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RIO DE JANEIRO — The United States men’s basketball team might be the most scrutinized undefeated No. 1 seed in the history of the Olympics because it has earned zero style points through pool play, grinding out ugly wins in its pretty uniforms.

It seems Team USA thought mere talent would help it glide through this tournament, but consecutive 3-point wins against Serbia and France — teams not even favored to medal — have the American basketball community concerned.

With no apparent threat to the United States for the gold medal before the tournament, this was supposed to be a sort of traveling hoop clinic by the Americans, and they breezed to wins over China and Venezuela in the opening two games.


Those are two of the worst teams in the tournament. The United States was exposed defensively by Australia in a 10-point win, pushed to the brink by Serbia, and then were flat outplayed in the second half by France, which was without perennial All-Star Tony Parker.

It is no cinch the United States will medal, let alone win gold, unless it makes some serious adjustments, something that hasn’t occurred during pool play, as coach Mike Krzyzewski simply has allowed the guys to play through their mistakes, looking ragged in the process.

Team USA’s issues are on defense, which basically has been nonexistent. Firstly, the Amercans’ opponents are well-coached and have scouted well, and realize the way to score is through extensive ball movement. Secondly, Team USA has played stretches of decent defense but then misses a switch, falls asleep on a backdoor, or doesn’t respect its opponents’ midrange shooting.

In the past three games, Team USA has been gashed for 92 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting and 61.9 percent on 2-point shots. That means opposing teams aren’t trying to beat the United States with the long ball, they are going right at its vulnerable defense, lowlighted by Kyrie Irving’s deficiencies on the pick-and-roll.


The Americans’ defense has been embarrassing in some stretches, and opposing teams are hardly daunted by this collection of NBA All-Stars. This isn’t 1992.

“We respect them anyway,” said French swingman Nicolas Batum, a member of the Charlotte Hornets. “But like I said, the basketball [around the world] has gotten better. They’re still the best in the world. They have the best players. But we just can’t step on the court and watch them because they happen to be Team USA. It was like that in 1992 for the Dream Team. Now we step on the court and want to compete and you never know what could happen in one game.

“When you’re on the court, you can’t be scared. We respect them, we step on the court and play and you never know.”

What’s become apparent on this team is a lack of leadership and Krzyzewski’s lack of familiarity with the roster. Team USA is hardly fielding its best roster. Six of the top 10 scorers in the NBA are either injured or declined invitations.

Without LeBron James or Chris Paul — Olympic veterans — the Americans lack a true floor leader and facilitator. At this point, Team USA has no one to emerge as the vocal leader. Kevin Durant does not have that type of makeup. Irving is a first-time Olympian. Carmelo Anthony, the four-time Olympian, is the most experienced, but he is mostly a spot scorer at this stage.


Irving is learning that the world has some elite point guards who play in the NBA and international coaches have noticed his struggles defending in the half court. Durant isn’t getting enough shots. One of the world’s best scorers is averaging nine shots per game, about the same as Irving. Durant attempted 35 shots in the first three games in Rio and just 10 in the past two.

The offense has been erratic, relying on prolific scoring efforts from Anthony (31 points on nine 3-pointers against Australia) and Klay Thompson (30 points against France). The Americans have been too individualistic, treating critical stretches like All-Star Games, trying to thrill the crowd with a long 3-pointer, a risky behind-the-back pass, or an alley-oop.

Meanwhile, Krzyzewski has been gentle on his team, praising the opposing team, lauding his team for its improvement from the previous game, insisting Team USA is making progress. The Americans are still waiting for that signature dominant, breakout game against a worthy international opponent.

“At times I liked our pick-and-roll defense and, at times I didn’t like our pick-and-roll defense,” Krzyzewski said after Sunday’s win over France. “I will say this: we’re not playing against a bad team. We’re playing against one of the best teams in the world. These guys are really good, and we played really well to go up double-digits a number of times. I think we can play better on the defensive end.


“The thing [what we’ve] done consistently is win. No one will ask you anything else except if you won. We’re getting better offensively and we have to get better defensively. I think we can make proper adjustments defensively to get better. Obviously, we’re going to have to play better defense, no question about that.”

Unless something dramatic occurs, Team USA will not be considered one of the all-time great Olympic teams. It will not stomp on opponents en route to gold. It will need to work hard to win gold, and that means actually making adjustments, taking the entire game seriously, and distributing the ball.

Can all of those changes be made in two days? They’re going to have to for the US to avoid an upset in this win-or-go-home knockout round, which begins Wednesday against Argentina at 5:45 p.m.

“Everyone wants us to win by a lot of points, but that’s not going to happen this time,” Durant said. “So we’ve got to be prepared for a grind-out game and I think we showed the last few games we can grind it out.”

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.