Team USA Basketball: What 2014 Roster Could Look Like Without LeBron James
Yes, the newly named FIBA World Cup of Basketball is a year—and probably a number of injuries—away from tipping off in Spain in 2014. But it's not too early to think about next year's roster, particularly in the light of this Yahoo! Sports piece that reports four-time MVP LeBron James will sit out the 2014 tournament and likely the 2016 Olympics.
This will be the first time since professionals were allowed to compete in the Olympics that defending American gold medalists will take the floor for a world championship. Team USA's worlds squads in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010 all featured players different from the gold-medal-winning teams, although in 1998 that was precipitated out of necessity due to the '98-99 lockout.
As such, I have prepared one roster that includes only Durant and Love as holdovers from 2012, plus one that includes other holdovers as well. Positions listed are international positions, which may be different than the positions a player plays in the NBA.
I also take into account some of Coach K's roster proclivities—in particular liking both players who've played under him at Duke and veteran point guards like Jason Kidd (even though he's now a coach) and Chauncey Billups.
Side Note: Players Who Sat out 2012
Off the top of my head, I can pretty quickly think of four players who would have made the 2012 Olympic Team fairly easily, but didn’t do to injury: Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin. I also think of people like Tim Duncan, who hasn’t played internationally for nearly a decade, but made the All-NBA First Team last year.
First off, realistically, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett aren’t going to be playing in Spain next year. Even if they’re still in the league after 2014, they will either decline or won’t be considered. By contrast, since Rose and Griffin have yet to take the floor for Team USA in the Olympic Games, they’re fair game to be selected for 2014 in my book.
As for Wade and Howard, I’m putting them in the same category as people who actually played in the 2012 Olympics.
Is the U.S. thin in the middle and at the two-guard without Howard and Wade playing? Yes. Could Howard participating in the 2014 Worlds rehabilitate his image as a lackadaisical player? Yes. Is it likely that Howard and Wade will still sit out the 2014 Worlds to lick their wounds, or, in Wade's case, discuss his contract? Probably.
Also, another player I am going to pass on in this article is Rajon Rondo, owing to that fact that he (and pretty much anybody else in a Celtic uniform with him) has sat out international tournaments in recent years, and has also been battling injuries.
Chris Paul, Clippers
It goes without saying that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA, finishing at or near the top in assists, steals and player efficiency rating each of the last three seasons. He’s won gold medals in Beijing and London, recording 41 assists and 20 steals in the latter contest. The only thing that will keep him off the roster is if he decides to sit it out.
Deron Williams, Nets
Deron Williams actually averaged better per-48 minutes numbers in assists in London than Chris Paul did, and more points than Paul did outright. I’m projecting Williams to have his best season of his career next season, including finishing in the top three in assists, which could be followed by playing in Spain if he wants to.
Steph Curry, Warriors
The fact is that Steph Curry should have made the All-NBA Third Team in 2013. Curry has a career 58.6 true-shooting percentage, and led the league in made threes while finishing in the top 10 in both points and assists. Curry is a veteran of the 2010 World Cup, where he was used sparingly as a two-guard. Should he be selected, look for him to again split time between the point and shooting guards, despite only being 6’3”.
Derrick Rose, Bulls
Two seasons removed from his MVP campaign, Rose had an OK season in 2012 followed by sitting out the 2013 campaign. He led Team USA in assists at the 2010 World Cup, and will likely get a call from Colangelo if Paul and/or D-Wil decide to spend the summer of 2014 on vacation.
John Wall, Wizards
There are a number of young point guards in the NBA, including Wall, Damien Lilard, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. Each of them I see as a long shot due in part to the depth at the point, and in part due to Coach K’s preference for vets at this position. Of the four, I give Wall the best shot. I have him pegged as bouncing back from injury to post his first 20-and-10 season of his career, which could be followed by an invite from Colangelo.
James Harden, Rockets
There’s no question in my mind who the best shooting guard in the NBA is now, particularly when Kobe Bryant is out of the conversation. That would be the Rockets’ James Harden, who followed up being a scrub in London by finishing fifth in the NBA in points per game and fourth in win shares. And despite the sumptuous beard, it’s hard to believe that James Harden will still only be 24 when the 2014 Worlds roll around.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Yes, Russell Westbrook is a point guard in the NBA, but he played mostly at the two in both Turkey and London, where he averaged almost nine points a contest. In the winter, Westbrook is coming back from three straight 20 PPG seasons and three straight All-NBA Second Teams. He could look to again make the team if he successfully recovers from his knee injury.
Dwyane Wade, Heat
Obviously, Wade is a gold medalist and a three-time champion, to say nothing of one of the best scorers and most efficient two-guards of his generation. As I noted earlier, I think the chances Wade puts himself into the pool are slim.
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
After Westbrook, Wade, Harden and Bryant, the options at shooting guard get bleak in a hurry. DeRozan was fourth in the NBA in scoring among two-guards after Bryant, Harden and Wade. I consider DeRozan to be a quality under-the-radar selection if the U.S. wants a shooting guard but can’t have Kobe or Wade.
