Dream with me for a second: you’re sitting courtside at the USA basketball minicamp watching 27 of the nation’s most talented young basketball players battle it out, all trying to impress you. You have Kevin Durant and Kevin Love stopping by to confirm their spots on your super team. Murmurs of Russell Westbrook and James Harden being the next superstars to commit. You’re in contact with the seven other all-stars that you won a gold medal with you last summer. There’s a plethora of other highly-skilled players who missed this minicamp or the Olympics last summer due to different injuries and what not. You have the final say in who’s on your roster for next summer’s FIBA World Cup and the Olympics in 2016. And you can’t lose, ever.
Here’s Coach Krzyzewski’s take on it, per usatoday.com: “We’re not only expected to win the gold medal, we’re expected to win everything. We’re expected to be unbelievable,” he said. “The story – when you’re in that type of situation and you win – is big. But it’s not nearly as big if you lose. As competitors, these guys and my coaching staff, some of that you like. You’ve got to be on your stuff at a high level all the time.”
Pressure is clearly there. If your team loses the questions arise: What went wrong? We have the world’s best players, did he make a roster mistake? When picking a team like this, scrutiny will always be present. Someone can always make an argument for one player over another, well, there are exceptions of course. The country is watching.
The fun, though. To have the opportunity to select your team from that talent pool is video-game like. You can compile the best team in the world, which I intend to. Here’s how the USA basketball roster would look entering the future competitions with me in charge.
Before I pick the team, let’s set some guidelines. I’m assuming Kobe Bryant to be done with international basketball due to age and achilles. I’m also assuming LeBron to be done, as well as every other player his age or older. That list includes: Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala and Deron Williams. If Carmelo wants to come back, there’s a spot for him. His game is just too good for international play not to include him. Iguodala and Williams would have something to prove in years forward to come back. Chris Paul likely is done too, though if he’s not, he has a spot. Finally, any player associated with USA basketball at some point is in the running. Here we go.
James Harden—If the beard wants in, then he’s in. Great ball handler, gets to the basket, can knock down the outside shot, plus he can play the one, two or three. I’ll take him.
Russell Westbrook—See Above. Just too good to not be included.
Kyrie Irving—Best young guard in the league. Dangerous outside shot. Can play one or two.
Stephen Curry—He shot over 45 percent from the NBA three last year. From international three, look out. Limited defensively, but can play both guard positions.
Chris Paul/Derrick Rose—Whichever of these guys is willing to play definitely makes the team. They’re arguably the two best point guards in the world. If they both commit, Irving loses his spot. If neither commits the spot goes to Damian Lillard. Improved defense would make Lillard even more attractive, but he can play off the ball and would be very dangerous from the shorter three.
Kevin Durant—Yes please.
Kevin Love—Much needed size. Killer from international three. Not even a question.
Paul George—He’ll be needed if LeBron is indeed not coming back (should LeBron call me to change his mind and commit to playing in the 2016 Olympics, I’ll immediately bump anyone from this list in his favor, obviously). George can defend any position, including the five at times in international play. Not to mention he only scratched the surface of his potential as a go-to player last year and will improve in years to come.
Kawhi Leonard—I don’t really care if injuries and needed rest kept him out of the minicamp, I saw what he can do in the NBA finals. Leonard is another player who can guard one through four at an elite level. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands and can be a dangerous corner spot-up shooter. He becomes what Iguodala was in 2012. He loses his spot if LeBron wants to return though. This is also the spot that Carmelo would occupy if he decided to return and LeBron didn’t.
Anthony Davis—Will play some center against smaller lineups. He is the elite rim-protector the team will need. With only one season under his belt, Davis is still getting bigger and better. Next summer I expect him to have added more muscle than he already has. His offensive improvements were on display at the showcase intrasquad scrimmage, where he showed off some dribbling skills along with the ability to make the outside shot.
Andre Drummond—His per-36 numbers last year were outrageous and if he can post those numbers consistently, he’ll bring exactly what this team needs. I’ll need size to match-up with the Gasol’s in Spain, Drummond has plenty. He is an elite rim protector and rebounder and won’t need offensive possessions to himself. Plus he can be dynamic as a screen and roller with the guard talent on this team.
Dwight Howard/Roy Hibbert—Both would fill a similar role to Drummond, only at this point they do it better. Health is an issue for Dwight, but when it’s not, he’s the best center in the world and the best fit for this team. Imagine a lineup with Dwight on the block surrounded by Curry, Durant and Love. Hibbert needs a release from Team Jamaica before he can even really be considered, but his defensive prowess make him an attractive option. Both players will be three years older by the time the next Olympic’s roll around and by that point their careers may on the down swing. Plus I like Drummond to be able to fill their role in the next three years. If Dwight maintains his skill, I can’t turn him down, but I’m betting against the aging big man and skipping them both over without future evidence.
The final slot then goes to: DeMarcus Cousins. This pick may be the most controversial due to the character and immaturity questions surrounding the young center, but it’s clear why he thinks he had no competition for best big at the USA minicamp. When he’s playing at his best, he is among the best bigs in the NBA. But when he’s not, he can be a non-factor, such as he was in the showcase intrasquad scrimmage. Further improvements at the defensive end would make him an even better piece, but his ability to score on the block and rebound are enough to make me want him on my team. Plus, there’s the chance we get to see some Charles–Barkley-like antics out of him at the Olympics. And we all love Charles Barkley antics
Did I make a mistake? Leave someone off? Let me know where you stand in the comments section below.
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