Picking Team USA’s 2012 Olympic Roster
Who will suit up for international play?
by Jovan Buha / @JovanBuha
If you’re reading this, it’s Day 28 of the NBA lockout and I’ve somehow managed to survive. With no free agency, no summer league and no telling when we’ll see actual NBA basketball next, we’re forced to compile lists of the game’s best players, torture our memories with recycled NBA TV games and play countless hours of NBA 2k11 (or at least that’s what I’m doing).
With the lockout potentially eliminating the entire ’11-12 season, the next time we are guaranteed to see the league’s brightest stars on the same court would (probably) be the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The Olympics aren’t for over a year, though, yet it’s never too early to speculate which players will commit and compete for Team USA.
When picking its roster, Team USA tends to favor previous participants, so the 12 members from the 2008 gold medal team appear to have precedence on making the squad (it’s been cut down to nine as Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd and Jason Kidd have chosen not to participate). Of the remaining nine players, only Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have yet to 100 percent commit.
While talent, athleticism and skill are invaluable to winning in international play (Olympics, World Championships, etc.), how the pieces fit together is likely just as important. If you just throw out a collection of NBA players, you’re bound to get similar results to the 2004 team—a bronze medal. Thus, you must assemble the right pieces (creators, distributors, defenders, rebounders, scorers, shooters) and ensure each player knows their role. Team chemistry and versatility are likely the most important factors.
Let’s examine—position by position—the candidates, positional prerequisites and finally, who is likely to make the team (all players are from Team USA’s official roster and are the only candidates to make the team).
Competition: Chris Paul (’08), Deron Williams (’08), Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups and Stephen Curry.
Prerequisites: The keys to playing point guard for Team USA are creating scoring opportunities for your teammates, limiting your turnovers, hitting open shots (to keep the defense honest) and playing stellar D against the world’s craftiest PGs.
Verdict: Paul and Williams are both locks if they decide to re-up with Team USA. The third point guard spot is tricky, as Rose, Westbrook and Billups (his outside shooting and leadership would be huge assets) all merit consideration. When all is said and done, though, Rose is almost a lock to earn the third spot (I mean, it’s not like he’s the MVP or anything). If Paul or Williams drop out, expect Team USA to pick the younger and more athletic Westbrook (with Billups, Curry then Rondo in that order).
Competition: Kobe Bryant (’08), Dwyane Wade (’08), Eric Gordon, Andre Iguodala, Tyreke Evans and O.J. Mayo.
Prerequisites: After selecting two (but likely three) point guards, it’s time to move on to shooting guard. Usually, these players are good scorers and shooters, capable of unloading an offensive blitzkrieg that blows opposing countries out of the gym. Lastly, and possibly most important, is having a shooting guard that can lockdown multiple positions.
Verdict: Once again, Bryant and Wade are locks if they decide to commit. Between those two, Team USA may be just fine at the 2 spot. But after analyzing how the teams are normally selected, USA typically likes having a spot-up shooter off of the bench, a role that would likely be occupied by Gordon. If Wade and/or Bryant don’t participate, Iguodala would likely replace them (serving as a defensive stopper as well).
Competition: LeBron James (’08), Carmelo Anthony (’08), Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green.
Prerequisites: The small forward position is the engine behind Team USA; you have to be versatile enough to slide over and play against bigger players at power forward, while be quick enough to play shooting guard in case of an emergency. Typically, they’re the team’s second leading scorers, capable of filling it up with ease and doing their damage with thunderous dunks on the fast break.
Verdict: Without a doubt, James and Anthony (who’s actually much better in international ball) make the team. Besides those two, Durant is the only other lock (with Rose) at making the 2012 team. KD can play three positions, would add a dynamic scoring dimension, can provide much-needed 3-point shooting and will need the experience to help lead Team USA in the 2016 games (he could be Team USA’s glue guy). Gay would probably get the next spot if one of the top-3 don’t commit.
Competition: Chris Bosh (’08), Carlos Boozer (’08), Amar’e Stoudemire, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom and David Lee.
Prerequisites: Because other countries excel at playing small ball, Team USA will need power forwards that can play center as well. Additionally, the 4 men will likely have more offensive responsibilities than centers, as they should be able to successfully execute both the pick-and-roll and the pick-and-pop, two vital components to international play.
Verdict: Bosh, who was actually the best big man from the ’08 squad, is a near lock even with his notable “struggles” in Miami. Boozer, on the other hand, will likely not make the team, marking the only player from ‘08 being “dropped”. How could you pick him over Amar’e, L.A. or KLove? When it comes down to it, Aldridge is the best defender remaining amongst the bigs, and would give Team USA an excellent post presence. Both Amar’e (less D) and Love (too slow) could be considered, though.
Competition: Dwight Howard (’08), Tyson Chandler, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez and Kendrick Perkins.
Prerequisites: With all of the offense firepower primarily taken up by the other four positions, Team USA’s center needs to rebound, defend, clean up the offensive glass, set good screens and not get killed defending the hundreds of pick-and-rolls (or pick-and-pops) many teams will throw at them.
Verdict: Howard is the game’s best center, an ’08 member, and a no-brainer selection. Tyson Chandler is the only other player that deserves consideration, as he’s an exact prototype of the player they covet. With that said, Team USA usually only carries 3 big men (rarely 4), so with Bosh and Aldridge filling in already, Chandler’s chance at making the team is slim.
To recap, we’re looking at a Paul, Williams, Rose, Bryant, Wade, Gordon, James, Anthony, Durant, Bosh, Aldridge, Howard team with Westbrook, Iguodala, Gay, Stoudemire and Love just missing the cut.
Honestly, this team may end up being much better than the ’08 one, not just because of it’s talent pool, but because of the players with previous experience. Of course, much is subject to change, as it is impossible to foresee injuries and players’ changes of heart (as well as the exact structure the coaching staff wants to assemble—maybe four big men, only two point guards, etc.).
For basketball fans everywhere, we are currently in the Dark Ages. We don’t even know when the next time we’ll be able to watch professional NBA players compete at the highest level will be. For the conceivable future, the Olympics are the next closest “official” event. With a talented group of players to choose from and the combinations that may be formed, it may make up for some of the wait.