Best Potential Choices to Usher in Next Era of Team USA Basketball

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 25, 2013

Best Potential Choices to Usher in Next Era of Team USA Basketball

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    Team USA is going to be missing a couple of basketball icons when the 2014 World Championships roll around next year.

    Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports reported that LeBron James is officially out of the competition (and may not compete internationally again), and Kobe Bryant, another Team USA mainstay, may not be able to handle the added miles of summertime play.

    Dwyane Wade is getting older, Tyson Chandler is breaking down and Dwight Howard isn't allowed to go on field trips without a permission slip. So it's time to re-evaluate things.

    Fortunately, there's no lack of talent waiting to step into bigger roles for the world's most exclusive team. In fact, there might actually be too many worthy candidates.

    Twenty-eight NBA players convened at Team USA camp in Las Vegas on July 22, and all of them could eventually figure into the equations for the 2014 World Championships or the 2016 Olympics. In addition, a few players with international experience should probably stick around for leadership purposes.

    Picking out which American players deserve to be part of the future of Team USA is tough. But with a collection of seasoned vets and rising stars, the potential for international dominance is as strong as ever.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Age: 29

    International Credentials: Bronze medal in 2006 World Championships, bronze medal in 2004 Olympics, gold medal in 2008 Olympics, gold medal in 2012 Olympics

     

    No potential member of Team USA has had as much international success as Carmelo Anthony. Of course, it's also true that nobody has endured as much international failure.

    Anthony was part of the embarrassing efforts in 2004 and 2006 that led to Jerry Colangelo putting together a much more structured American program. And as strange as it sounds, it's probably a good idea to have a holdover from that bygone era on future teams because 'Melo will be able to caution his younger teammates against the sort of complacency that caused those failures.

    On the court, Anthony is a proven international player. The shorter three-point line favors his excellent mid-range game, and he naturally excels as an undersized power forward.

    He probably shouldn't be the face of Team USA, but he should definitely play a major role. 

Paul George

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    Age: 23

    International Credentials: None

     

    International play demands versatility and athleticism from wing players. Fortunately for Paul George, he's loaded with both of those things.

    An emergent star in the 2013 playoffs, George proved he could stand up to LeBron James for a seven-game series. So whoever plays small forward for Turkmenistan shouldn't be a problem.

    George is a tireless worker who is still just scratching the surface of his considerable talent. Getting him into a gym with Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Thibodeau every couple of summers could result in growth he otherwise might not experience.

    As one of the players invited to Las Vegas this year, George is already standing out as a star among stars.

    The Indiana Pacers wing already looks like a big part of the NBA's future. Why shouldn't he be the same thing for Team USA?

Derrick Rose

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    Age: 24

    International Credentials: Gold medal in 2010 World Championships

     

    Derrick Rose's torn ACL kept him out of the 2012 Olympics in London, and he's not currently among the young players invited to work out in Las Vegas. But you can bet that if the former MVP wants a spot on Team USA, he'll get it.

    Offensively, Rose isn't an ideal international player. His still-questionable perimeter shot and ball-dominant game don't translate as well to the pass-and-cut style of worldwide competition. But that's nitpicking; he can still dominate both ends with raw athleticism.

    Rose led Team USA with 29 assists in nine games during the 2010 World Championships, and his terrifying defense was a big part of that team's trapping style.

    There's a glut of worthy point guard candidates, but Rose should get consideration ahead of just about all of them.

Russell Westbrook

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    Age: 24

    International Credentials: Gold medal in 2010 World Championships, gold medal in 2012 Olympics

     

    If there's a more athletic point guard on the planet than Rose, it's Russell Westbrook. The pair of young point guards are comparable in a number of respects: Both attack the lane relentlessly, both could use more accurate jumpers and both have experienced success internationally.

    If Westbrook has an edge on Rose, it comes from his maniacal competitiveness on defense. When he's involved in a trapping scheme, he turns into some kind of crazed, ball-hawking animal. No guard on the planet is more dangerous in a full-court press.

    And when those steals turn games into scattered affairs, Westbrook thrives in the chaos of transition basketball.

    If Team USA is at all concerned about a lack of intensity, slotting Westbrook into the rotation would immediately assuage those worries.

Chris Paul

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    Age: 28

    International Credentials: Bronze medal in 2006 World Championships, gold medal in 2008 Olympics, gold medal in 2012 Olympics

     

    Team USA can't go to war without its floor general. Jason Kidd put in his time as the guy directing traffic and getting everyone involved, but as he faded out of the international picture, Paul gradually assumed that role.

    And now that Bryant also figures to be absent from the team, it'll be more important than ever to have an elder (Paul just seems much older than he is) statesman to keep everyone else in line.

    CP3 is a born leader, a pathological competitor and a one-man press-breaker. Plus, flopping is encouraged in international competition. He's perfect!

James Harden

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    Age: 23

    International Credentials: Gold medal in 2012 Olympics

     

    James Harden's game is basically a perfect international fit. He can knock down a three, gets to the rim at will and travels almost every time he touches the ball.

    He'll fit right in.

    If USA Basketball is at all interested in collecting the best talent the NBA has to offer, Harden has to be part of the team going forward. There's an awful lot of competition at the guard positions (we've already listed three point guards, with more to come), but Harden could easily slide over to a forward spot in international competition.

