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2020 Olympic Betting Preview: Men’s Basketball

by July 15, 2021

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be providing comprehensive betting previews for every major event ahead of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, which will run from July 23 – August 8. This edition focuses on the men’s basketball competition, which will be held July 25 – August 7 at the Saitama Super Arena.

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo got a lot more interesting in recent weeks. Team USA, the clear favorite to win gold in men’s basketball, has struggled in exhibition play. The Americans fell to Australia and Nigeria, suggesting that things could be closer at these Olympics than many anticipated.

While Team USA remains sizeable favorites to win gold, America’s success seems much less certain than it did just a few weeks ago. As a result, betting value abounds if you’re bold enough to bet against Team USA.

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Schedule of Events

July 25
Group A
Iran vs. Czech Republic
France vs. United States

Group B
Germany vs. Italy
Australia vs. Nigeria

July 26
Group C
Argentina vs. Slovenia
Japan vs. Spain

July 28
Group A
United States vs. Iran
Czech Republic vs. France

Group B
Nigeria vs. Germany
Italy vs. Australia

July 29
Group C
Slovenia vs. Japan
Spain vs. Argentina

July 31
Group A
United States vs. Czech Republic
France vs. Iran

Group B
Italy vs. Nigeria
Australia vs. Germany

August 1
Group C
Argentina vs. Japan
Spain vs. Slovenia

August 3

August 5

August 7
Gold Medal Game
Bronze Medal Game

2016 Results

(Source: Wikipedia)

Why Should I Bet On This?

Last year, the NBA bubble graced us with basketball in August. This year, the NBA finals will have run their course before then. Fortunately, we’ll still get to see some NBA stars in action because of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Although the United States enters as a heavy betting favorite, their struggles in exhibition play have made their lines less juicy. Those struggles have also pointed to high-value underdogs elsewhere. Since sportsbooks don’t have as much data to set their lines as they do with NBA games, bettors may have an easier time finding value as long as they know where to look.

5 Things You Absolutely Need to Know

1. This Isn’t Your Dad’s Team USA
In 1992, Team USA won gold with all-time greats like Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley. Since then, Team USA has won gold in six of their seven Olympic appearances. The one failure, which came in 2004, led to a revitalization of Team USA’s approach — from 2006 to 2019, the squad won 58-straight games.

But then the 2019 FIBA World Cup happened. Team USA lost to France in the quarterfinals of that tournament, and instead of bouncing back with a win in the consolation bracket, the squad fell to Serbia. Team USA finished seventh in the tournament.

Team USA’s once-unblemished record now looks, well, pedestrian. The squad has gone just 10-5 under new head coach Gregg Popovich, including exhibition losses to Australia and Nigeria earlier this month. With Team USA reeling from recent losses to three Olympic-bound teams (Serbia didn’t qualify), a gold medal seems anything but guaranteed.

2. Tournament Structure
The twelve qualifying teams have been randomly split into three groups of four, and they’ll play each group member once. A total of eight teams will move on to the next round. To advance, teams must finish top-two in their grouping or as one of the two-best third-ranked teams.

The four best advancing teams will enter the knockout stage as seeded squads; the bottom four will enter without assigned seeds. As a result, a random drawing will determine the quarterfinal matchups. That means a first-seeded Team USA could face the tournament’s fifth-best squad in the quarterfinals.

This structure means that one team that fails to win their grouping will enter the knockout stage as a seeded squad anyway. That’s important to note given the group assignments — two of the tournament’s best teams, the United States and France, are both in Group A.

3. Team-by-Team Grouping
To fully understand who benefits from the tournament structure, let’s look at the grouping assignments for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

No grouping appears any more stacked than the others. In Group A, Team USA and France should finish one-two. In Group C, Spain, the reigning FIBA Champions, should advance. The reigning FIBA runner-up, Argentina, should also advance — although Luka Dončić and Slovenia could play spoiler and finish second.

