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LeBron James's Importance to Team USA: Ranking the Roster

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2012

LeBron James's Importance to Team USA: Ranking the Roster

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    Not a single team in the NBA plays their entire roster on a nightly basis, aside from blowout games. While a few blowout wins are likely for Team USA, the coaching staff assembled a rotation on Sunday night during the team's six-point win over a feisty Argentina team.

    With a team made up of All-Stars, as well as the top pick in this year's NBA Draft, it's hard not to find time to get each of these 12 players on the floor regularly.

    It's what makes Coach K's job difficult, finding the right set of players to play together and gel. Although the four games that Team USA has played so far are considered exhibitions, it's becoming clearer who will be the team's most important players.

12. Anthony Davis

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    Davis has scored 20 points in only 23 minutes of playing time so far in the National Tour. Unfortunately for him, he has only entered the game in two of the team's four contests, both of which were lopsided victories.

    Davis was a late addition to Team USA's roster, being added when Blake Griffin went down with an injury.

    Davis, who is 19, was the first overall pick in this year's NBA Draft to be New Orleans Hornets. The only likely scenario that could get Davis onto the floor for meaningful playing time is if Tyson Chandler were to go down with an injury or get into foul trouble.

    Davis is an incredible defender with a natural shot blocking ability. Expect to see him as a key contributor to Team USA in 2016, but in 2012 he should be thankful to be on the team.

11. James Harden

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    Harden, like Davis, did not step onto the floor during Team USA's 86-80 win over Argentina on Sunday. Harden's role on this team is to be an outside shooter, much like Michael Redd's role in the 2008 games. Harden is only 2-for-9 from behind the arc in his three games so far.

    Harden was selected as the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2012, and was part of the Oklahoma City Thunder's "Big Three," which feature fellow Olympians Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

    Personally, I enjoy Harden's playing style over some other players on this roster, as he is very deliberate yet still athletic and is said to play like an old man by his Thunder teammates. With so many other scorers on this roster, it's hard to see Harden getting extended minutes.

10. Kevin Love

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    Love finds himself on Team USA, thanks in large part to injuries to Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard that have kept them from participating in London.

    Love, along with Davis and Chandler, are the team's only true post players. By the looks of things though, the Americans will often have LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or even Kevin Durant playing the power forward position, leaving Love sidelined.

    Love has been the definition of a very good player on a very bad team since he has joined the league. He is a double-double machine and has developed a nice outside shot for a big man.

    In Team USA's four games so far, Love has averaged 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds during 11.8 minutes of action. Love, a natural power forward, will almost likely play center when on the court because of Team USA's "smaller" lineups.

9. Andre Iguodala

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    Iguodala was one the final additions to the US Roster, hoping to play the defensive stopper role that Tayshaun Prince played in 2008. Iguodala helped charge the 76ers' first round upset over the top-seeded Chicago Bulls this past playoffs, following that series up with a seven game showdown with the Boston Celtics in which the 76ers fell short.

    Iguodala is an incredible athlete, who has made highlight reel dunks countless times during his career. His offense will not really be needed for Team USA to succeed, but his defense might.

    He has the ability to guard multiple positions and should find himself playing in every game for that reason alone. His playing time may be determined by Team USA's need to stop a single player on the opposing team.

8. Russell Westbrook

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    Westbrook may be the NBA's most athletic point guard, yet he finds himself third on the depth chart at that position in the Olympics. Fortunately for him, he has the ability to play shooting guard, as he is more of a shoot first point guard anyways.

    By playing on the floor with Deron Williams or Chris Paul at the same time, Team USA has two floor generals on the court at once and lets Westbrook play more comfortably at the off-guard position.

    Westbrook is averaging 9.5 points, 3.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 17.3 minutes of play during the team's four exhibition games. He has gotten to the foul lines 14 times, which is second on the team only behind James.

    Westbrook, Harden and Durant are the only trio of NBA teammates on the 2012 Olympic roster.

7. Tyson Chandler

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    It was tough to find a place for Chandler to fit on this list, so putting him right in the middle felt right.

    Chandler has started all four games so far, although mostly because this team needs a big man. But during those four games, Chandler has only averaged 2.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.0 block in 14.5 minutes.

