Filling Out USA Basketball's Ideal Roster for Olympics
Around this time last year, USA Basketball was gearing up to capture a second consecutive gold medal at the Summer Olympics in London.
One year later, stars from Mike Krzyzewski's championship squad are basking in the glow of NBA superstardom. However, not all of their spots on the roster are entirely safe.
The league's most promising talent is taking to Las Vegas to participate in a minicamp with eyes on usurping roster spots from Team USA's established members.
Two important housekeeping notes before we get started:
1. This roster was compiled with the hypothetical framework in mind that international basketball could be played this summer. This is not a look ahead to 2016; it would be far too difficult to project a roster three years in advance.
2. Kobe Bryant was left off the team after stating that the 2012 Olympics would be his last.
The athletic specimen that is Kawhi Leonard was considered heavily at forward. He wound up being the last player cut from the roster. And in the end, it wasn't a knock on Leonard's abilities. It was the depth of talent from which to choose that made it so difficult to find a spot for the lengthy defensive ace.
Come 2016, however, don't be surprised to see Leonard making some noise as a candidate on the wing for the Red, White and Blue.
When it comes to selecting point guards for Team USA, it ultimately comes down to one's preference.
Derrick Rose possesses the credentials necessary to represent his country in international play, but coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the entirety of the 2012-13 season, he falls just short of making the squad.
An All-Star at the age of 21, Kyrie Irving is on the brink of superstardom entering the 2013-14 season. Irving's ball-handling and scoring capabilities are undeniable, but Team USA isn't short on those qualities.
What the team needs is defense, which just happens to be the one area in which Irving needs to significantly improve. For that reason, Irving misses the cut this time around.
Anthony Davis qualified as an Olympian in 2012 after Blake Griffin went down with a knee injury. And despite receiving limited playing time (52 minutes total) over the course of that gold-medal run, Davis provided a stout shot-blocking presence down low.
Davis has a future filled with Olympic appearances ahead of him, but for now his spot goes to a more worthy, versatile veteran.
Guard: Chris Paul
Just like in 2012, Chris Paul will assume the role of starting point guard for this hypothetical Olympic squad.
On a team with so many world-class scorers, Paul wasn't asked to shoulder much of the offensive burden. Still, he was efficient to the tune of 51 percent shooting from the field and 46.4 percent from three en route to an 8.3 point-per-game average during the London Olympics.
More notable than Paul's scoring proficiency, however, was his 3.15 assist-to-turnover ratio and the team-high 20 steals the Clippers point guard racked up over the course of eight games last summer.
The NBA's best two-way talent at the point guard position, it should come as no surprise that Paul has a firm hold on the starting gig for Team USA.
Guard: Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is the most often-criticized star point guard. Westbrook plays the game at a frenetic pace, and rushed shots are often the root cause of the anger directed his way.
However, when Westbrook was surrounded by superstars during the 2012 Olympics, his style of play became a bit more tempered.
Westbrook still played with his trademark explosiveness last summer, but in the small sample size, he posted shooting splits of 47.8 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three, which would each rank as career highs if sustained over the course of a season.
Guard: Stephen Curry
When you think about Team USA's 2012 gold-medal team, what are the two relative weaknesses (it's a little extreme to call them that, but bear with me) that come to mind?
If you answered size and perimeter scoring, congratulations.
Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony each shot better than 50 percent from beyond the arc over eight games, but the team's backcourt wasn't particularly efficient from deep. James Harden hit on 30 percent of his threes, and Russell Westbrook a slightly better 33.3 percent.
The good news is that Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski can implement a quick fix in the form of Stephen Curry, who recently set the record for three-pointers made in a single season.
Curry's addition means the departure of Deron Williams, but the 25-year-old should be able to provide the offensive spark that D-Will did, and then some. With Westbrook and Chris Paul taking the defensive reins, Curry will drift around the international three-point line and make opponents' lives miserable.
Guard: James Harden
Rounding out USA basketball's stable of guards is the Houston Rockets' James Harden.
While Harden played the second-fewest minutes (73, 20 more than Anthony Davis) of any Team USA player in the 2012 Olympics, he brings a soft touch from outside and has a knack for getting to the basket and drawing contact.
During his breakout 2012-13 campaign in Houston, Harden averaged 10.2 free-throw attempts per game, the most of any player in the Association (Dwight Howard was second at 9.5 per contest).
Harden also attempted six threes per game last season, tied for third most among all players. An efficient talent who possesses a nifty combination of inside and outside scoring capabilities, Harden will thrive in his role as an offensive specialist for Mike Krzyzewski's squad.
Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony shines on the Olympic stage. Remember when he set two Olympic records with 37 points and 10 made three-pointers in Team USA's drubbing of Nigeria?