Group B is the hardest to predict. The Boomers of Australia, who finished fourth in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, should win this grouping. That said, second place is a true toss-up. None of Nigeria, Italy, or Germany qualified for knockout play at the FIBA tournament, so it's hard to evaluate their squads. Nigeria looked excellent in exhibition play until their 39-point loss to Australia. Germany has a decent roster but may not have Dennis Schröder, their best player. Ultimately, the slight edge goes to Italy for finishing 10th in 2019's World Cup, beating out Nigeria (17th) and Germany (18th).

If I had to guess which teams will advance, I'd take the United States and France from Group A, Australia, Italy, and Nigeria from Group B, and Spain and Slovenia from Group C. Either the Czech Republic or Argentina will take the final spot. I also suspect that the United States, Australia, Spain, and France will earn top-four seeds heading into the knockout stage.

4. FIBA Rules aren't NBA Rules
If you watched Team USA's exhibition play, you probably noticed Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal stare down officials after no-calls. That's because FIBA officiating differs from NBA officiating — players are far less likely to draw touch fouls on offense, and they'll get called for charging more often.

Also, defensive three-second violations don't exist in international play. That means big men like Rudy Gobert can sit in the paint without fear of a whistle, allowing them to stymie their opponents' interior offense. They can also swat balls away from the rim without fear of a goaltending call, too.

The rule differences increase the advantage that size affords a team, which could be a problem for small-ball squads like Team USA.

5. Patty Mills turns into James Harden in FIBA
I don't know what happens to Patty Mills whenever he dons his native Australia's colors, but I do know that it's fun to watch.

Mills scored a team-high 22 points against Team USA in their exhibition matchup, beating his NBA head coach, Popovich, in the process. He did so while recording a pair of rebounds and four assists. Only Damian Lillard scored that many points for the Americans, but he was much less active in the passing game than Mills.

I bring Mills up for two reasons. First, you shouldn't evaluate players in international games based on their NBA performance. Mills, who is very much a role player in San Antonio, gets asked to do much more for the Australians. Likewise, American stars including Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, and Bam Adebayo may approach the game differently in a stacked lineup.

Second, Mills and the Boomers will play Team USA in another exhibition game on Friday, July 16. The Americans will also have to play Spain in another friendly on Sunday, July 18, and both of these games could swing the betting odds considerably. Monitor the lines closely as the opening ceremony approaches.

Team Previews: Group A

United States (Gold: -425 at DK Sportsbook, Group A: -3500 at FD Sportsbook)

Notable Players: Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Draymond Green — basically, the whole roster.

Strengths: Shooting, talent.

Weaknesses: Size, FIBA rules, chemistry.

Betting Outlook: Team USA's stacked roster makes them the clear favorite to win the gold medal. If you're hoping to bet on the Americans, you're better off at FD Sportsbook, where the line sits at a friendlier (but still unfriendly) -370. That said, they've shown us quite a few red flags in exhibition play, and the dragging NBA finals mean that they may not play a game at full strength until the Olympics begin. Bradley Beal's health may complicate things at guard, and the team's lack of a true big at center (Bam Adebayo measures 6-foot-9) could become an issue against bigger lineups.

UPDATE: Team USA replaced Kevin Love and Bradley Beal with Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee. Johnson gives them some much-needed passion, while the 7-foot McGee gives them a true big man to use at the five. Also, Zach LaVine entered the health and safety protocols on Monday, and he didn't fly with the team to Tokyo on Monday. 

Isaiah's Advice: The current betting lines don't point to much value, but they could get worse. If Team USA knocks off Australia or Spain in their next two friendlies, expect this line to edge closer to -1000. On the other hand, if Team USA loses those matches, the adjusted betting odds would probably continue to overestimate the team's ability. As a result, you should get your bets in now if you expect Team USA to win gold.

UPDATE: The line for Team USA to win gold now sits at -310 on FD Sportsbook. The squad's comeback win over Spain should give bettors some confidence, but the fact that they'll add Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker, and Khris Middleton so late in the process could complicate rotations. As a result, I'm still avoiding Team USA.

France (Gold: +1500, Group A: +750)

Notable Players: Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier.

Strengths: Size, chemistry, defense.

Weaknesses: Three-point shooting.