Andre Miller, Nuggets
As with DeRozan, this is an under-the-radar pick. Miller has rather quietly become the man with the 10th-most assists in the history of the NBA. If Coach K is looking for a wily veteran, it is Miller’s turn.
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
Anthony has played in three Olympics, and in the last one, he dropped 37 on Nigeria en route to finishing second in scoring on Team USA. He then returned to the States to lead the NBA in scoring and have his most efficient season ever. If he wants to play, ‘Melo is a lock to make the roster.
Paul George, Pacers
The guy who is going to get LeBron’s roster spot on the 2014 Worlds is Paul George, who played his way into the 2014 Worlds conversation with a solid 2013 season. Per Basketball-reference.com, he led the league in defensive win shares last season en route to an All-NBA Third Team, and All-Defensive Second Team. And George isn’t a defensive specialist: he was tenth in the NBA in made threes.
Andre Iguodala, Warriors
Yes, I know Iggy is one of the premier defensive players in the NBA, and won medals in 2010 and 2012, but he really was hardly used in London. Though Iggy is an efficient player, he had an underwhelming 2013 where (per Basketball-reference.com) his win shares per 48 minutes was a career low and his PER was the worst since 2006. I personally would leave him off the 2014 World Cup team.
Shane Battier, Heat
I know I am going to take some flak for mentioning Battier at the expense of people like Josh Smith, Rudy Gay and Danny Granger. But Battier just seems like the type of role player (just like Lamar Odom in 2010 and Harden in 2012) who you’d pick for team cohesion. He has the added leg-up of playing under Coach K at Duke.
Kevin Durant, Thunder
Kevin Durant led Team USA in scoring at the 2010 Worlds. He led Team USA in scoring at the 2012 Olympics. He led the league in scoring in three of the last four seasons. He has indicated an interest to play in the article I linked in the title slide, and he’ll be a look to carry the team when he plays.
Blake Griffin, Clippers
Blake Griffin almost made the 2012 Olympics, but dropped out due to injury. In just three seasons, he’s played in three All-Star Games, made two All-NBA Second Teams, recorded 133 double-doubles, and been one of the best power forwards in terms of value-added. He is a number of “stretch-fours” who could potentially play center in the international game where players are an inch or two shorter.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers
After Griffin and maybe Tim Duncan, the two-time All-Star is the best stretch four in the league right now. He finished in the top 10 in scoring in both of the last two seasons, and has averaged eight or more rebounds in each of the last four.
Dwight Howard, Rockets
Even when he isn’t giving 100 percent, Howard is the best big in the NBA. Despite having a lackadaisical season with the Lakers, he still lead the league in rebounding (he is the active leader in rebounds per game and is 12th all-time in that stat). He also shot 57.7 percent from the field, and is the fifth-most accurate player (in term of field goal percentage) in the league’s history. As with Wade, there is a big question mark as to whether he will actually suit up or not.
Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Following his 2010 Worlds appearance, Love won the 2011 Most Improved Player Award, played in two All-Star Games, made the All-NBA Second Team and won a gold medal. When he’s healthy, he gets double-doubles almost automatically. Love’s injury-plagued 2013 season gave me pause as to even consider him for the squad. But, since FIBA is reporting that Colangelo was in talks with Love, he’s probably going to make the squad if he can stay healthy.
Tyson Chandler, Knicks
Sure, Chandler played on the 2010 and 2012 squads, where he averaged three or four points a contest. Stateside, won a title with the Mavericks, was the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Award and has shot 65.6 percent from the field in his last three seasons. However, there are three reasons why I’d leave him off this time around, though. Two of them are his propensity to get in foul trouble, particularly in international play. The final one is his lack of scoring, which is why I’d instead choose someone like...
Brook Lopez, Nets
Lopez has bounced back from an injury-plagued 2012 season to be one of the best centers in the league in 2013. He led all true centers in scoring with 19.4 points a contest, while finishing seventh in the league in blocks. In Hollingerworld, he led all centers in player-efficiency rating, value-added and wins added (all per all per ESPN.com). Pairing Lopez with a rebounder like Love or Griffin seems to me to be a winning proposition.
With Olympic Players
PG Chris Paul
PG Deron Williams
PG/SG Russell Westbrook
SG Dwyane Wade
SG/SF James Harden
SF Paul George
SF/PF Carmelo Anthony
SF/PF Kevin Durant
PF/C Blake Griffin
PF/C Kevin Love
C Dwight Howard
C Brook Lopez
Italics denotes players who played in the 2012 Olympics, Underline denotes players who played in the 2008 Olympics, but not in 2012
With Just Durant and Love Returning
PG Derrick Rose
PG John Wall
PG/SG Steph Curry
PG/SG Andre Miller
SG DeMar DeRozan
SF Paul George
SF Shane Battier
SF/PF Kevin Durant
PF/C Blake Griffin
PF/C LaMarcus Aldridge
PF/C Kevin Love
C Brook Lopez