    Manu Ginobili is a legendary competitor on the world stage. Short of the savant-like passing, Harden is the closest Manu clone the U.S. has to offer.

Kevin Love

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    Age: 24

    International Credentials: Gold medal in 2010 World Championships, gold medal in 2012 Olympics

     

    Kevin Love gets a pass for his injury-plagued 2012-13 campaign. Assuming his shooting hand is fully healed, expect the skilled big man to immediately return to his bulk-rebounding, hot-shooting ways for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    An ideal floor-stretching big, Love has already shown how well he fits in with Team USA by winning gold with the last two iterations of the squad. And with Chris Bosh failing to make the cut here, Love's importance only grows.

    Size without skill is almost entirely useless internationally. Because Love has both in abundance, he's a perfect fit. 

Kyrie Irving

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    Age: 21

    International Credentials: None

     

    New rule: If you're good enough to end up on the cover of a video game, you're probably worthy of consideration for a spot on Team USA.

    Irving is already the fourth point guard mentioned here, but who says he has to handle the ball? Sure, the two-year veteran excels at breaking down opponents off the dribble, but he has also made at least 39 percent of his three-point shots in each of his two NBA seasons. 

    The guy won the Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend for crying out loud. I think that qualifies him to spot up and fire away as Paul and Rose generate open looks for him.

    Plus, at 6'3" and 191 pounds, it's not like Irving will get bullied by the world's shooting guards. He'll more than hold his own, and at just 21 years old, he could end up playing in as many as three Olympics.

Anthony Davis

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    Age: 20

    International Credentials: Gold medal in 2012 Olympics

     

    It's a rare player who earns an Olympic gold medal before he ever suits up for an NBA game, but Anthony Davis pulled off the trick at the 2012 London Games.

    Look, Team USA is short on big men, and Davis is the kind of versatile frontcourt player who could help out in a number of ways. He's already a fantastic help defender with remarkable length and quickness. If Davis can add a three-point shot, he'll be a monster.

    The New Orleans Pelicans have already been using Davis away from the basket, where he has shown a decent stroke and passable agility. At just 20 years old, he's going to continue to blossom.

    At this point, nobody knows what his ceiling might be, but it's not out of the question to peg him as a much more athletic LaMarcus Aldridge who also defends like Joakim Noah. Pretty exciting, huh?

    The Brow needs to be a Team USA mainstay for the next decade.

Stephen Curry

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    Age: 25

    International Credentials: Gold medal in 2010 World Championships

     

    Elite shooting is important regardless of the circumstances. But it's flat-out vital in international competition.

    That's why the best shooter on planet Earth, Stephen Curry, absolutely has to be part of Team USA's new era. He's already won gold with the 2010 World Championship squad, but that was before shooting his way into the hearts of every basketball purist during a stunning 2013 playoff run.

    Curry is deadly from everywhere, and with a shorter three-point line, things might even get a little bit unfair.

    Much like Irving, Curry could play off the ball with ease, forcing defenses to stay glued to him while the rest of Team USA attacked a suddenly wide-open middle of the floor.

    Best of all, the clean-cut choir boy will go a long way toward dispelling the "Ugly American" image that still lingers after the chest-pounding, elbow-throwing era of just a few years ago (Thanks a lot, Kevin Garnett). There will be no international incidents with Curry—just lots and lots of beautiful jumpers.

Roy Hibbert

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    Age: 26

    International Credentials: None (with the USA)

     

    Consider this the "Gasol Contingency Plan."

    Spain is a beast. Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka give the Spaniards the most imposing front line in the world, and that calls for the kind of secret weapon who matches up well against the bulkiest bigs.

    Enter Roy Hibbert, shot-destroyer and defensive menace.

    The Pacers center is far from an ideal fit for the up-and-down, highly skilled style Team USA will employ against most opponents. But neither Love nor Davis stand a chance against the Gasols. Sometimes, it takes size to beat size.

    So even if Hibbert only suits up against Spain, he's got to be a part of the team. Think of him like a left-handed specialist in baseball. You might not use him for weeks at a time, but when that slugging lefty comes to bat in the eighth inning of a tie game, you're awfully glad you've got an answer.

    *Note: Hibbert has already competed internationally as part of the Jamaican national team. He's trying to get the club release him so he can regain eligibility to play for the U.S., but it's going to be a tricky negotiation.

Kevin Durant

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    Age: 24

    International Credentials: Gold medal in 2010 World Championships, gold medal in 2012 Olympics

     

    Let's end the suspense, shall we? All of the previous players mentioned are great pieces to the Team USA puzzle, but Kevin Durant is the face of American basketball for the foreseeable future.

    Executive director Jerry Colangelo said as much (per Spears) when James announced he wouldn't be playing in 2014, and the natural NBA hierarchy pretty much demands that KD step into the alpha-dog role for his country.

    Durant is the second-best player in his own professional league, and now that LBJ is taking a break, he'll be the most dominant force for his country.

    When Team USA goes small, Durant can play some power forward. And if he needs to bring the ball up for some reason, he can do that, too.

    Durant is more than ready to lead Team USA against the rest of the world. He'll get his first chance to prove it in 2014.