France vs. USA Basketball Odds, Preview, Prediction: How to Bet Olympic Basketball Opener (July 25)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard.
France vs. USA Odds
|Time||8 a.m. ET|
|Odds as of Friday and via DraftKings.|
We finally made it to the Tokyo Olympics, and it’s time for Team USA to play some basketball.
The men’s team has had a rocky journey. Already the team has lost Bradley Beal and Kevin Love, replaced by Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee. Zach LaVine and Jerami Grant were in COVID protocol but have safely rejoined the team. Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Devin Booker arrived on Saturday to Tokyo after wrapping up a long Finals.
The Americans played four exhibition games. They lost the first two, including a stunning opening loss to Nigeria, the first-ever Team USA men’s hoops loss to any African nation. Three of the four exhibition games were close late, and a team that was once a prohibitive favorite for gold has seen its odds dwindle.
Still, USA is heavily favored to win gold at -320 on DraftKings. That’s an implied 74.4% chance of victory, and the quest for gold starts Sunday morning against a tough veteran French team. This is a group game, so it’s not win-or-go-home, but these are the top two teams in Group A, and the winner is virtually guaranteed to go through to the knockout, putting them effectively three wins from gold.
So will the American struggles continue, or is Team USA ready now that the real games are here?
France is a Solid Veteran Challenger
France is no pushover. This team is No. 7 in the FIBA rankings, and they’ve been quite good over the past decade. In five of their six major non-Olympic tournaments this decade, France has finished in the top three — but the French finished a disappointing sixth in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Most of that core remains, including head coach Vincent Collet, though you won’t see Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, or Boris Diaw this summer.
Even so, the anchor of this team remains Rudy Gobert, and Gobert is awesome, even moreso in international play where the paint is expanded and where players are allowed to legally swat the ball off the rim in what would normally be offensive goaltending.
Gobert is coming off his best season ever and led the Utah Jazz to the best record in the league with eye-splitting advanced metrics. NBA teams can sometimes play Gobert’s drop defense off the court, but that’s not the case in international ball.
He is a major defensive force, and he’ll also control the glass, especially against a small American team that features Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green at center. Neither of those two can shoot enough to pull Gobert out of his comfort zone in the paint, and both could struggle to defend the lob too. If Gobert can stay out of foul trouble, he’ll be a problem.
On offense, the French will look to Evan Fournier and Nando de Colo for much of their scoring. Fournier had an outstanding season for the Magic and then Celtics, and de Colo never really made it in the NBA but is one of the best basketball players in Europe. Either of those two can get hot and knock down 3s in a hurry.
Nic Batum will man the wing, and he’s about as good an option as any international team has at defending Kevin Durant. Batum had a terrific playoff run with the Clippers and adds versatility and playmaking. France will use Andre Albicy and Thomas Huertel to create offense, while Frank Ntilikina and Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot are familiar bench options.
France is good and absolutely capable of beating the Americans. And you better believe Gregg Popovich and Team USA know it — don’t forget, France eliminated the Americans by double digits in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Pop, Middleton, and Jayson Tatum were there for that one, so you know they’ll be ready for the fight here.
And while the Americans have struggled heading into the Olympics, so has France. The French went 0-3 in July warm-up games, with an ugly loss to Japan with basically the full roster playing, plus two losses to Spain.
Still, France is a veteran team that’s played a lot of international ball together. Fournier, de Colo, and Gobert combined to score 61 of France’s 89 points in that 2019 World Cup win. That trio will be the key for France.
Team USA Awaits Needed Reinforcements
It looks like the Americans will have their full 12-man roster together in Japan by Sunday tip, but I remain quite skeptical that Holiday, Middleton, or Booker will play a serious role.
That trio is surely exhausted after a long playoff run, with two of them adding some celebration to the mix too, and they’ll arrive in Tokyo Saturday with a 14-hour time difference, jet lag, and zero practice or game time with their new team. USA plays Iran in its second game. That’s the time to integrate these three.
That could matter in this game, because the two areas USA has always rated far ahead of its international competition are depth and athletic wings. The best opponents can hang with the American starters, but no international team has a bench that measures up, while the Americans can typically bring in five more All-Stars. That probably won’t be the case in this game, and the wing depth is compromised too.
It does look like LaVine should be good to go, so that likely means he’ll start in the back court with Damian Lillard, with Tatum and Durant getting the forward minutes and either Adebayo or Green playing center. If that Finals trio is limited or missing, that leaves just Jerami Grant, Keldon Johnson, and two centers on the bench. So much for that depth advantage.
The American roster was built with shooters and ball scorers in mind, and this is a team that has the potential to pour in a ton of points in a hurry when the shots are falling. Durant, Dame, LaVine, and Tatum can all catch fire, and especially with the shorter international 3-point line, expect them to be bombing early and often. If Team USA gets hot, it can blow out any team.
The question is what happens when the shots don’t fall. Shot variance can be a killer, especially in a one-game setting. While the Americans have plenty of shot makers, they don’t have as many creators. If things get tight, it’s easy to see this devolving into a bunch of individuals playing iso ball.
The defense is also a question mark. In our Olympic hoops podcast preview, the three of us agreed that Jrue Holiday is a huge addition to this team because of his point of attack defense on the perimeter. The rest of the perimeter defense is quite suspect and got lit up in those exhibition games. Team USA dare not let Fournier or de Colo catch fire.
The Americans are more talented, deeper, and more athletic, but that gap is not as big as it once was. Team USA is still the best in Tokyo, but they’re also vulnerable.
If you feel good about Team USA, you have to like this spot. You figure the Americans will want to make a statement, especially against a team that’ll certainly have its attention after that World Cup defeat. These guys know how good Gobert and Fournier are. They know they need to show up.
If you like Team USA, you say thank you for how this line has dropped a few points from some meaningless exhibition games and trust the Americans to cover the 12-point spread. There’s an obvious script for this game where Team USA comes out guns blazing, with Durant, Dame, and LaVine each hitting treys early, and suddenly USA is up 19-5 and coasting to victory. That’s definitely a possible outcome here.
Far more outcomes see this game close deep into the second half. The Americans haven’t shown a gear to put away teams yet, and the international game is just 40 minutes. That’s less time to pull away, less time for talent to win out, less time to right shooting variance gone wrong.
Three of four USA warm-ups were close late, and that’s the most likely case for this game too. And if it’s close, you have to feel France is being undervalued at +450 on the moneyline. That’s just an 18% implied chance of victory, and the Americans simply haven’t proven worthy of an 82% favorite against a really good team yet.
But there’s a better play, if you’re betting France. The new groups are just four deep, with head-to-head record the first tiebreaker. If France does pull off the upset, the French will be a massive group favorite, especially with a sure-thing win against Iran on the horizon. If you like France to win at +450, you have to love their Group A chances at +750, an implied 11.8% chance.
If these teams played 15 times, do you really think France would win only twice? That’s the odds we’re getting, and I don’t buy it. I think France wins at least four or five games in that scenario, maybe more, and that means we’re getting serious odds in our favor.
If you like the Americans or just want to stay patriotic, by all means, be grateful for the lower line and play for the cover.
I’m a numbers guy, and these numbers mean I have to ride with France. They have the right mix of paint dominance (Gobert), guard scoring (Fournier and de Colo), and veteran know-how to give Team USA all it can handle.
Pick: France to win Group A (+750 at DraftKings)