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USA basketball takeaways: The Tokyo Olympics show the world hasn’t caught up just yet

Both the USA men's and women's teams faced adversity early before bringing home gold medals.

Kevin Durant (7) led the USA men's team in scoring during the Olympics.
Kevin Durant (7) led the USA men's team in scoring during the Olympics.Read moreToni L. Sandys

Kevin Durant had something to say after the USA men’s basketball team won its fourth straight gold medal. He wanted to say it so bad that he went live on Instagram before he even walked to his postgame press conference.

“They had some power rankings out, they had us fourth behind Slovenia,” Durant said. “Talking about they catching up to us. Are you serious? This skill is unmatched.”

The murmurs were there after both Team USA squads lost exhibition games. The critics were louder for the men (5-1) after they lost their Olympics opener. The women (6-0) responded to their exhibition losses by defeating Tokyo opponents by an average of 16 points.

With the number of NBA players on each team, it’s evident that the world is getting closer to the men’s side. Still, only Team USA can send out a 12-man roster with nine All-Stars.

The critics saying that the world had caught up got a little ahead of themselves. That motivation fueled players. Don’t think so? Just look at how Draymond Green called out everyone who spoke negatively on the men’s team.

The parting thought may have been that the world has a ways to go to catch the women, and even though they’re getting closer, the men are still superior. That was one takeaway, here are four others.

Kevin Durant was the recipe

Gregg Popovich knew. Before the Olympics, he told media members that he would have begged Durant to join the team if he said no to the Tokyo invite.

Durant was the most consistent USA player. He carried the squad at times. Standing out in a group of All-Stars just shows how elite Durant is. In Team USA’s last three gold medal games, he has scored 30, 30 and 29. With James Harden, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Paul George not playing, it was Durant who earned the Captain America nickname.

Talent gap is bigger in women’s game

This point was made earlier, but here’s why that is the case: The WNBA is the top level. Only seven other countries had WNBA talent. Canada and Spain had three players and Australia, who beat USA in an exhibition, sent five. But Australia’s roster was also without WNBA star Liz Cambage. Aside from the U.S., those were the lone rosters to send multiple WNBA players.

Meanwhile, USA sent so much talent that it turned down former WNBA MVPs Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. On top of possessing advanced skill, USA was taller, faster and stronger than opponents. The average U.S. starter’s height was 6-2 compared to Japan’s 5-9 in the gold medal game.

Damian Lillard wasn’t himself

In each USA men’s win, a player stepped up to assist Durant. Sometimes it was Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday and more. One player whose performance wasn’t as elite as expected was Damian Lillard. He averaged 11.2 points, shot 38% from the field and 34.8% from three. However, it was later revealed that Lillard played with an abdomen injury. If healthy, Lillard may have been that consistent No. 2 scorer the U.S. was missing.

Passing of the torch

Who is ready to take the torch for USA basketball?

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are now the only five-time gold medalist in basketball. Despite Taurasi’s tempting comments, both are likely done. If so, the game is in good hands. Breanna Stewart (26), A’ja Wilson (25) and Brittney Griner (30) were arguably USA’s best players and each should have another run in them. Losing guards like Taurasi and Bird will be tough, but the USA has a boatload of options. Chelsea Gray and Skylar Diggins-Smith could be back, and former No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu isn’t too far away from the big stage. The next run will be for a record-breaking eighth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

The men’s side may want Durant to give it another run in France. He’ll be 35 at the time. If Durant is done, the 2024 Paris Olympics will be even more intriguing. However, there’s no need to worry. Elite scorers Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Zach LaVine will still be under 30. Along with the aforementioned wings, names like De’Aaron Fox, Ja Morant, Trae Young and LaMelo Ball could give the next team a better set of playmakers.