and will be tasked with carrying the weight of a nation. For Team USA, their roles will be much different than being the stars of their NBA teams and will have to learn to gel together.
Olympic Men’s Basketball opens up on Saturday, July 24th. Ahead of the first game, here are five NBA players to watch in their roles with their international squad.
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs – Australia
Australia’s flag bearer Mills is ready to lead his country into the Olympics on a hot streak. In two tune-up games, Australia beat the USA and demolished Nigeria. The leading scorer for Australia in Olympic basketball tune-ups was the longtime San Antonio Spurs back-up Mills.
On a team with an abundance of NBA talent, Mills is the leader. The team has NBA rotational pieces like Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle, and Aron Baynes, which makes this team sneaky deep. Mills is not unfamiliar with being the number one option for Australia. In the 2016 Olympics, he was second in scoring with 20.5 points per game. If Mills is able to facilitate and get scorers involved while also finding his own shot, Australia can make a run in Group B.
Leandro Bolmaro, Minnesota Timberwolves – Argentina
Anthony Edwards rightfully stole the hearts of Minnesota fans with his fantastic rookie campaign. He wasn’t the only first-round pick for Minnesota in 2020 though. Bolmaro was selected 23rd overall and had his rights traded to the Timberwolves. He was the only first-round pick to not play in the NBA last season. So who is he and what does he do?
Bolmaro is a 6’6” combo guard currently playing for Barcelona in Liga ACB. He will not blow you away offensively, averaging only 6.4 points per game in Liba ACB last season. Where Bolmaro will get his shine is on defense. At 20 he’s already a plus defender, and he may draw some of the tougher assignments in group play. Guards he will likely face include Luka Doncic of Slovenia and Ricky Rubio of Spain. Argentina has some other NBA names to bolster the offense like Denver’s Facundo Campazzo and former Rocket Luis Scola. Bolmaro could provide the glue and some quality minutes for a team with gold medal aspirations.
Precious Achiuwa, Miami Heat – Nigeria
Another young player being given the spotlight, Achiuwa has a chance to help lead Nigeria to an Olympic medal. The team is climbing the world rankings and is coming off of two wins over Argentina and the USA. You would have seen a clip of Achiuwa from the US win absolutely stuffing Kevin Durant at the rim.
Achiuwa, the 20th pick in the 2020 draft, is a player with tons of upside. Miami is hoping he’ll build on a stellar rookie season of 5.0 points & 3.4 rebounds. With more playing time in the tournament, Achiuwa is up to 7.3 points & 6.3 rebounds. Nigeria has more NBA experience on their roster than ever before, but Achiuwa still will be relied on for defensive intensity and explosiveness. Expect big things from the University of Memphis product.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks – Slovenia
If you’ve seen basketball in the last three years, you know Luka Doncic. The next great player in the NBA is already carrying the Mavericks farther than they should be. With Kristaps Porzingis looking more like a hanger-on than a second option, Doncic still forced the Clippers to a seventh game in the opening round. Now Doncic will try to will Slovenia in a similar way.
Doncic only has one other NBA player on his team (hi, Vlatko Čančar) so he will be expected to carry once again in Olympic basketball. That’s fine by him: Doncic averaged 27.7 points, 8.6 assists, and 8.0 rebounds for the Mavericks this year. His skills alone make Slovenia a threat to medal. Doncic is extremely motivated as well, saying a gold medal would mean more than an NBA Championship to him. Even if they’re not in medal contention, Slovenia games are worth watching to see Doncic at his best.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat – USA
Team USA as a whole is interesting to watch in this Olympics because they haven’t been their usual dominant self. They’ve lost two qualifying games, and the team has had to undergo changes due to COVID protocols. Bradley Beal is out for the team, and Kevin Love chose to leave the team. Keldon Johnson & JaVale McGee replaced them, meaning that Team USA has two true centers on the roster: McGee and Bam Adebayo.
The USA will have no trouble scoring, what with Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, and Devin Booker all on the roster. Where it will be interesting to watch the USA is in their post work. Adebayo had his starting spot taken by Draymond Green in the final tune-up game as he hasn’t found his groove yet for the national team. He’s only pulling down 5.0 rebounds a game and has a single block through three games. The most noteworthy thing “Captain Bamerica” has done so far is break basketball’s unwritten rules in a shootaround with Kevin Durant.
Adebayo needs to find his rhythm quick to give Team USA a more balanced attack. If he can do so, it’ll open up more opportunities for the USA’s shooters and put them right back on top as the best basketball nation in the world.
Evan Gomes is a freelance writer and podcaster. You can follow him on Twitter at @ItsEvanGomes, and be sure to check out his wrestling podcast at @CrossbodyOfWork. Check out more BellyUp NBA Coverage here.