Rick James…basketball coach of Tunisia.
[h/t The Basketball Jones]
Again: it’s AWESOME that the commander-in-chief is a basketball fan.
On Monday, USA Basketball announced the 20 finalists for the squad that will represent the United States in the Olympics this year. While the Dream Team should presumably cruise to another victory, I have to admit that I found some of the invitations insulting and embarrassing. The roster eventually has to be cut to 12 players before the squad plays in London, but it still means a lot to these players to be included among the finalists. With that in mind I’d like to give you my brief thoughts on all 20 of the finalists in regards to their potential contribution to an actual Olympic team. Keep in mind this is completely independent of how I actually feel about them as basketball players in the NBA. I’ll go in order from the selections I most agree with to the least. Finally, I’ll add in a section for notable exclusions.
No Brainers Selections
1. LeBron James – Best player in the world. Also the most athletic. He could literally play the 1 through 5 in international basketball.
2. Kevin Durant – Second best player in the world. Fits with the team’s image of taking advantage of the United State’s superior athleticism and could theoretically play anywhere from the 2 to 5. It also didn’t hurt that he was the clear alpha dog on the team that won the World Championship two years ago.
3. Dwight Howard – Best center in the world. He presents the most mismatches for foreign teams as there is quite simply no one like him in all of basketball.
4. Derrick Rose – The reigning MVP of the NBA and he has a claim to the most athletic point guard title along with Russell Westbrook. Unlike Westbrook though, he’s amazingly consistent and brings no baggage. Perfect fit for the envisioned identity of this team.
5. Chris Paul – One of the rare great players who lives to make his teammates better. CP3 will bring a calming influence to a team with a variety of strange personalities and he’ll have no problem making his peers look better en route to the gold. Injuries are the only question, as always.
6. Kobe Bryant – With Dwyane Wade’s injury-filled start to the season, Kobe is easily the best shooting guard in the world right now. He’ll bring a work ethic and desire for winning that will permeate throughout the rest of the team. Another fact that can’t be discounted is that these teams usually tend to have an alpha dog problem with players unsure whether to demand the ball around their peers. Let’s just say Kobe will never have trouble demanding the ball.
7. LaMarcus Aldridge – Best American-born power forward. He also will have no trouble playing second fiddle to some of the bigger egos on this team because he’s been in Brandon Roy’s shadow his whole career. He’ll be superb as a hybrid 4-5 within any offense.
8. Dwyane Wade – If he’s healthy, you can make a great argument to include him over Kobe. I tend to lean towards Kobe over him though because of the generational gap. I feel like all the members of that legendary draft class are afraid to stand up to each other and thus they need a guy like Kobe to come in and balance them out. If healthy though, there’s no way Wade doesn’t make the team.
Good Role Players Who Could Make The Team, And Deserve It
9. Andre Iguodala – You’re telling me there’s an ultra-athletic wing player who has no interest whatsoever in being a number one scorer and takes personal pride in shutting down the opposing team’s best player? And he’s American? Get this man on the team, like yesterday!
10. Chris Bosh – He’s one of the top three American power forwards and is perfect for this team because he plays third wheel on his NBA squad. Bosh learned a long time ago that he can’t be successful playing with an ego which makes him an ideal candidate to fill in a few minutes every game on this team.
11. Chauncey Billups – Every Olympic team needs a token old guy. The last squad had Jason Kidd, now it’s Chauncey’s turn. He’s also ideal because despite my insistence that he handles the ball too much in crunch time, there is no doubt that he has a great sense of how to control the pace at the end of close games that need to be closed. So long as he’s willing to defer the shooting responsibility, he’d make a great contribution to the team, despite being by far the least talented guard among the bunch. Remember that we’re trying to build a real team, not an All-Star squad.
Guys Who Should Probably Make The Team But Will Probably Be Cut Instead
12. Kevin Love – If there was ever a more ideal candidate for international basketball than Kevin Love, I’ve never met him. Love is perfect because he plays power forward in the mold of the international stars. He rebounds the hell out of the ball, he can shoot the three, and basically he’s everything you’d want from a guy who is by no means going to be the star of the squad. If Love doesn’t make the team, I will be incredibly upset and will be sure to vent strongly on the site.
13. Rudy Gay – He’s a player built in the Iguodala mold and would be a perfect fit to back up LeBron and Durant at the three or as a defender for some of the opposition’s better shooting guards. His athleticism makes him an ideal candidate, but there are a lot of talented threes who stand in his way of getting on the team. Too bad.
