Winning is a recurrent theme when it comes to Men’s Basketball at the Summer Olympics. Really it is domination. Ever since the 1992 “Dream Team” the USA has been sporting rosters made up of most of the best professional American players, and have not won Gold every time, but won it a lot. In 2008 and 2012 the Americans ran the table and cruised to the Gold Medal.
It seems like, even more than in recent memory, the United States has an embarrassment of riches, and is in position to blow out most other teams in the country. Out of all the NBA All-Stars, Pau Gasol stood as the lone player not originally from the USA. Though some of these players did not make the latest round of cuts on the national team, it shows how dominant US talent is at the moment.
When the USA took Gold in the 2014 Basketball World Cup, they sported a 12-man roster, and assuming that they will have the same size in the Olympics, are going to have a real challenge picking exactly who they want to fill out the roster. There are easily over 12 guys who deserve consideration, and extremely talented and deserving players are going to be left off just because they can’t take everybody.
Here are some of my speculations on who deserves consideration for places on the team, and who will eventually round out the roster. Injuries happen, players drop out, and all sorts of drama occurs, so it is not an exact science, but here are my picks as of now, based off of current reports.
We know 6 former Olympians or USA Basketball players who would have had solid shots to make the team have dropped out of contention:
- Anthony Davis had surgery at the end of the season, and will not be recovered in time to play the Olympics.
- Chris Paul has elected to sit out from the Olympics this time around, choosing to use the time to rest and recover for the next NBA season.
- Kobe Bryant was awful this year. The 60-point game was cool and all, but let’s be realistic, and give the dude a break.
- Stephen Curry just won back-to-back MVP’s, the latest one being the first unanimous selection ever. He is the best player on the Warriors, who won 73 games this year, and has a really good chance to win another championship. However, he is choosing to sit out Rio, based on some nagging injuries.
- Russell Westbrook—The freakishly athletic and competitive Thunder guard stepped his play up to a new level this year, where he was a triple double machine, and really played just about as well as Curry in the latest Western Conference Finals (if not better in a few games). However, he has also confirmed that he will not be playing in the Olympics
- James Harden—After the 2014-15 season in which he led the league in scoring, and carried the Houston Rockets to the Western Conference Finals and the 2nd best record in the West, the former Olympian had a bit of a rougher year. He is a great shooter, and definitely one of the top offensive threats in the entire league. It is quite possible he is the best 2-guard in the league (it’s debatable). However, according to reports he won’t be participating this year either.
Some other players who were on the 2012 Olympic Squad are also not really in contention for the 2016 team, even if some still technically are in the running:
- Tyson Chandler battled injury throughout the year, and averaged just 7.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks on an awful Suns team. He was not the presence that earned him Defensive Player of the Year in the past, and thus did not make the USA’s recent round of cuts.
- Deron Williams is still a decent player, and had an improved year on the Dallas Mavericks, but really wasn’t anything special, and nowhere near the form he was playing at in ’12 when he was on the National Team.
- Andre Iguodala is an important player on the possible repeat champion Golden State Warriors, but comes off the bench. He is still making big contributions, even winning last year’s Finals MVP, but he is probably just the 4th-best player on his own team. As said before, there are going to be some hard cuts for deserving players, and this is the first.
With all that being said, here are the 4 players I consider locks to take roster spots. These players, should they be interested and healthy when the time comes, will make the team:
- LeBron James—Assuming he wants to participate, this would be his 4th consecutive Olympics. The 4-time MVP is playing about as well as ever. He appreciates USA basketball as much as anybody. He is playing in his 6th consecutive NBA Finals, and is too ultra-talented to even be considered as a cut.
- Kevin Durant—After a 7-game series against Golden State (one of the most entertaining in recent memory) the Oklahoma City Thunder forward has shown how quality of a player he is yet again. Bringing offense in every facet, and an improved defensive game, he will definitely be on the squad. A former perennial scoring champion, he will wreak havoc on defenses of other countries who will have nobody with his combination of size and quickness.
- Kawhii Leonard has never represented Team USA, but will do so this year. He was the best player on the 67-win Spurs and won his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year. His 2-way versatility is way too valuable for him to be left off of the final roster. He can guard another country’s best player, regardless of position, and will score as well as anyone on the team.
- Demarcus Cousins–He is a bit of head case, but looked like one of the best overall players on the 2014 World Cup team that dominated the competition. He is as ultra-skilled a big man as there is in the league and has experience playing for the National Team, even last competition when some players chose to sit out. He also, according to this report has secured a spot on the team of 12.
