As the Team USA men's Olympic basketball team prepares for its first elimination round contest in these London Games, it's become abundantly clear which player doesn't belong—shooting guard James Harden.
In Team USA's past two contests, Harden has played just a combined 12 minutes, essentially solidifying his rotation spot at the team's 11th man.
While it is usually the 12th man who is least integral to a team's success, the United States' final slot went to power forward Anthony Davis, one of the team's more vital backups.
Where Davis has just one other player (starting center Tyson Chandler) who can bring his skill-set to the table, almost every player on Team USA can offer Harden's biggest strength (three-point shooting) on the international level.
That makes Harden's presence redundant at best and inexplicable at worst.
The 22-year-old came into these Olympics coming off an inconsistent playoff run. Against the San Antonio Spurs, Harden looked so unstoppable that many thought he should replace Russell Westbrook as the Thunder's late-game ball handler. But against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, Harden disappeared, shooting just 37.5 percent on a way to a five-game series loss.
Those inconsistencies made Harden look like a long-shot when Team USA chose its Olympic finalists. But Harden squeaked in due to the rash of injuries faced by the United States and has looked like an awkward fit from the jump.
Without both Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum for these Olympic Games, Team USA's biggest hole is in the middle, not on the perimeter.
The United States has nine players who could theoretically play the shooting guard spot and not look like a miserable failure. They have just four guys who could anchor either the offensive or defensive middle.
Considering the 15 players Team USA took into tryouts, it's obvious that the team should have chosen Rudy Gay.
While the Memphis Grizzlies' small forward certainly won't get confused with Lew Alcindor circa 1969, he's a big enough body to play power forward on the international level if needed. And considering Team USA's increasing reliance on their small ball lineup with LeBron James at center, Gay could have slid in perfectly while posing as much if not more of an offensive threat than Harden.
Gay, who played an integral bench role on Team USA's FIBA world championship squad in 2010, is a deft mid-range shooter who doesn't take many threes. He would help Team USA cut down on their over-reliance on bombs beyond the arc and Gay doesn't need the ball to be an effective addition.
Granted, we're talking about the difference between two 11th men here. It's a very small mistake made by Team USA coaches.
But the United States could be one or two injuries away from turning that small mistake into the difference between gold medal glory and bitter disappointment.
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