Olympics

Tokyo Olympics: Biggest storylines to watch in the men's basketball tournament

As a medal sport, basketball has been part of the Summer Olympics since 1936 in Berlin, Germany. That was just the men's category, as the women made their debut decades later in 1976 in Montreal, Canada.

One country has dominated the Olympics for the most part, but the 12-team field for the Tokyo Olympics should make for one of the most competitive tournaments ever.

MORE: Previewing men's basketball at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The 12 teams will be divided into three groups of four, including heavyweights like USA, Spain, and Argentina, in addition to teams on the rise in Nigeria and Slovenia.

There are plenty of storylines surrounding each team. What are the biggest? Our NBA.com Staff discusses.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I've got my eye on Luka Doncic and how far he can lead the Slovenian National Team.

In the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Luka put the team on his back. In the Final, the 22-year-old recorded a 31-point, 13-assist, 11-rebound triple-double in the final to lead Slovenia to its first-ever Olympic berth with a victory over the host Lithuania.

Now, what's next?

Every time Doncic takes the floor, it's an appointment watch. He is one of a shortlist of players in today's game who can dictate the entire outcome of the game by controlling the pace and manipulating defences. I'm excited to see just how far he can lead his team, because I wouldn't put it past him to pull off a miracle.

The Slovenian Men's National Team had never made it to the Olympics before this year, meaning it has never medalled. With Doncic not even near his prime, who's to say he can't make even more history by leading this nation to a medal finish in its first-ever appearance?

He's that good. And I'll definitely be tuned in as he looks to make more history.

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): It's got to be Team USA's quest for their fourth straight gold.

The country mentioned to have dominated Olympic basketball is, of course, the United States, who have won 15 of a possible 19 gold medals, including the first seven (1936-68). However, since 1968, the most they have won is three straight. The good news for Team USA? After a finish that doesn't include a gold medal (1988, 2004), they have a history of regrouping and dominating.

Having won three straight golds entering these Olympics, is 2021 the year where their most recent dominance ends? Considering the lack of Olympic experience on the roster and chemistry of playing together, it's certainly going to be their toughest run in recent history.

Of their 12-man final roster, three players in Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday will not join the team until a few days before the Olympics without any training camp participation. From the remaining nine, Kevin Durant is the most experienced, but he is one of only three players to have previous Olympic experience, the others being Draymond Green (2016) and Kevin Love (2012).

All of the remaining six players - Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, Bam Adebayo, Jerami Grant and Zach LaVine - are either playing their first Olympics (Tatum) or are suiting up for Team USA in a major international tournament for the first time (Lillard, LaVine, Adebayo, Grant, Beal).

All of this is to say: Team USA could have a tough road ahead of them.

Kane Pitman (@KanePitman): I'm obviously biased, but I do believe one of the major storylines will be whether or not Australia can get over the hump for a first medal in a major tournament for the men's program.

Fourth at both the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the Boomers have fallen desperately short of reaching the podium. In addition to the Rio heartbreak, this same group also finished fourth at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Losing Andrew Bogut from the veteran core will be a blow, as Tokyo looms as a potential last opportunity for the quartet of Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes to create history with all now north of 30 years of age.

What they do carry is a wealth of experience playing together which will be invaluable as teams rush to find chemistry in the lead-up to the tournament. They are also boosted by young NBA talent, including dynamic defensive talent Matisse Thybulle.

Other NBA players on the squad include Dante Exum and Josh Green, while NBL stars Jock Landale and Chris Goulding are expected to feature heavily in the rotation.

The Boomers have drawn a favourable group, with Nigeria, Italy and Germany all competitive nations without being known powerhouses in the FIBA world.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I'm curious to see if the hype is real with this Nigeria team.

With the second-most NBA players on their roster in the entire Olympics, Nigeria was already drawing me in as a potential sleeper team. After upsetting Team USA in an exhibition game, I'm starting to believe they could shock some people.

I know they suffered a tough exhibition loss to Australia in blowout fashion, but with the Aussies in their group, maybe they were saving something for when the game actually counts.

Players like Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala, Gabe Vincent (all Miami Heat), Miye Oni (Utah Jazz) and Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings) have the chance to take on much more responsibility than their respective roles in the NBA. Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves) and former No. 2 overall pick Jahlil Okafor (Detroit Pistons) are both playing with a chip on their shoulder. Nigeria will also get a strong scoring forward in Milwaukee Bucks rookie Jordan Nwora once the Finals are over.

That's already an impressive roster that could make some noise in Tokyo, and Nigeria will be competing without two certified starters in OG Anunoby (Toronto Raptors) and Monte Morris (Denver Nuggets), too. Imagine if that tandem was suiting up for the Olympics as well.

The future is bright for basketball in Africa.

Leandro Fernandez (@FernandezLea): The Olympic Games will be a good opportunity to watch and appreciate some of the legends who we may not see on this stage again. Within this group, there are two players in particular who stand out: Luis Scola and Pau Gasol, both of whom will probably retire after the tournament.

Yes, a kind of The Last Dance for them.

At 41, Scola will once again put his incredible longevity on display. After all, as a 39-year-old, he averaged 17.9 points and 8.1 rebounds to guide Argentina to second place in the 2019 World Cup in China. It will be his fifth Olympics, and he will go for his third medal after winning gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008.

Pau also arrives in Tokyo at the age of 41, although he's not in quite the same situation as Scola, having taken an extended break to get the farewell that he wanted with Spain. This will also be his fifth Olympic Games, having accumulated two silvers (2008 and 2012) and a bronze (2016).

With how much both of them have meant to the game of basketball, winning another medal would be a fitting end to their legendary careers.

Agustin Aboy (@AboyAgustin): The selection of Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura to be one of Japan's flag bearers at the opening ceremony despite this being his first Olympics goes to show how important he is to Japan. Both he and his teammates face an uphill battle when it comes to medalling, but Rui's stardom and example of multiculturalism means so much more.

In general, Japan's men's basketball team hasn't had much success on this stage. This will be their first Olympic Games since 1976, they finished in last place at the 2019 World Cup and the last time they had success was 1997 when they finished second at the Asian Championship. Nonetheless, they enter the Tokyo Olympics with two young players who are probably their biggest stars ever: Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe.

If Japan beats Spain, Argentina or Luka Doncic's Slovenia, each of whom are in their group, it would be one of the biggest upsets in the history of basketball in the Olympic Games.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): There are so many intriguing storylines heading into the Olympic Games, but the one that I'm most interested in is if the Czech Republic can continue to shock the basketball world.

I was lucky enough to be courtside calling play by play for the majority of their run to a surprising sixth-place finish at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2019. I was again courtside calling play by play when they qualified for the Olympics at the last chance tournament in Victoria, B.C. In both instances, no one expected the Czech Republic to go deep, and they floored everyone by the tournament's end.

The team is led by Chicago Bulls guard Tomas Satoransky and former NBAer Jan Vessley, but the core has been together for years and has developed the chemistry needed in tournaments like this. They've been in pressure situations before and they've also grown very comfortable in the underdog role they're sure to be in most of their games in Japan.

Their head coach Ronen Ginzburg has the perfect mix of calm, risk management and basketball IQ that gives the team a true air of confidence that they can compete with anyone that's in front of them.

The Czechs have been writing basketball history in their country over the last couple of years and what a storybook ending it would be if they're able to surprise once again and come home with an Olympic medal.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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