Here are other players who should have a shot at filling out the other 7 spots on the roster this Summer. Each presents a few cons and a lot of pros:
- Draymond Green was the runner-up DPOY, and made the All-NBA 2nd team this year. He plays incredible defense and really runs a lot of the offense on the 73-win Warriors. He led that team in rebounds and assists this year, all while defending the toughest big man for a majority of minutes on other teams. His one negative is that he doesn’t normally score at a super-high mark, which really shouldn’t be a problem with the amount of offense that the USA will have.
- Klay Thompson—If you’re going to debate the best 2-guard in the NBA, Klay is another candidate based off of his recent play in the Conference finals for the Warriors. He broke the playoff record for 3-pointers in a game, and has been a great shooter all year. He plays incredible defense on the ball, and his great size and strength for his position could prove crucial for the US.
- DeAndre Jordan–Despite his strange prior offseason, Jordan had a very effective year for the LA Clippers. He is obviously not the most purely talented Center in the league, but did make the All-NBA 1st team, as well as All-Defense 1st team, which are both very impressive. The team’s core lacks centers, especially with Anthony Davis out for the Olympics. He is the best rim protector on defense out of the potential teammates, and a whole defense can be formed around him. His obvious lack of solid free-throw shooting and clunky jump-shot could keep him from making the team however.
- Andre Drummond–After the Detroit Pistons to the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, and leading the league in rebounds by a large margin. He has experience playing with the National team, including the 2014 World Cup team. As a young player, he could be seen as one of the guys who could be around for a long time, and so would be well suited to get as much early playing experience with the National Team as possible.
- Kyrie Irving–At the moment, he is playing extremely well for the Cavs, and is proving himself as one of the best PG’s in the league. He was a huge part of the 2014 team, and has a great relationship, as a former Duke Blue Devil, with Coach K. Another leg up he has is simply health. With Curry, Westbrook, Paul, and John Wall all hurt or unwilling to play in the Olympics, Irving has the advantage of just being available.
- Damian Lillard–It was a big deal when Lillard was left out of the All-Star team, but he showed, like Irving, to be one of the best young guards in basketball. He is a hustler with one of the best jumpers out there right now. Having led the Trailblazers to a first round win over the Clippers and a surprisingly competitive couple of games against the Warriors, he has a good chance to avoid being snubbed in this selection. He also is seemingly available, which is a big deal with many guards being out.
- Carmelo Anthony–He has been a major part of the last 3 USA Olympic squads, and it would be really special to try for a 4th medal. His Knicks were pretty hideous this year, but he played pretty well himself, and seems relatively healthy enough to play in the coming competition. He has solid relationships with the coaching staff and especially LeBron James. It is unclear whether he will actually be ready when the time comes, but even if it’s just because of his reputation, he has a good shot of being part of the roster.
- Paul George–Putting on a USA jersey might bring back bad memories of the awful injury he suffered 2 summers ago, which cost him a lot of playing time in the NBA. However, before that he was looking like one of the best players in the NBA. Now finally healthy, he put together a solid season, even without a ton of talent around him on the Pacers. His scoring and athleticism could be very helpful for the US, and he is still relatively young. There might not be a ton of traditional big players, so it shouldn’t matter that he is yet another SF on a team that seems to have a ton of them.
- Jimmy Butler–Surprisingly, even though there are not a ton of big men that seem to have slots on the team, Butler seems to be just one of 2 traditional SG’s. He is one of the most improved players in the last few seasons, and seems to really fit the team with his all-around play and hustle. He would be able to guard just about any other team’s best guard, especially with Kawhii Leonard and other incredible defenders around, and is a big part of his team.
As they have done before, the US should put out a relatively small squad, with very few traditional big men, because the guys they have at the SF spot are big and strong enough to play up at the PF slot. It has worked in the past, namely the 2012 Olympics, where we saw players like Durant and LeBron playing up and having a lot of success.
Here is the group I believe should make the 12-man roster, based on who is seemingly available and ready:
The one person left off of the list from above is DeAndre Jordan. Though he is extremely talented and could really fill a role, the team is so competitive to make that his lack of traditional offensive ability could really hurt his chances. He shares horrible free-throw shooting with Drummond, but what Drummond lacks there he can somewhat make up in other ways on the offensive end. However, if Jordan were to make it, we could expect some awesome dunks and flashy plays, which is what the USA usually ends up doing in these international competitions.
Regardless of how it plays out, expect a ton of points and some real drama over who makes the team. However, once the squad is picked, and the games start, it should be a great time, and is very exciting as an American basketball fan.
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