It's performances like those that show just how valuable the 2012-13 scoring champion is to his national team.
Anthony finished second on the team in scoring last summer, pouring in 16.3 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting (50 percent from three).
And on a team lacking size, Anthony is capable of going big and picking up the slack down low. A stretch 4 at both the international and pro levels, 'Melo is an indispensable component of Team USA's offense.
Forward: Paul George
With Kobe Bryant off-limits, Paul George is the choice to fill in on the wing.
Given the team's immense talent on the perimeter, it would be unfair to expect George to come in and be Team USA's fourth-leading scorer (as Bryant was in 2012). However, the 23-year old George brings a certain tenacity on the defensive end that a nearly 35-year-old Bryant doesn't.
And with George on the squad, Coach K would be able to mix and match wings to create some exciting permutations.
George could play alongside LeBron James in a dynamic defensive pairing, or he could be mixed and matched with either Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony in a nifty offense-defense combo.
Expect George to become a staple of Team USA lineups over the next decade.
Forward: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was listed as a guard on last summer's roster, but no matter how diverse his skill set may be, there's no denying that Durant's size and length make him a forward.
Durant led Team USA in scoring during the London games, averaging 19.5 points on 48.5 percent shooting from the field and a scintillating 52.3 percent shooting from three.
Scoring comes effortlessly to Durant, and it was evident as he torched opponents with 34 made threes over the course of eight games. That's 4.25 made treys per game.
Should Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Stephen Curry find themselves on the floor together, opposing defenses will be hard-pressed to find a way to stop the USA's perimeter attack.
Forward: LeBron James
The biggest no-brainer of them all is LeBron James, who showed out in a big way during the 2012 Summer Olympic games.
While James finished third on the team in scoring a year ago (13.3 points per game), he led Team USA in assists with 5.6 per contest and 45 total.
In fact, James' 45 assists for the tournament were the highest total that an American has posted since Scottie Pippen dished out 47 during the Dream Team's spectacular 1992 run.
The linchpin of his team's success on both ends of the floor, James is the unquestioned leader of Team USA now that Kobe Bryant has retired from international play.
Forward: Kevin Love
Kevin Love only appeared in 18 NBA games last season, but the small sample size we were treated to was simply delightful. In those few appearances, Love averaged 18.3 points and 14 rebounds per game.
Those gaudy numbers should come as no surprise, as Love has quickly established himself as one of the game's premier stretch 4's/5's at 24 years old.
Love's ability to stretch a defense is invaluable, but on the Olympic stage he's carved out a niche with Team USA thanks to his relentlessness on the glass.
In 2012, Love led all USA players with 61 total rebounds for the tournament (7.6 boards per game), the third most in the history of the team behind only Kevin Garnett's 73 in 2000 and Tim Duncan's 73 in 2004.
Forward: Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin missed the 2012 Olympics due to knee surgery, which thrust then-19-year-old Anthony Davis into the international spotlight.
But seniority rules in this case, with Griffin reclaiming his spot at power forward.
Griffin has yet to make an Olympic appearance, but there's no doubting that his game will hold up at the international level.
And it's not just his ability to finish off lobs. Griffin's mid-range game has improved steadily over the past year. He shot 46.6 percent on attempts between three and 10 feet in 2012-13, up from 42.6 percent in 2011-12.
With Kevin Love and now Griffin providing size off the bench, there are no noticeable holes in this revised lineup.
Center: Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh isn't a center in the classic sense, but this group needs players who are dedicated to embracing a specific role. His mid-range-based game is perfect for the Olympic setting, and he has the size at 6'11'' to guard more conventional centers.
Bosh missed the 2012 Olympics due to an abdominal injury, but he returns to the squad after proving his value to the Miami Heat in the midst of their repeat title run.
What many forget is that Bosh was one of the unsung heroes of the 2008 team that captured gold in Beijing. The eight-time All-Star led Team USA that year with 6.1 rebounds per game and chipped in a solid 9.1 points per contest.
He may be the least celebrated of the Heat's Big Three, but Bosh possesses the sort of selfless traits that the Red, White and Blue are looking for in a big man.
Center: Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard was replaced by New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler as Team USA's starting center after undergoing back surgery last spring.
And despite criticism raining down on Howard from every corner of the basketball universe, his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities are superior to Chandler's no matter how you cut it.
In a supposed down year, Howard led the NBA with 12.4 rebounds per game and finished fifth in blocks, swatting 2.45 shots a night.
While he may not be thought of as a team player, Howard was solid in the 2008 Olympics, averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
An imposing force who can help fortify the middle of the team's defense, Howard is the choice to start at center.