USA Basketball will begin Olympic play on Sunday morning when it takes on France at 8 a.m. EST. It’s a highly-anticipated game, as the French — which are ranked seventh in the world in the most recent FIBA rankings — shocked the United States by knocking it out in the quarterfinals of its last major international tournament, the 2019 Basketball World Cup.
One major issue facing the Americans is that three of its most important players are flying to Tokyo after battling in the NBA Finals, with Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns hopping on a flight alongside Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks. The trio are expected to arrive by Saturday, and according to U.S. coach Gregg Popovich, the team is hopeful they’ll be able to play against France.
“I have no idea [how to use them],” Popovich said, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN. I’m not trying to be glib. I’m trying to be transparent. Maybe they’ll be OK for the game [Sunday] and it’ll hit them two days later. Maybe we should play them in the first half and see what they’re like.”
It’s certainly going to be a tricky needle to thread for Popovich, who will need to figure out on the fly whether to throw them in right away during the United States’ presumptive toughest group stage game — Iran and the Czech Republic round out Group A — with the hopes that they carry over their form after the playoffs, or let them gradually ramp things up. All three should, theoretically, play important roles for the Americans, which lost Bradley Beal’s scoring punch in the lead-up to the tournament and could have used reinforcements in the backcourt even before that.