    While Chandler will not be needed offensively, his defense and size make him valuable to the team.

    Team USA's main competitor, Spain, has a three-headed monster in their frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Chandler, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, will be desperately needed in a potential Gold Medal Game against the Spanish team to neutralize their size.

6. Carmelo Anthony

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    For as defensively minded as his Knicks teammate Chandler is, Anthony has the complete opposite mindset. Anthony and Durant have each started two games so far, although it appears as though Durant has won the starting job. Anthony is an instant offense player, who has averaged 9.8 points in only 17.5 minutes of PT in four games.

    Anthony is sometimes indifferent on defense, as shown by his team-high 12 fouls in 70 minutes. He is also the only player on the roster besides Deron Williams not to block a shot in the first four contests.

    Despite his defensive ineptness, Anthony should play extended minutes, as either a starter or reserve, that can help Team USA's offensive flow.

5. Deron Williams

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    As a graduate of the University of Illinois, it pains me to put Williams before Chris Paul on this list. In fact, Williams has played more minutes, scored nearly twice as many points and has more assists than Paul so far. Despite these figures, Paul has started three of the four games and will probably keep his starting job, although they will likely split time almost evenly.

    Williams is a big-bodied point guard who has the ability to get into the lane and dish it out to his teammates. He can also score and defend against smaller point guards in this tournament, something that Paul does not have as much of an ability to do.

    Just like in 2008 when point guards Williams and Paul played on the floor at the same time, expect to see Williams and Westbrook out there together in 2012.

4. Chris Paul

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    Although he has only averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 assists during 17 minutes of action thus far, Paul is an incredibly important player to Team USA's success and pursuit of a second straight Gold Medal.

    Paul is exactly what this team needs, an unselfish floor general who will be able to find open teammates on a roster full of scorers.

    Although I prefer Williams to Paul, I believe that a team's starting point guard does not often get the credit that they deserve for running the offense, even if it doesn't always show up in their statistics. And since Paul appears to be the current starter, he gets the slight nod over Williams. At only 6-feet tall, Paul is extremely quick and has great court vision.

3. Kobe Bryant

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    Although his age may be starting to show a little, Bryant is still a key piece to the puzzle for Team USA. And although Bryant may have been surpassed by younger superstars like Durant and James, his experience and leadership on this young roster are vital.

    As the team's starting shooting guard, Bryant will draw many tough defensive assignments, such as Argentina's Manu Ginobili last evening.

    Bryant still has a knack to score on offense too, finishing second to Kevin Durant in scoring during the 2011-12 season, assisted by Bryant sitting out the Lakers' final regular season game. Bryant is averaging 8.8 points and 3.3 rebounds through four games, but the coaching staff would be wise to save his legs for more important games later in the tournament.

2. Kevin Durant

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    Durant is as pure of a scorer as they come, currently leading Team USA with 18.8 points per contest. Durant has taken advantage of the shorter three-point lines in FIBA, shooting a ridiculous 14-for-26 from behind the arc, including seven made three-point attempts against Argentina on Sunday. At 6'9", Durant is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as he can score in so many ways.

    When you combine Durant's natural scoring ability with his length on the defensive end, it's hard to see him moving out of the starting lineup despite coming off the bench for the team's first two exhibition games.

    As long as Durant remains consistent, he should become Team USA's go-to-guy and be the one taking shots at the end of close games.

1. LeBron James

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    Despite Durant's offensive prowess over virtually anyone in the NBA, James is the best player in the NBA and on Team USA's roster. He proved that during this year's NBA Finals.

    James's current stat line consists of 17.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. James is also an elite defender that is strong enough to guard a post player, yet fast and athletic enough to guard a wing.

    Despite all of his critics, James is the best player in the world since Michael Jordan.

    James has shot poorly from the charity stripe through four games, only going 13-for-22, although he does lead the team in attempts. He also leads the team with 10 turnovers. However, he is shooting nearly 57 percent from the field and is tied with Durant for most minutes played with 101.

    For Team USA to bring home the Gold, James must play at the level we have become accustomed to seeing from him.

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