Predicting Which Team USA FIBA Players Will Make 2016 Olympic Squad
Team USA is gearing up to compete in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but the current action can also be used to figure out what will be happening in 2016.
Even if the World Cup is a big deal in the world of international basketball, the Summer Olympics, which will be taking place in Rio two years from now, are an even bigger deal. Those resonate on a global scale, and they capture the full brunt of American attention, which can't quite be said about the upcoming summer festivities.
The rosters aren't yet determined for the World Cup, but let's look beyond even that. Two years from now, which players currently competing for slots on the squad will be wearing red, white and blue in Rio?
It's important to note, though, that not only the players currently in training camp are eligible for participation. The Americans will be boosted by a group of players who are taking the summer off right now, which you can view at the bottom of this slide.
Some of the inevitable 2016 stars are already sitting out this summer, but the entire roster won't be comprised of those veterans currently resting their legs. Far from it. There's a group of seven players who should use this World Cup competition as a springboard toward Olympic participation.
Portion of the projected 2016 roster not competing in 2014 FIBA World Cup: Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Jabari Parker, Russell Westbrook
Aftermath of the Paul George Injury
Of course, there's the question of Paul George.
In the wake of his devastating injury at a televised scrimmage, one that will knock him out of action for the entire 2014-15 season, there's a bit of doubt about whether stars will compete in future international ventures.
"I don't anticipate a major shift in the NBA's participation in international competitions," Adam Silver, the NBA's commissioner, told Sam Amick of USA Today, and the sentiment has already been echoed by one notable player.
"Nah, it's a part of the game unfortunately," Damian Lillard told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com when asked over the phone if he thought about withdrawing in the aftermath of George's brutal leg injury. "It's a risk any time you step out on the basketball court. I haven't thought about stepping away [from Team USA]. I'll stay in."
The rest of the league's stars should—and will—feel the same way. They're too competitive to think otherwise, and the allure of representing one's country is too great.
We're not suddenly going to leave stars out.
Age at 2016 Olympics: 23
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.3 PER
This is a tough spot to earn. Shooting guard is currently one of the weaker positions in the NBA, but it's also chock full of young up-and-comers.
While I'm giving the spot to Bradley Beal—only because Paul George's devastating injury will make it much more difficult for him to (a) make the roster, (b) earn a spot over the other guys competing and (c) commit to the competition—the Washington Wizards 2-guard will have to beat out DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson, Lance Stephenson and more.
Right now, Beal is the worst of the aforementioned names, which is why he'll be one of those who goes from missing the World Cup roster to making the Olympic squad once he comes into his own. The 21-year-old is fully capable of becoming a two-way presence and thriving in both areas Team USA needs him to excel in.
Though his height prevents him from having positional versatility, Beal is a promising defender who can flat-out stroke the ball from the perimeter. Plus, he has the advantage of youth on his side, as Thompson—his primary competitor—is nearly three years older and doesn't have the same type of ceiling to work with.
Age at 2016 Olympics: 28
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 24.1 PER
Stephen Curry is going to add value to Team USA for a long time.
With all due respect to Kyle Korver, the leading member of the Splash Brothers is the best shooter in the world, largely because he's capable of splashing in three-point attempts while creating his own looks off the bounce. Curry thrives as a spot-up sniper, sure, but he's equally adept at dribbling into his shots.
Is that going to change by the time he's 28?
Maybe so, but only because Curry will be getting better under the tutelage of Steve Kerr, which is absolutely terrifying for both the rest of the NBA and the world of international basketball as a whole.
Given FIBA's shorter three-point arc and the necessity of perimeter shooting in worldwide competition, Curry will have a place as long as he wants it. Unlike the country's true shooting specialists like Korver, he's also an adept ball-handler who has started to emerge as one of the best distributors in the Association.
Maybe by 2016, he'll get that between-the-legs dunk down rather than settling for outside looks.
Age at 2016 Olympics: 23
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.8 blocks, 26.5 PER
This is about as obvious as it gets.
"I know how good [Anthony Davis] is going to be," Kevin Durant explained to NBA.com's Jim Eichenhofer after the two competed at a Team USA practice in Las Vegas. "I know how good he is now, but I know how good he’s going to be. He’s an MVP-caliber player. So he’s next. He’s next in line—a guy that has grown so much in just a year."
