Basketball fans from every generation have spent the last couple weeks discussing Kobe Bryant's claim that the 2012 version of Team USA could beat the 1992 Dream Team. But there's a much more pertinent comparison to discuss:
How does this year's squad stack up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medal winners?
Four years ago, Team USA capped off its undefeated Olympic run with a gold-medal win over Spain. Mike Krzyzewski's squad won its games by an average of 26.6 points. They reclaimed basketball supremacy for America using several of the same players from this year's group.
The most obvious difference from 2008 to 2012 is size.
Not only did the 2008 bunch have Dwight Howard to rule the paint, but they also had power forwards Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer. Howard and Bosh ranked No. 1 and No. 2 among all 2008 Olympians in field-goal percentage.
The 2012 team doesn't have the domineering presence of Howard, but Tyson Chandler is a solid defender who will hold his ground against almost every U.S. opponent.
At power forward, 2012 has Kevin Love, who's an elite forward. But it doesn't look like his offensive game fits the international style as nicely as Bosh's did.
The less-obvious, yet significant difference between the two groups is guard and wing depth.
In 2008, the point guard depth chart included Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd. This year, CP3 and D-Will are complemented by Russell Westbrook, who's an upgrade from Kidd in his ability to attack the rim and play suffocating defense.
There are interesting differences at the wing between the 2008 and 2012 teams. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant are returnees. Dwyane Wade is out, but Kevin Durant is in and is a better scorer. Role players Michael Redd and Tayshaun Prince are out, but they've been replaced by more dynamic and athletic wings James Harden and Andre Iguodala.
It's easy to see, even from the exhibitions, that his year's group of guards and forwards is deeper and more athletic. They are good enough defensively and in transition to compensate for interior deficiencies, but are they so good that they make the 2012 club better than 2008?
People talk about 2008 being a more "complete" team, and they're absolutely right. Dwight Howard single-handedly made them a more balanced squad and a force in the paint.
However, the 2012 team is much closer to the 2008 team than people might think. The three-headed monster of LeBron, Carmelo and Durant, along with a deeper point guard cast, makes 2012 more dangerous in a lot of ways.
Time will tell if this year's squad can actually match or exceed 2008's accomplishments, but 2012 Team USA definitely has the potential to do so.
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