Tokyo Olympics: Team USA are right to think themselves favourites – Gobert

By Sports Desk July 24, 2021

Rudy Gobert and France may have beaten the United States at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, but the Utah Jazz center is not disputing their Olympics opponents' status as Games favourites.

France face Team USA in their opening preliminary round Group A game at Tokyo 2020 on Sunday.

Both teams are expected to advance, but the fixture will bring back painful memories for the United States, who lost 89-79 to Les Bleus in the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup.

Gobert had a game-high 16 rebounds for France in that clash and will likely be a threat up the middle again this weekend, having led the NBA in boards (980) and blocks (190) as well as field-goal percentage (67.5) in 2020-21.

Only Jayson Tatum and Khris Middleton are still on the Team USA roster – Gobert is among seven who featured in both France squads – yet the Defensive Player of the Year expects the reigning Olympic champions to have added motivation for this match.

"I think there is more and more respect for international players in the United States," Gobert said.

"But Team USA think they are the favourites and they are right. On paper, they are the team with the most strength and the most talent.

"I think they respect everyone. But at the same time, they know they are the favourites.

"I know the Americans, I think they are confident. Being first is not something they just hope for. If they don't finish first, it will be a failure for them.

"I think that's their spirit, especially after what happened in the 2019 World Cup. They are the favourites and they know it."

For France, Gobert says, the game against a team containing three of the five leading postseason points-per-game scorers – Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant and Tatum – can be a yardstick.

"We know that [USA] have exceptional players," Gobert said. "They are very proud, so they will try to do something big against us.

"For us, it's a great opportunity to see where we are as a team. Of course we want to win. But if we lose, we will still have two other games to qualify [for the] quarter-finals.

"It's our main goal. We hope we will see USA again, later in the competition.

"We had a short preparation, we didn't have many games to get ready. We want to use every game to improve ourselves."

Zach LaVine did not feature in the playoffs but is another threat to France, having improved his points average for a third straight NBA season.

The Chicago Bulls guard had 27.4 per game in 2020-21 and is relishing his Olympic bow after watching past Games triumphs as a young American fan.

"I remember watching Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the court in 2008 when I was a little kid in the sixth grade, yelling their names, and now I'm in the same position," LaVine said.

"Just to see the smiles on people's faces, how you affect them [with] what you do.

"It's a big thing and I take pride in that. I just want to set the right example of who I am and what I represent."

Related items

  • Rudy Gobert talks title aspirations after huge Timberwolves trade Rudy Gobert talks title aspirations after huge Timberwolves trade

    Rudy Gobert insists the Minnesota Timberwolves will not be happy "just to be a good team", having left the Utah Jazz in pursuit of an NBA title.

    The Timberwolves gave up a huge haul – including three unprotected future first-round draft picks – to take Gobert from the Jazz.

    The three-time Defensive Player of the Year now joins two former first overall selections in Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards.

    Gobert "fits perfectly" in the Minnesota lineup, coach Chris Finch says, and the incoming center has lofty aspirations.

    Although the Timberwolves have not won a playoff series since 2004, making the postseason only twice in that time, Gobert is looking to take his new team all the way.

    "The goal is to win a championship," Gobert said. "I came here for that.

    "I didn't come here just to be a good team; I came here to try to take this team to the Finals and accomplish that."

    The Frenchman suggested such aims were no longer realistic with the Jazz, where he spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career.

    Utah were a far more regular playoff outfit, reaching the postseason in six straight years, but they never got beyond the second round and were facing an offseason of change even before Gobert's departure, with coach Quinn Snyder quitting.

    "The window for winning is not always big," Gobert explained. "For us in Utah, that's kind of what happened.

    "I think the organisation felt like that. We had maybe passed that window that we had over the last few years.

    "I think it's still going to be a very competitive team. It just felt like with all the assets that they could get for me, it was better for them to go that way."

  • Josh Giddey collects triple-double in Oklahoma City Thunder's Summer League win Josh Giddey collects triple-double in Oklahoma City Thunder's Summer League win

    Oklahoma City Thunder second-year standout Josh Giddey posted a triple-double in his side's 87-71 win against the Memphis Grizzlies in Wednesday's Summer League action.

