Olympics 2012: Who Is the Weakest Link on Team USA?

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterJuly 23, 2012

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 22:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the US Men's Senior National Team looks on during a Pre-Olympic Men's Exhibition Game between USA and Argentina at Palau Sant Jordi, on July 22, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

I have some very specific ad hoc weakest link rules. First off, your weak link cannot be an ancillary player. Christian Laettner was obviously the "weak link" for the Dream Team, except, he wasn't getting any playing time. It's hard to argue that Laettner was the weak link on a chain of which he was not a part. It's perhaps more accurate to say that he would have been a weak link had he been better. Or, to be more charitable, nobody was a weak link because the Dream Team was so unthreatened by their competition. 

My second weak link rule is that the player has demonstrated some sort of flaw in the past. I cannot choose Anthony Davis here, because for all we know he's ready to kill it at this level. Also, the aforementioned first rule precludes his inclusion. Mike Krzyzewski seems less inclined to use Anthony Davis than John Calipari would be to bench him. 

No, the weakest link must be an oft used player, one the coach seems irrationally bound to. Two players in particular fit this bill, as they are among the senior members of this team. I'm zeroing in and deciding between Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, two of the team's 2008 starters.

To be clear, Kobe Bryant has had a far better career than Carmelo Anthony. Kobe also has superior passing vision and contributes better defensive effort. My Bryant issue in these Olympic exhibitions has been this: He's taking ridiculous shots. 

Of course, that is the Kobe way. He is the master of hitting from impossible angles. But Bryant is aging--he'll be 34 years old when the tournament concludes--and he's getting farther from the rim. In 2008, Kobe shot only 46% from the field. That's a fine mark in NBA play, but not so lovely against the diluted international competition. Dwyane Wade, for example, shot 67% that Olympics. 

So part of me worries at how an older Kobe might produce in his second Olympics. The other part of me remembers his spellbinding performance in the gold medal game against Spain.

I'm crossing Kobe Bryant off the weakest link list due to his old heroics, and due to his role. Team U.S.A is not replete with shooting guards--James Harden and Andre Iguodala are the alternatives to Bryant. It's hard to call a man the weakest link when his replacements are just as questionable. 

This of course leaves Carmelo Anthony, whose FIBA exploits have been wildly overrated by national columnists. In 2008, Carmelo shot a mere 42% in the tournament, mediocre numbers considering how LeBron and Wade were claiming over 60% (Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh also notched over 70%). 

Anthony can have the occasional great game, like the exhibition match against Great Britain. He was draining shots off of screens with ease. The other side was on display on Sunday against Argentina, where Anthony missed contested jumpers, and got pummeled down low by Luis Scola. When the dust settled, Melo was a -19 in a game the U.S. won quite comfortably. 

Carmelo Anthony's issue is that he does not adjust his play per the opponent. The international matchups are easier to attack than NBA defenses, and yes, Melo continues to sling contested jumpers like he's playing the Miami Heat. What makes this tendency so especially frustrating is that Anthony has the talent to do better.

On the block, there's no stopping Melo. His combination of strength and speed is inexorable when he's close to the rim. Anthony is addicted to long shots, though, and while he's a good shooter, he's not good enough to justify that shot selection.

There is the risk that Carmelo Anthony may shoot America out of a game. Perhaps it'll never come to bear, but if Team USA drops an Olympic game, I'd wager that Melo will be a major factor in why it happened.