Betting Outlook: The French bring back the starting five that knocked off Team USA in 2019. Anchored by the 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert, the French national team features a trio of seven-footers, tying them with Spain for the most. That size advantage allowed France to out-rebound Team USA 44 to 28 in 2019, and that's a big advantage for the French in group play. Currently, the Americans' game plan for challenging Gobert revolves around the versatile-but-aging Kevin Love, but he has yet to make a shot in Team USA's exhibition games. That said, while the French should succeed in Group A, they may not have the shooting necessary to win gold. They fell to Argentina in the FIBA World Cup in 2019 and to Spain in pre-Olympic friendlies earlier this month due to offensive inefficiency.

UPDATE: Kevin Love withdrew from the 2020 Olympic Games. The United States added a true big, JaVale McGee, who could challenge Gobert for rebounds — or the United States could opt for a small-ball lineup anchored by Draymond Green. 

Isaiah's Advice: France is a high-value contrarian pick right now. They probably won't win gold, but they could upset Team USA again in the preliminary rounds, and that would almost certainly propel them to a Group A victory. If you share my confidence in France, you can take them as moneyline winners against Team USA at DK Sportsbook at +750. That way, they could stumble against the Czech Republic or Iran and still make you a profit. However, if you're feeling more cautious, you can also buy them as 15.5-point underdogs (-115) instead.

UPDATE: With how long the NBA Finals have dragged on, taking France to cover against the United States as 13.5-point underdogs (-110 at DK Sportsbook) on July 25 seems like a virtual lock. Their moneyline odds have risen to +650, but that line still offers plenty of value, too. It's also worth noting that their odds to win gold have jumped from +1900 to +1500 in the last four days.

Czech Republic (Gold: +10000, Group A: +1800)

Notable Players: Tomas Satoranský, Jan Veselý.

Strengths: Size, passing.

Weaknesses: Shooting.

Betting outlook: Once upon a time, the Washington Wizards took Jan Veselý with the sixth overall pick. The seven-footer made headlines by calling Blake Griffin the "American Jan Veselý," but he ultimately flamed out of the association after an underwhelming three-year career. Veselý is one of two seven-footers on the Czech roster and one of two players with NBA experience. The other, Tomas Satoranský, helped propel the Czechs to a sixth-place finish at the 2019 World Cup with his passing.

Isaiah's Advice: Despite ultimately finishing ahead of them, the Czech Republic fell to Team USA in the 2019 World Cup by 21 points. They're unlikely to advance as a top-two squad, as they would have to best either France or the United States to accomplish that. However, they could be a smart pick to cover against Team USA when that line gets posted. The Americans got seven rebounds and two blocks from Myles Turner in their 2019 victory over the Czechs, and their lack of size without him could keep things closer this go-round.

Iran (Gold: +50000, Group A: +6500)

Notable Players: N/A.

Strengths: Size.

Weaknesses: Experience, talent.

Betting Outlook: Iran finished 23rd in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, but that performance qualified them for the 2020 Summer Olympics because they finished as the top team from FIBA Asia. Their 2-3 record in group play tied them with China, but their advantage in point differential (+7 to -10) secured them the bid. Iran's men's basketball team is the only Olympic squad without an NBA player, a disadvantage that their pair of seven-footers won't be able to compensate for.

Isaiah's Advice: Don't bet on Iran.

Team Previews: Group B

Australia (Gold: +750, Group B: -215)

Notable Players: Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle, Aron Baynes.

Strengths: Three-point shooting, chemistry, motivation.

Weaknesses: Size.

Betting Outlook: The Australian Boomers are riding high off a series of exhibition wins. After taking down Team USA by an eight-point margin, they bested the Nigerian squad by 39 points — despite resting their starters! This team's strength lies in their perimeter shooting — the Aussies went 10-for-24 from long range against the Americans and 18-for-29 against the Nigerians. Unfortunately, what they have in accuracy, they lack in size. The team has one NBA-caliber big, Aron Baynes, who is coming off a terrible professional season (he also hurt his knee against Team USA, although the injury doesn't appear serious). They'll need Baynes, Jock Landale, and Nic Kay to best taller players if they want a shot at the gold.

