Olympics Basketball 2012: Who's Team USA's Most Important Player?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterJuly 13, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 12:  Tyson Chandler #4 of the US Men's Senior National Team looks on during a pre-Olympic exhibition game against the Dominican Republic at Thomas & Mack Center on July 12, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United State won the game 113-59.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
David Becker/Getty Images

While watching a ludicrous 113-59 win over the Dominican Republic, I became increasingly convinced that Tyson Chandler is Team USA's most important player.

On the face of it, such an opinion seems odd.

Obviously, Chandler is nowhere near as good as LeBron James or Chris Paul in the abstract. It's simply a matter of need due to extreme circumstances.

Dwight Howard got hurt. Chris Bosh got hurt. LaMarcus Aldridge got hurt. Blake Griffin got hurt. Andrew Bynum doesn't feel like playing for Team USA. Roy Hibbert plays for Jamaica. 

This has created a situation where Tyson Chandler is America's only dependable frontcourt defender. I say "dependable," because Anthony Davis could also fill that role. The problem is that Davis has not played against men yet, and we aren't quite sure that Coach K will let him loose even if AD's ready.

In depth contrast, the great LeBron James is backed up by Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Andre Iguodala. Even James Harden can act as a ball-handling passing wing in a pinch. Chris Paul is spelled by Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and, again, in a pinch, James Harden.

The onus is on last season's Defensive Player of the Year.

A defense can get by without shot-blocking bigs. The 2012 Mavericks—Chandler's former team—are a good example of this. But such a defense would require excellent communication, the kind that develops over countless practice hours if not years.

Team USA is not such a team. It hardly knew who was making the roster until quite recently on account of all the injuries (Wade also turned up lame). Just a few weeks ago, the team's two best players were facing off in the NBA Finals.

Cohesion is not America's strong suit.

So it's up to Tyson Chandler to be Team USA's spackle. He must erase the inevitable mistakes that will occur from a lack of playing together.

Chandler is well-suited for such a task. He plays for the Knicks, after all, and he has a Ph.D in fixing Carmelo Anthony's defensive lapses. 

America will most especially need its oddly crucial center against Spain and Brazil.

Spain is the more prominent opponent, boasting a killer frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. If Chandler gets in foul trouble, it could get ugly with Kevin Love at the 5 spot. While I don't necessarily trust Ibaka or Gasols to guard past the three-point line, I trust Love even less to handle seven-footers down low. 

Brazil is a slightly easier task, though certainly no cupcake. It has a stacked frontcourt of Anderson Varejao, Nene Hilario and Tiago Splitter. All three are underrated performers, and I wouldn't be shocked to see them in an All Star game some day. 

Against Spain, Chandler will need to contain bulky bigs, perhaps with a fronting technique to deny entry passes. Against Brazil, Chandler must use his quickness to thwart Nene's drives and Varejao's energetic rebounding.

It's a lot to ask of someone Dallas picked up off the scrap heap in 2010. Tyson Chandler has come a long way. For the USA to succeed, Chandler must continue that incredible trajectory.