Basketball 101: What's happened since the Tokyo Olympics?

Victor Wembanyama, the 2023 No. 1 overall draft pick of the San Antonio Spurs, should feature heavily for the France men's basketball team at the Paris Olympics. (Usa Today Sports, Jerome Miron)

For USA Basketball, the past several years have seen coaching changes, a disappointing result for the men, and the retirement of one of the greatest women's players ever. Make no mistake, though, the United States remains the team to beat at the Olympics.

But a gold medal is not a foregone conclusion, particularly on the men's side, as other countries have gotten stronger and several foreign NBA stars are likely to be leading their teams in Paris.

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Below are some of the biggest storylines from the world of basketball that will have an impact on the men's and women's tournaments at the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games.

New head coaches take over for USA Basketball

For the second straight Olympics, a new coach will head the U.S. men's basketball team. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took over the squad ahead of the last Games, leading Team USA to a fourth straight gold medal in Tokyo. In December 2021, USA Basketball appointed Steve Kerr as the head coach for the current Olympic cycle.

Kerr, who served as an assistant coach on Popovich's staff at the last Olympics, has won four NBA titles as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. His presence could also raise the odds that Warriors guard Stephen Curry opts to join the Olympic team for the first time in his career.

The women's team also has a new head coach for this Olympic cycle. After Dawn Staley led the U.S. women to a seventh straight gold medal at the Tokyo Games, Cheryl Reeve has taken the reins. Reeve, the longtime coach of the Minnesota Lynx, has won four WNBA titles. She also has plenty of experience with USA Basketball, having served as an assistant coach at each of the last two Olympic Games.

U.S. men ready to move past World Cup disappointment

With many of the country's biggest stars opting out of the tournament, the United States finished in fourth place at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, leaving the competition empty-handed for the second straight time. Germany won gold after going undefeated throughout the tournament, Serbia took silver, and Canada nabbed bronze. All three countries qualified for Paris as a result.

In light of that disappointment, reports emerged that Lebron James was interested in playing for Team USA for the 2024 Olympics. He's also reportedly been in touch with other top names about joining him in Paris, raising the possibility of this upcoming roster being one of the best in Olympic history. USA Basketball named its initial 41-player pool in January.

Embiid picks Team USA, could make Olympic debut

In October 2023, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid announced his commitment to play for the United States. The reigning NBA MVP was also eligible to represent France and Cameroon in international competition.

Embiid has dealt with injuries this season — most recently, he had meniscus surgery in February that will sideline him for an extended period — but has been his usual dominant self when on the court. Prior to that knee injury, he led the NBA in scoring with 35.3 points per game. While Team USA is routinely loaded with star talent, center is the one position where there has been a relative lack of depth, so the inclusion of a healthy Embiid in Paris would be a boon for the U.S.

Serbia qualifies, but will Jokic join them?

Over the last few seasons, Nikola Jokic has cemented himself as one of the premier players in the NBA. The Denver Nuggets center has been named the league MVP in two of the last three seasons (2021, 2022) and, averaging nearly a triple-double per game, is the current favorite to reclaim the award this season.

Jokic played for Serbia at the 2016 Olympics, helping the country secure a silver medal. Serbia is back in the Olympic tournament for the first time since then, but Jokic's participation remains up in the air. In October 2023, the president of Serbia's Olympic committee claimed that Jokic would be in Paris, only for Jokic to push back on that report a few months later and say that he was still undecided.

Young NBA stars expected to make Olympic debuts

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was one of the most improved players in the NBA last season — his fifth season in the league — as he raised his scoring average to over 31 points per game and finished fifth in the MVP voting. The Oklahoma City Thunder guard led Canada to a third-place finish at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, beating the United States in the bronze medal game, and should once again be a key cog for his country during the Olympics. 

Also expected to play a big role at these Olympics is the NBA's most recent No. 1 overall draft pick, Victor Wembanyama. Regarded as a generational talent, the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama is likely to see plenty of time on the court for the home nation at the Paris Games. The San Antonio Spurs center is currently averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds during his rookie season.

Luka or Giannis – but not both – could be in Paris

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic was must-see entertainment three years ago in Tokyo, putting up huge statlines while helping take Slovenia to the semifinals. Now Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo could be the next NBA superstar to make his Olympic debut as Greece looks to qualify for the first time since 2008.

However, Greece's path to Olympic qualification will run directly through Doncic's Slovenian squad. The two countries were drawn together – along with Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Egypt and New Zealand – into the same last-chance qualifying tournament. The competition will take place in July, after the conclusion of the NBA Finals, and only the winning team will earn an Olympic berth.

Bird retires, but U.S. women still loaded with veteran experience

On the women's side, the United States remains the team to beat. After winning a fourth straight World Cup title in 2022, the U.S. women will head to Paris as heavy favorites in search of an eighth consecutive gold medal.

Although Sue Bird retired after Tokyo (as did Sylvia Fowles a year later), the U.S. is not short on veteran talent. Diana Taurasi, who will be 42 when the Games start, was on USA Basketball's 18-player minicamp roster in February. If she makes the team for Paris, she would play at her sixth Olympics. A sixth gold medal would make her the most decorated Olympic basketball player of all time.

The minicamp roster also included 33-year-old Brittney Griner, who returned to the national team last year after spending nearly 10 months detained in Russia on drug-related charges. Griner, who was classified as "wrongfully detained" by the U.S. State Department, returned home in December 2022 as part of a prisoner swap.

Next generation of U.S. women already stepping up

The future of the U.S. women's basketball team remains bright, as much of the team's core is in its prime and lighting up the WNBA.

Breanna Stewart, the MVP of the last Olympic tournament, won her second WNBA MVP award in 2023. A'ja Wilson, another star of the Tokyo Games, won her second league MVP award in 2022 and has helped lead her Las Vegas Aces to back-to-back WNBA championships.

That Las Vegas Aces team also includes Olympic roster hopefuls Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. All three women played at the Tokyo Olympics, though Gray was the only one to make the 5x5 team. Plum and Young were part of the United States' gold medal-winning 3x3 squad.

Waiting in the wings is college basketball star Caitlin Clark. The Iowa Hawkeyes sharpshooter, who has become a national sensation, broke the NCAA women's scoring record this season and is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick if she declares for this year's WNBA draft. However, the likelihood of the 22-year-old joining Team USA in Paris is up in the air given the fact that she has yet to play for or train with the senior national team.

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