FIBA is proposing a three-on-three Olympic tournament for the 2016 Games (via NBC). This sounds wildly fun, and I pray that it happens.
First, let me flaunt my credentials. At 12 years old, I was on the winning "Hoop it Up" three-on-three team in San Diego. I got to meet Bill Walton, who lavished hyperbolic, confusing, mostly undeserved praise on our team. My basketball career went downhill from that point, but I did maintain a vague memory of what works in such an open court.
First of all, defense is harder in a three-on-three scenario. In basketball, the defense is tasked with shrinking space, as space is an advantage to the offense. When the scenario goes from five-on-five to three-on-three, it's not an offense-neutral trade.
Secondly, a grasp of basketball strategy is of less importance. When you take four players off the court, strategy becomes less complex. This is a more instinctual brand of hoops.
With that in mind, let us examine the best options for an American three-on-three team.
The first choice is obvious. LeBron James is basketball's best player, and the three-on-three format isn't so different from the sport he's recently been dominating.
His versatility is even more of an asset in an open-space game. You need a mere three players to fill a lot of roles. James can drive, pass, rebound and defend every position.
Also, LeBron has a newly refined post game. Since three-on-three exists only in the half court, the game is inherently more methodical. That's why it's oh so helpful for James to bring a bludgeoning slow-down approach to what Team USA can do.
After the LeBron selection, it gets a bit tricky. Kevin Durant is my second choice, and he's, coincidentally, the league's second-best player. While I would not have taken last year's KD, his handle is much improved. Consequently, a scorer who once relied on others for his shot attempts now invents them out of the ether.
In 2010-2011, 62 percent of Durant's baskets came off of assists. Last year, that mark was down to 48 percent, because he's creating more of his own offense. That "two-dribble pull-up" will be deadly in a game of three-on-three.
It is my belief that Chris Paul is the league's third-best player, but I do not need his services here. Passing is a de-emphasized skill in a three-person game, and passing is what CP3 does best.
Instead, I'm going with Dwight Howard, a player whose offensive skills will actually shine in a game of few double-teams. Public opinion might not hold Dwight's post moves in high regard, but he does indeed have them. Howard boasts a nifty rocker step and a fast spin move.
In the NBA game, Howard can be doubled or fronted by five-man defensive units. In a three-on-three contest, a double-team is impossible since a defense can't shift over to compensate. There is just no stopping that spin move in a game without doubles.
Good luck with that, world.
Off the bench, I'm going to bite my lip hard and go with Carmelo Anthony. He is far from my favorite NBA performer, but he is, as Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN puts it, "potent when the game is easy." Three-on-three is an easier game, and Melo's passing skill is less needed. Also, his ability to rebound his own misses would be valuable in this format.
If this tournament happens, we'll be all the richer for it. Whatever team the USA comes with, they had better respect Spain's Rubio-Ibaka-Gasol triad.
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