Isaiah's Advice: If Team USA falters, the Aussies are a great candidate to win gold. Also, if their play against Nigeria is any indication, they should handily win Group B. The Italians don't have the size to capitalize on their weaknesses, and Germany probably won't have the talent needed to pose a threat challenge. I recommend that you buy Australia to win Group B (-215) before FD Sportsbook moves the line.

Italy (Gold: +4500, Group B: +600)

Notable Players: Danilo Gallinari.

Strengths: Shooting, chemistry.

Weaknesses: Size, depth.

Betting Outlook: Gallinari is riding high off a strong playoff run with the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-10 stretch four is the second-biggest player on Italy's roster, and rebounding could become a problem for them. Gallinari is exactly as tall as the team's one true center, Amedeo Tessitori. Italy's two losses in the 2019 FIBA World Cup came against bigger teams — Serbia out-rebounded them 35-27, and Spain out-rebounded them 43-36.

Isaiah's Advice: The Italians lucked out and landed in the tournament's shortest group. None of their rivals have a seven-foot big, and only the Germans and Australians have a single taller player. They don't have the talent behind Gallinari to go on a gold-medal run, but they could upset Australia for the group title. That said, I wouldn't bet on it. Expect Italy to advance before losing against a bigger team like Spain or France in the quarterfinals.

Nigeria (Gold: +5000, Group B: +420)

Notable Players: Josh Okogie, Jahlil Okafor, Precious Aichuwa, Gabe Vincent, Jordan Nwora, KZ Okpala.

Strengths: Three-point shooting, motivation.

Weaknesses: Experience.

Betting Outlook: Mike Brown's Nigerian national team is exciting. On the one hand, they boast eight current NBA players, the second-most in the tournament behind only Team USA. On the other, all of those players were born in 1995 or later, and they've combined for only 252 professional starts (92% of which belong to Jahlil Okafor and Josh Okogie). While that inexperience may have contributed to their 39-point loss to Australia, let's not forget that they topped Team USA by a three-point margin after going 20-for-42 from deep.

Isaiah's Advice: I wouldn't be surprised to see Nigeria finish on the podium. I also wouldn't be surprised if they failed to advance. They have the raw talent necessary to make a deep run, but their success will depend on Mike Brown's ability to coach it out of them. They're at least as good of a bet to win Group B as the Italians, but the hype following their upset of Team USA has made them a less valuable pick.

Germany (Gold: +10000, Group B: +900)

Notable Players: Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Dennis Schröder (?).

Strengths: Size.

Weaknesses: Experience, shooting, talent.

Betting Outlook: Germany's odds hinge on whether a deal to get Dennis Schröder on the court can get sorted out. That's difficult, as the talented point guard will enter free agency in the NBA, and insuring him in case of an injury could prove tricky. That's the hangup keeping him off the court for a German squad lacking talent at guard without him. That said, Germany finished a disappointing 18th despite Schröder's tournament-best 9.4 assists per game in the 2019 World Cup, so they may not pose much of a threat even with him out there.

UPDATE: Dennis Schröder will not compete in this year's Olympics.

Isaiah's Advice: Don't bet on Germany without Schröder.

Team Previews: Group C

Spain (Gold: +1000, Group C: -130)

Notable Players: Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Juan Hernangómez, Willy Hernangómez.

Strengths: Chemistry, passing, size.

Weaknesses: Three-point shooting.

Betting Outlook: Spain won the 2019 FIBA World Cup behind a tournament-MVP performance from point guard Ricky Rubio. Rubio and center Marc Gasol both won All-Star honors, making them the only two players from the same team to do so. Spain has finished no worse than third in the last three Olympics, including a pair of second-place showings in 2008 and 2012. Their third-place finish in 2016 can be blamed on an unlucky draw, too — they faced Team USA in the semifinals, not the finals. Spain enters the tournament with the same starting five from their 2019 FIBA win as well. Like France, they've got a trio of seven-footers: small forward Victor Claver and the two Gasol brothers.

