Olympics analyst sees Beal making 'major impact' for Team USA

July 09, 2021

Set to serve as the color analyst for Saturday's Olympic exhibition game between USA and Nigeria on NBC Sports Network (8 p.m. ET), Fran Fraschilla can recall a story from 2008 when Kobe Bryant was about to play in his first Olympics. Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo took Bryant aside to explain his role on the team.

"'Listen, we don't need you to score. We need you to be a defensive stopper.' Kobe said 'I'll do it,'" Fraschilla remembers.

Bryant, of course, ended up being the closer in the gold medal game against Spain, hitting a series of shots to clinch it, including a three where he threw up a double pistol celebration while backpedaling down the court. He was the defensive stopper until they needed him to score, so he did.

Fraschilla can see Wizards guard Bradley Beal serving a similar role for the 2021 squad. They have plenty of scorers between Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker. They need defense and Beal said on Wednesday he's ready to lock down that end.

"I want to be one of the best defenders on the team," Beal said.

That impressed Fraschilla, who coached college teams like St. John's and New Mexico before joining ESPN as an analyst in 2003.

"Bradley said yesterday during the media conference he wants to be a defensive stopper, which is great," Fraschilla told NBC Sports Washington.

"It's also nice to know that Bradley Beal can go out and get 30 in a FIBA game, which he can. His role is going to be one of seven or eight guys who are going to get a lot of playing time, very interchangeable. I expect him to have a huge impact on this USA Basketball team."

Fraschilla marvels at how eight of the 12 players on Team USA shot over 85 percent from the free throw line in the NBA this past season. They can shoot and score in a variety of ways and putting them on the line is not an option.

Though Beal has been the top scorer in the Eastern Conference each of the past two years, Team USA may not need him to score 30-plus points like the Wizards often do. He will have to mesh his talents with the rest of the team, as Fraschilla believes ball movement needs to be a focus.

The U.S., though, enters the Olympics as the heavy favorite. That is usually the case, as it has won the gold medal in the last three Games. But this year there isn't an obvious challenger like there have been in previous Olympics when teams like Argentina and Spain were stacked with NBA players.

Fraschilla says the two biggest threats this time might be Australia and France.

"Watch out for Australia. No Ben Simmons, but these guys have been together forever... They have cohesiveness, which is what you worry about if you're Team USA," Fraschilla said.

"The other team I think is sneaky is France. Rudy Gobert in the middle. We don't really have a big guy. Bam Adebayo and Kevin Love are our two big guys. Evan Fournier can put points on the board. They're a dangerous team, too."

Those teams, however, will have their work cut out for them if they want to prevent Team USA from coming home with the gold. The United States is loaded and has one of the best basketball coaches of all-time in Gregg Popovich.

"My gut feeling as someone who loves international hoop is that USA has a clearer path this year than they have in quite some time. Unless they stub their toe, I think they are the very prohibitive favorites to win the gold," Fraschilla said.