    Giddey, who at 19 years old is still younger than team-mate and newly acquired second overall pick Chet Holmgren, was in total control against a Grizzlies team consisting of players battling for the last few roster spots.

    He finished with 14 points on seven-of-15 shooting, with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

    Holmgren could not match his incredible debut where he set the Summer League record with six blocks, but he still found a way to contribute despite shooting three-of-11 from the field. He scored 12 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, dished three assists and blocked two shots.

    The seven-foot-one, 195-pound rookie was locked in a tantalising matchup against the Grizzlies' Kenny Lofton Jr, who measures in at six-foot-six and 290 pounds. Lofton's massive weight advantage provided a glimpse into the potential struggles Holmgren will face early in his career as he was physically pushed around at times on Lofton's way to 19 points on eight-of-17 shooting.

    The Thunder's other two lottery picks were also serviceable, with Jalen Williams hitting all three of his three-point attempts on his way to 16 points, two assists and two steals, while the six-foot-11 Ousmane Dieng hit two-of-five from long range and collected a couple of assists.

    Later in the day, the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Utah Jazz 86-82 in a game where Charles Bassey made his case as the back-up center behind Joel Embiid.

    Bassey, the 76ers' second-round pick from the 2021 NBA Draft, scored 17 points (seven-of-12 shooting), grabbed nine rebounds and snatched four steals as he made the most of his seven-foot-three wingspan.

    For the Jazz, there were signs of life from Bruno Caboclo – the man who became famous for being called "two years away from being two years away" by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla when he was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

    Caboclo was out of the league this past season, but at six-foot-nine with a ridiculous seven-foot-seven wingspan, and an improved three-point stroke, the 26-year-old has a chance to make another run at sticking in the NBA after stuffing the stat sheet.

    He scored 16 points with six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks – although he did commit five turnovers and seven personal fouls.

  • Williamson out to prove he is a winner by helping New Orleans Pelicans to NBA title Williamson out to prove he is a winner by helping New Orleans Pelicans to NBA title

    Zion Williamson received the ultimate present on his 22nd birthday. 

    As a thank you, he wants to deliver a championship to the New Orleans Pelicans. 

    Williamson officially signed his five-year, $231million rookie max extension with the Pelicans at a YMCA in New Orleans where he was hosting a camp.  

    He signed the deal on Wednesday, the same day he turned 22, and sitting alongside Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon, executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin and coach Willie Green, Williamson – not surprisingly – said this is the number one birthday he has ever had. 

    "For the Pelicans to give me this birthday gift, I'm not going to let them down," Williamson said. 

    A year ago on his birthday, Williamson found out he broke his foot forcing him to miss the entire 2021-22 season. Now that he has been cleared to play, he has lofty goals. 

    "I want to prove that I'm a winner, it's as simple as that," he said. "The ultimate goal is to win a championship. And I feel like that's what we're all striving for." 

    The Pelicans made the playoffs this past season without Williamson and took the No. 1 seed Phoenix Suns to six games before being ousted. 

    With Williamson in the fold, the hope is he can help the franchise take the next step. 

    "It's gonna all come together at some point throughout the course of the season," Green said. "And when it does, I think we can be a scary team."

    Williamson has only appeared in a mere 85 games since being the top pick of the 2019 NBA draft, but he has been outstanding when healthy, averaging 25.7 points, 7 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting just over 60 per cent. 

    Since his rookie season, Williamson has been instrumental to New Orleans' success. The Pelicans have won 47.1 per cent of their games while averaging 116.4 points in the 85 games Williamson has played, compared to winning 40.4 per cent of the games and an average of 111.1 points in the contests he has missed.  

    "Adding [Zion] back on the court with the group that we have is going to be a lot of fun but also really dangerous for the entire league and all of the 29 teams that have to face us night in and night out," Langdon said. "We are incredibly excited about that."

    Suiting up alongside Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, Williamson gives the Pelicans another scoring threat making the offense even more dangerous. New Orleans' offense thrived after acquiring McCollum last February, averaging 115.9 points after the trade compared to an average of 105.9 points in their first 54 games. 

    "We have an opportunity to be able to run toward sustained success for quite a long time," Griffin said. "We're young, we're talented, and most importantly – we are very hungry." 

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.