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Olympic 3-on-3 Basketball Would Give New Meaning to 'Dream Team'

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 10, 2013

Olympic 3-on-3 Basketball Would Give New Meaning to 'Dream Team'

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    According to Jeff Zillgitt and Thomas O'Toole of USA Today, three-on-three basketball might be making its way to the Olympics as soon as 2016.

    And while the regular "Dream Team," comprised of the best players America has to offer, is still plenty compelling, the thought of a trimmed-down, three-man squad offers its own bevy of exciting possibilities.

    Just imagine the combinations of trios USA Basketball could dream up.

    Chemistry would be key, as would sensible roster construction. It goes without saying that a threesome consisting solely of massive centers or lightning-quick point guards would be an interesting experiment. But an unbalanced, ill-fitting roster—no matter how talented—would be ripe for a fall against the improving quality of international competition.

    For evidence of that fact, please refer to Team USA's 2004 debacle in Athens.

    Before we take some potential teams for a test drive, also note the following: The soonest anyone's talking about implementing three-on-three hoops in the Olympics is more than three years away. That means guys in their mid-30s like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan probably won't be anywhere near their peaks by then.

    Don't worry, though; there are a ton of three-man possibilities that possess the requisite chemistry, mixture of skills and raw talent to do a number on the rest of the world.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh

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    This one's worry-free. The combination of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is already a proven winner.

    And while it's possible that these three players may not be teammates in 2016 (all of their contracts expire after the 2015-16 season), it seems like a safe bet that they'll have no trouble rediscovering their shared excellence.

    Strategically, this group is the easiest to picture in competition.

    James would operate from the left block with Bosh spacing the floor and drawing the opposing team's biggest player away from the basket. With the ridiculous amount of space in a three-on-three game, Wade's ability to slash to the rim unimpeded would make him a devastating force.

    And on the other end, the Miami Heat trio could switch on virtually any screen, nullifying the pick-and-roll and forcing opponents to attack in disadvantageous one-on-one situations.

    By 2016, it's possible that Bosh, James and Wade will have a handful of NBA titles. By adding a gold medal, they could solidify their legacy as the greatest "Big Three" of all time.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Joakim Noah

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    Because Serge Ibaka claims Spanish citizenship for international competitions, he won't be able to join his teammates, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, in a potentially dominant three-on-three Olympic entry.

    No worries, though; the Oklahoma City Thunder's dynamic duo will get some help from a Chicago Bull.

    Joakim Noah won't be an easy get, as he was all set to play for France in the 2012 Olympics before bowing out with a bum ankle. But because he's also an American citizen, Noah could still join up with his U.S. countrymen in 2016.

    And given the chance to play alongside Westbrook and Durant, why wouldn't he?

    This group would thrive with the mixture of pure athleticism OKC's young stars would bring and Noah's skills as a defender and passer. In fact, the center's ability to facilitate the offense from the elbows would allow Westbrook and Durant to operate in space against one-on-one coverage.

    Plus, Westbrook wouldn't be in a position to make decisions with the ball in Noah's hands. That's a win-win situation.

    Nobody would be happier to do all of the dirty work than Noah. Paired with two dynamic scorers, his blue-collar effort would blend perfectly.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Ryan Anderson

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    Before anyone has a conniption over Ryan Anderson's inclusion here, consider the strategic potential of adding the league's best stretch-4 to the scariest pick-and-roll combination around.

    With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin operating in a two-man game at the top of the circle, opponents would be best served by sending a third defender to help when Griffin dives to the hoop after setting a screen for Paul. Just about every team in the NBA incorporates a third defender in these particular types of help situations.

    But if the only other available defensive player is glued to the sharpshooting Anderson, there'd be no way to stop CP3 from dicing up his man and finding Griffin for an endless series of lobs.

    In addition, Anderson's size (6'10", 240 pounds) would be a huge asset against teams boasting more than one big man.

    Admittedly, defense might be an issue for this club. But as a scoring trio, these guys would be unstoppable.

Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Tyson Chandler

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    Yet again, a pair of teammates come together as Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler combine to provide a veteran tandem with the perfect mix of offensive brilliance and defensive dominance.

    But this team needs a shot of youthful swagger, which is where Kyrie Irving comes in.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers point guard will have to improve his skills as a pick-and-roll operator by 2016, and if he does, watch out. Chandler thrives as a brutal, screen-setting force up top and has made a career out of rolling hard to the hoop.

    Oh, and then there's the league's leading scorer in Anthony, who could dominate smaller opponents on the block or kill them from the perimeter. Don't forget, 'Melo loves the shorter international three-point line; he hit 10 three-point shots against Nigeria in the 2012 London Games.

    More importantly, their strengths make up for each other's weaknesses. Chandler can erase penetrators at the rim when Irving's suspect defense allows them into the lane, and Anthony's ability to guard three different positions offsets the matchup limitations of Chandler and Irving.

    This team has it all: a dominant interior presence, a ball-handler defenders can't stay in front of and a versatile wing scorer.

    What more do you need?

Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph, Stephen Curry

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    Moving away from the pick-and-roll trios, a team comprised of Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph and Stephen Curry would be endlessly entertaining to watch—not to mention highly successful.

    Randolph absolutely commands the attention of a second defender when he gets the ball in the mid- and low-post area. If left alone, he'll punish his man with ruthless efficiency.

    But if Curry's man wanders down to bother Randolph, he'll be leaving the best shooter on the planet wide open. The Golden State Warriors point guard, who has made more threes this season than anyone else, needs only a sliver of daylight to get his jumper off.

    Randolph's post-up dominance will give him more than that.

    And then there's Davis, who's already a frighteningly versatile defender capable of dominating the glass. Just imagine how much better he'll be with four years of seasoning.

    The revelation that he has a mid-range jumper and the certainty that he'll bulk up make Davis an intriguing option as a defender. It's possible that as he matures, he'll be able to body up against bigger players inside while still maintaining the quickness that allows him to harass guards on the perimeter.

    In short, he'll have to make up for the defensive shortcomings of both Curry and Randolph. If he can, this group could do some serious international damage.

James Harden, Dwight Howard, Paul George

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    Well, we're past the point of relying on the chemistry of teammates now. Instead, strategy will be key as we move forward.

    And that's going to mean a continued emphasis on players who'll fill out spots in a pick-and-roll system effectively. That might seem like a cop-out, but consider the amount of open floor and the lack of help defenders in a three-on-three game.

    Spacing, timing and quick decisions will be key.

    With that out of the way, let's consider the trio of James Harden, Dwight Howard and Paul George.

    This team would function much like the one that features Anthony, Irving and Chandler—with one key exception: Harden and George can work interchangeably. Both sizable wings are capable of teaming with Howard in a two-man game while the other spaces the floor or cuts to the hoop when his defender moves to help on the rolling big man.

    No trio we've discussed will pile up the free-throw attempts faster than this one, as Harden's herky-jerky drives will be impossible to stop without help, and George's gravity-defying rim attacks will incur plenty of desperate fouls.

    The success of this group will hinge on whether Howard is willing to accept the fact that he won't be getting many touches in isolation situations. A stagnant, dump-it-in approach won't maximize the talents of this team.

    If D12 can be satisfied as a defensive stopper and a lob-receiver, there's no limit to how dangerous this unit could be.

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