Guys Who Have No Business On The Team, But Will Likely Be Included Anyway
14. Deron Williams – His reputation is too great at this point to exclude him from the team. I’d much rather roll with a versatile trio of Rose, Paul, and Billups who each bring unique aspects to the game (athleticism, unselfishness, maturity, respectively). Deron doesn’t really do anything better than those three in that regard, and his uninspired play in New Jersey put me over the top when it came to the team.
15. Carmelo Anthony – It’s not a good sign about a player when his former head coach comes out and practically brags about how much better his team is now that he finally got rid of his best guy. It’s also not a good sign when your new team is dramatically worse since acquiring you and that your team leads the league in isolation offense. I don’t see what he brings to the table over LeBron, Durant, and Iguodala, given his general feeling about his talents and role.
16. Tyson Chandler – No idea why anyone would want to give him the amount of money that the Knicks coughed over this offseason. Yeah, Tyson brings a great defensive presence to the game, but that is literally it. He can’t finish around the rim to save his life. If there’s a defender within eight feet of him when he tries to go up for a dunk, it’s not going in. This is another guy who gets way too much credit for something. He is also a horrible fit for the international game which tends to take advantage of slower big men. Can’t we all agree the Mavs won because they out-executed the Heat in the Finals, not because Tyson was some sort of demi-god defender sent down from heaven to prevent a LeBron James title?
The Wild Card
17. Russell Westbrook – Name me one player in international competition who could stay in front of this guy on a basketball court? Unfortunately the US is stacked at the guard position and with Westbrook’s alleged reputation for refusing to defer, I say he gets left at home. It would never surprise me if he made it though.
The Egregious Invites
18. Lamar Odom – Theoretically Lamar makes a ton of sense, given his length, athleticism, and ability to play any of the five positions. Unfortunately, I think he needs to spend some time away from the game this Summer to get his mind right and his recent play is in no way worthy of this honor. We wish him all the best as he is definitely one of the all-time good guys in the NBA.
19. Eric Gordon – Definitely the third best American shooting guard. No way the Americans should include more than two shooting guards (Kobe and Wade) on the roster though, given the plethora of depth at point guard. There might be a spot for him in the future, but at this time USA basketball could have found a more athletic person to take his spot on this list of finalists.
20. Blake Griffin – I wrote about this earlier today. He is only good on the fast break and is in no way reliable enough in an international game which requires big men to stretch the floor with their jump shooting. Throw in his poor defense and this is my biggest mistake for the team USA roster.
The Egregious Non-Invites
Rajon Rondo – He’ll never get an invite again after an alleged rift happened at the World Championships. The story goes like this: both Rondo and Rose were battling for the team’s number one point guard spot, with both refusing to relent to the other, both feeling they deserved the starting spot. It got so heated and competitive that Coach K had to make an executive decision to keep one and send the other home in order to keep the team’s chemistry alive. I still love his ability to drive and his belief in always making teammates look better.
James Harden – Having his best ever season. Seems to be the American reincarnation of Manu Ginobli. Also presents an interesting dynamic, given that he is a lefty. He’s one of the five best shooting guards in the world right now.
Monta Ellis – Ultra athletic guard having his best ever season. He might be the most unstoppable one-on-one scorer in the world today as well.
Andrew Bynum – Would have much preferred including him on this list of finalists over Tyson Chandler. Unforgivable.
Kyrie Irving – It’s always good to get the young blood some experience against the world’s best. I didn’t expect him to make the final team but he could have used to confidence boost and could very well be on this team come 2016.
John Wall – Ditto.
Kyle Lowry – Ditto. Quietly having the second best point guard season in the NBA right now. Seems to nearly complete a triple-double every night.
Predictions On The Final 12-Man Roster
Starters: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard
Reserves: Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, and Tyson Chandler.
Alternates: Andre Iguodala, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love
The former US Soccer player nearly died in a fatal crash in the autumn of last year. After multiple surgeries and some serious rehab, he is back training with his pro club in France and poised to make one of the most incredible comebacks in sports history. He recently recounted his story for ESPN and it’s well worth the read to show you what all he’s had to go through. From ESPN:
“That’s the last thing I remembered for about a week. In fact, the first three weeks were a haze because of all the medication. Apparently I told my family I played in the NFL and had to get back for the Super Bowl. I do remember the drains in my head to draw off the excess blood from the facial fracture repairs.
It’s tough to describe how hard it was to walk again. Putting pressure on my right leg and believing it would hold me up felt like trusting somebody with your life on a 300-foot cliff. In the fourth week, I moved across the road to the national rehab hospital. With a lot of help, I took my first steps on crutches — and I broke down and cried. It was the first time I ever saw my dad shed tears.”
This photo comes from the Ryder Cup this weekend and Woods actually ended up shattering the lens of the camera that took this shot. This is definitely a keeper but it’s not even the best sports photo taken this year (see: Denard Rob