Why Anthony Davis Must Be More Than the 12th Man for USA Basketball Team

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Why Anthony Davis Must Be More Than the 12th Man for USA Basketball Team
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If all goes according to plan, Team USA will claim gold at the London Olympics without having ever enlisted Anthony Davis' services in anything other than garbage time.

But pursuits of this magnitude rarely stick to the script. If they did, Davis (and his mighty brow) wouldn't even be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean right now.

Rather, he'd likely be down on the Bayou, preparing diligently for his rookie campaign with the New Orleans Hornets, while Blake Griffin played in his stead.

Or better yet, he and Griffin would both be at home, watching Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh man the middle for USA Basketball.

Of course, injuries put Howard and Bosh out of practice before Team USA began its preparation for the Olympics and later claimed Griffin's eligibility. Whether they exact a toll on the remainder of the American roster remains to be seen.

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Even if everyone in Red, White and Blue remains intact for the rest of the Olympic tournament, there may still be an important role for Davis to play in London.

And not simply because he's one of three players at Mike Krzyzewski's disposal who's tall and plays (primarily) in the paint, alongside Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love.

More importantly, it's the way that Chandler and Love have played so far this summer that suggests Davis may need to do more than just warm the bench and dish out towels.

Chandler, for one, has been plagued by foul trouble with this edition of Team USA. Where otherwise a respected veteran like Chandler might benefit from whistles swallowed on contact down low, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year has seen officials penalize him for bodying up his opponents in the post, chasing after rebounds and generally being bigger than most of the other players on the floor.

Team USA can certainly manage without Chandler for stretches, but is at its best when the New York Knicks center is available to protect the rim and rip down rebounds with near-reckless abandon. The Americans can ill-afford to see Chandler spend so much time on the pine once they come up against bigger, bulkier teams.

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The same goes for Kevin Love, who's been largely invisible with Team USA, though hardly on account of foul trouble. Love's problem, rather, has been a general lack of productivity, which has gone hand-in-hand with his inconsistent playing time. Prior to Sunday's 14-points-in-14-minutes outburst, Love had garnered far more attention for pranking his teammates on Instagram, allegedly resting on his All-Star laurels and deferring to his teammates than doing anything of note on the court with USA Basketball.

Love looked much sharper against France, but still came up with a mere three rebounds against a French front line that isn't exactly bully material. 

Not exactly ideal for a guy who USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo has touted as the best rebounder on the squad, not when Davis had three of his own in just eight minutes of mop-up duty.

If Chandler can't stay on the floor and Love doesn't do enough up front to warrant the same, the task may well fall to the 19-year-old Davis to fill in, especially against the likes of Spain, Brazil and Argentina. The Kentucky kid may be wet behind the ears and slight of frame, but he possesses the sort of length, leaping ability and timing to make meaningful contributions on the defensive end and on the glass.

Those skills will come in handy as these Games go on, even if Davis is employed as little more than another body who can use up fouls while covering for Chandler and Love. 

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Ideally, Davis wouldn't have to do even that much. He'd serve in the same role that Christian Laettner and Emeka Okafor did in 1992 and 2004, respectively, as the token collegians on hand to simply absorb the experience of competing for gold alongside the best players in the world.

But Team USA is decidedly thin up front and things don't always play out according to plan, and for his part, Anthony Davis is pretty darn good.

Good enough, at the very least, to not embarrass himself on the international stage and lend a hand when his team and country need him to.

 

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