Isaiah's Advice: Like France, Spain is capable of exploiting Team USA's size disadvantage. In 2016, the Americans needed a 16-rebound performance from 6-foot-11 DeAndre Jordan to top the Spanish. I doubt that any American player can record similar numbers in this tournament. Spain has a better shot at winning gold than Australia, but Slovenia could be a problem for them in the preliminary rounds — they topped Spain by 20 points in the semifinals of the 2017 EuroBasket championship. If you think that they can avenge that defeat now that Slovenia doesn't have Goran Dragić, go ahead and take them to win Group C; otherwise, I would just pick them to finish on the podium or win gold.

UPDATE: Spain got out to an early lead and played the United States close, but a strong third-quarter performance from Keldon Johnson gave the Americans the win. That said, they still outrebounded the United States by 42-29. That could help them win in a rematch should these two squads meet again.

Slovenia (Gold: +2000, Group C: +200)

Notable Players: Luka Dončić.

Strengths: Luka Dončić.

Weaknesses: Depth.

Betting Outlook: Slovenia won the 2017 EuroBasket championship with the powerful combination of Goran Dragić and Luka Dončić. Both players earned All-Tournament Team honors. Unfortunately, Dragić has retired from international play, and his brother, Zoran, will start at the one for Slovenia. While the team looked good in qualifying play, Doncic had to triple-double against Lithuania (and he came up one assist short against Venezuela) for them to win. Slovenia's hopes will live and die with the 22-year-old superstar, and opposing defenses will know that coming into each game.

Isaiah's Advice: Like Nigeria, it's hard to peg where exactly the Slovenians will finish. They could top the Spanish as they did in 2017, or they could fail to advance if Spain wins and Dončić struggles against Argentina. While their odds of winning gold are slightly worse than the French, I'm skeptical of their chances without Goran Dragić, and I'm out on them for that market. That said, an upset win over Spain could propel them to a Group C victory. If you're feeling more conservative, taking them to cover the spread against Spain should be a smart play.

Argentina (Gold: +5000, Group C: +520)

Notable Players: Luis Scola, Facundo Campazzo, Gabriel Deck.

Strengths: Shooting, chemistry.

Weaknesses: Size.

Betting Outlook: The Argentinians are trending in the wrong direction. After their second-place finish at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, they've lost a pair of exhibition games to the United States and Nigeria. That said, it's unclear as to whether this is a signal or just noise. On the one hand, Argentina sits at an impressive fourth in the FIBA world rankings, and this lineup did beat Nigeria, Serbia, and France just two years ago. On the other hand, their offense depends upon 41-year-old Luis Scola, and they don't have much size — their biggest starter is just 6-foot-10. Team USA out-rebounded Argentina by 40-34 in exhibition play, and Spain did so by 47-27 in the FIBA championship.

Isaiah's Advice: I'm staying away from Argentina. Landing in the same group as Spain was unlucky, and advancement will hinge upon how well they play against Slovenia. They'll need a win to finish second or a strong performance to secure the tiebreaker over the Czech Republic. I wouldn't bet on Argentina to do much this year.

Japan (Gold: +30000, Group C: +4000)

Notable Players: Rui Hachimura, Yuta Watanabe.

Strengths: Home-court advantage.

Weaknesses: Size, shooting, experience.

Betting Outlook: Japan boasts the tournament's shortest player, 5-foot-6 Yuki Togashi. Their tallest players, Yuta and Hugh Watanabe, stand at 6-foot-10 (Rui Hachimura is 6-foot-9). While they have the size to challenge a team like Argentina, they don't have the experience or the shooting ability necessary to be a serious contender. Japan went 0-5 at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, losing to Turkey, the Czech Republic, the United States, New Zealand, and Montenegro. They finished 31st out of 32 teams.

Isaiah's Advice: Don't bet on Japan.

Top Betting Picks

To Win Gold: Australia (+750) or Spain (+1000)
To Win Group A: France (+750)
To Win Group B: Australia (-215)
To Win Group C: Spain (-130)

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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

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