USA Olympic Basketball Team 2012: Who Makes the Cut?
The 20 finalists for the 2012 USA Olympic Men's Basketball team have been announced and the roster already looks completely stacked.
If you haven't seen the list, here are the 20 stars that will be competing for a roster spot:
LaMarcus Aldridge (Trail Blazers), Carmelo Anthony (Knicks), Chris Bosh (Heat), Kevin Durant (Thunder), Rudy Gay (Grizzlies), Blake Griffin (Clippers), Andre Iguodala (76ers), LeBron James (Heat), Kevin Love (Timberwolves), Lamar Odom (Mavericks)
Tyson Chandler (Knicks), Dwight Howard (Magic)
How is it possible to cut eight guys from this list? It's not going to be a simple task, but that just speaks to the depth and talent that Team USA is going to have at this year's Olympics.
Let's start with some "obvious" cuts.
First Players to Be Cut
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
In the past, Billups has been an easy selection to the Olympic team. His "Mr. Big Shot" persona gave each team a reliable closer, and his veteran leadership was a much needed attribute to a roster full of young, up-and-coming stars.
However, this year's team has other, better veterans than Billups. There's also no denying that at age 35, Billups is on the decline of his career. He's still averaging 16 points per game, but he's shooting an abysmal 36 percent from the field and his defense is non-existent.
Sorry Chauncey, you've already played in your last Olympics.
The reason for cutting Odom early goes hand-in-hand with the reason for cutting Billups. Fact of the matter is, Odom's veteran leadership is no longer needed.
Unlike Billups, Odom does actually bring a bigger need to the roster for international play. Odom's versatility and range make him a tough cover for many forwards, but his skill set is basically set up for this kind of competition.
Regardless, Odom is having a down year, and there are better players to add to the roster.
Don't get me wrong, I love Gordon's scoring ability, his athleticism and his defensive capabilities. However, I don't particularly like Gordon's passing ability or the fact that he's always injured.
Gordon would be one of the best deep threats on the team if he does happen to make it, but with a shortened three-point line, almost everybody will be able to knock down that shot.
If there were 15 roster spots instead of 12, I might be more inclined to keep Gordon around. However, with as deep as the guards are currently, Gordon won't be needed.
Last Day Cuts
Griffin may be the most difficult cut solely because of his never-ending motor. He will absolutely be the toughest cut for most fans to understand, but it's just not his time to shine.
Even though his exciting style of play and rim-rocking dunks have made him a double-double machine, his lack of a jump-shot, terrible free throw percentage and undefined post game make him a bad fit for international play.
Griffin may have the most potential of any young player on this list, but right now, there are better options for this team.
The good news for Westbrook is that he just signed a huge five-year, $80 million extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The bad news is that he won't be taking part in this year's Olympic games.
Westbrook may be the most scrutinized point guard in the NBA, but he's still a top five candidate at his position. His athleticism is unmatched on the court at most times, and he is incredibly gifted at getting to the rim and creating his own shots.
However, his decision making still has room for improvement, and his outside jumper is still very much a work in progress.
Westbrook would be an easy selection for the team if they weren't already so deep with talent. With only 12 spots to fill, there just isn't any more room for another point guard.
Projected Starting Five
Photo by MN Chan/Getty Images AsiaPac
These guys are almost locks to make the team, and it doesn't come as a surprise, so let's get them out of the way first.
USA Olympic Men's Basketball Team Starting Five
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Power Forward: LeBron James
Center: Dwight Howard
The obvious anomaly in the starting lineup is LeBron James at power forward. James, who is a natural small forward, shouldn't have a problem sliding down and playing the power forward spot.
James has the size and strength to play the position, and with Howard inside, James will still be able to play outside-inside instead of the opposite.
Paul, Bryant and Durant are all legitimate deep threats (James, too, to an extent), and nobody in the world will be able to stop Howard inside.
Even though I believe that Dwyane Wade has overtaken Bryant as the best shooting guard in the world, there's no doubting the work that Bryant has done this season. This will also likely be Bryant's final Olympic games—there's no way he isn't starting.
This is the best lineup in the world. Period.
Projected Second Five
The second five still has a few obvious selections, but here goes nothing.
USA Olympic Men's Basketball Team Second Five
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Kevin Love
Center: LaMarcus Aldridge
Wade and Anthony might be the only two "for sure" selections for the second five, but Rose and Love are almost locks to make the team as well.
Aldridge could be replaced by Chris Bosh or even Tyson Chandler, but in my opinion, Aldridge provides the most for Team USA. Aldridge has really improved both his inside game and his mid-range jump shot, and he plays defense a little better than Chris Bosh.
Love is the perfect power forward for international play. Not only will he provide excellent rebounding, his ability to knock down threes will be a huge asset. He will be the only consistent outside-shooting big-man for Team USA.
Rose's scoring ability and athleticism are akin to Westbrook (who has already been cut), but unlike Westbrook, Rose is a better decision maker and passer. Rose will be brought off the bench as a contrast to Chris Paul's traditional point guard style of play.
This makes Team USA versatile, hard to guard and even harder to prepare for.
Final Two Reserves
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Williams gets selected as the third point guard on Team USA's roster, completing their very deep backcourt depth that should come in handy.
Williams has played the third most international games on this team (47), making his experience a valuable asset to go along with his all-around playmaking ability from the point guard spot.
Right now, Bryant and Wade are the only two true shooting guards on the roster, and both have been known to be injury prone. Bryant has been the better of the two about playing through injuries, but even so, both Williams and Rose may see some time at the two-guard.
With Chris Bosh, Andre Iguodala, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook and Rudy Gay still eligible for the final spot, the selection of Tyson Chandler may come as a surprise to most casual fans.
Honestly, Bosh could very well be the selection over Chandler, but I think it's absolutely necessary to get Chandler's size and defensive capabilities onto Team USA's roster.
Without Chandler on the roster, Team USA will have to play undersized if Dwight Howard ever gets into foul trouble or gets injured. Chandler is a better fit, makes the team more traditionally deeper and makes them better defensively.
With all the scoring threats Team USA already has on its roster, bringing Chandler on for defensive purposes only makes sense.
Not to mention, if Team USA really wants to combat the Gasol brothers when they take on Spain, playing Chandler and Howard at the same time is a real possibility.
Team USA in Conclusion
Here is a breakdown of who made the cut by position:
Point Guard: Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler
Like I mentioned previously, guys like James and Anthony are more than capable of sliding down and playing power forward if necessary for the international game, and guys like Rose and Williams will be capable of playing some time at shooting guard if necessary.
With Chandler as the last addition, Team USA gets the size and the defense they need to compete no matter who is on the court. But really, you can do anything you want with these 12 guys.
Want smothering defense while remaining athletic and offensively gifted? Go ahead and run Paul, Wade, Bryant, James and Howard at the same time.
Is it late in the game and you need threes? Run Paul, Williams, Durant, Anthony and Love at the same time.
Do you want to blow by everyone on fast breaks? Run Rose, Wade, Durant, James and Aldridge at the same time.
This is the deepest and most talented lineup that Team USA can provide, and it's going to result in a gold medal.