It seems as though those in attendance at the practices have just been overflowing with effusive praise for the New Orleans Pelicans standout, and for good reason. He's already one of the 10 best players in the world, and he's only been old enough to take advantage of Bourbon Street for a matter of months.
Davis' ceiling is just ridiculously high, and he's made unbelievable progress during his short NBA career. He's already one of the few players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, which he did while getting better, showcasing efficiency and leading the league in rejections.
Few players can emerge as MVP candidates without leading their teams to the playoffs, but Davis could join that club in 2014-15. He's that good.
By the time 2016 rolls around, there's no telling how far off the charts his game could be. Hell, Mike Krzyzewski has already called Davis his "main guy," per NOLA.com's Jimmy Smith.
Age at 2016 Olympics: 23
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.6 blocks, 22.6 PER
"He was active. He got his hands in passing lanes, and when considering the prevalence of the three-point shot in international play, he was able to close out on shooters," wrote Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press about Andre Drummond's initial foray with Team USA.
Drummond's offense doesn't really fit in with the American scheme of shooting, shooting and more shooting, but he does bring two things to the table: rim protection and rebounding.
Even at 20 years old, Drummond was already one of the best players in the world at crashing the boards and either ending a possession for the other team or keeping it alive for his. By the time 2016 rolls around, it's likely we'll be able to remove "one of" from the previous sentence and give the big man the unquestioned title.
On top of that, he's an insane athlete who's capable of guarding multiple positions. And with the shortened three-point arc, it's even easier for him to protect the rim by providing some help defense and then still recovering to close out on a perimeter sniper, all without skipping a beat. That type of versatility is astounding, and Coach K has to be salivating over the thought of Davis and Drummond wreaking havoc two years down the road.
Remember when this center was supposed to be a raw prospect coming out of Connecticut, one who wouldn't compete at a high level for years?
Age at 2016 Olympics: 27
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 29.8 PER
There's a reason I included "about" in the first sentence of the explanation for Anthony Davis.
While including "The Brow" is obvious, it doesn't get easier than concluding that Kevin Durant will be on the roster for the 2016 Olympic festivities. Period. End of story.
The fact that he's only going to be 27 years old when the opening ceremonies begin in Rio is just insane, as he's coming off an MVP award in 2014 and is clearly still on the up.
In fact, you could make a legitimate case that Durant is the best player in the world heading into the 2014-15 season, depending on how you feel about LeBron's transition to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Two years down the road, it might be KD who's emerged as the prohibitive favorite in that two-player debate.
He's the leader of this Team USA squad, and that's not going to change anytime soon.
Age at 2016 Olympics: 26
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 23.5 PER
James Harden may not play much defense, and there's no telling whether that will change in time for the competition in Rio, but which other 2-guard is this established and heading toward his prime, not out of it?
Kobe Bryant will be coming off what's likely his final NBA season when the 2016 Olympics roll around, and Dwyane Wade will be 34 years old. Given the Miami Heat star's knees, adding extra wear and tear in international competition isn't exactly a good idea for his longevity in the Association, much less his post-basketball life.
It's Harden and a bunch of up-and-comers. Chances are, they don't overtake him in the next two seasons, not with his current level of offensive production.
The bearded 2-guard gets quite a bit of grief for the lack of defense in his arsenal, as well as his penchant for flailing away and acting his way to the free-throw line on a regular basis, particularly when his shot isn't falling, but he's still an elite contributor. Few players mix his level of scoring with his efficiency numbers, and Harden is still moving toward that athletic prime.
Plus, he's one of the team's leaders.
"Two years ago in London, I was just happy to be on the team," Harden told Smith. "There were so many great guys on that team. Now I'm one of the leaders. I just take the leadership role as far as working hard and just trying to be social."
Given the nature of his game, his international experience, his age and his position, Harden may well be one of the locks for the 2016 roster.
Age at 2016 Olympics: 27
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 9.7 PER
Derrick Rose hasn't played effective basketball that counts in years. Even during his brief return to the Chicago Bulls lineup during the 2013-14 campaign, he struggled with his shot and saw the turnovers pile up before another knee injury knocked him out for the rest of the season.
However, Rose has been earning rave reviews during his time with Team USA, and he showed off enough burst during the televised scrimmage that the world of basketball fans seemed to lose its collective mind.
"On the court, Rose removed much of the doubt surrounding his 10-month layoff from competition by playing with a freedom missing from his first return—something coach Mike Krzyzewski and others noted," wrote David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. "He glided and exploded. He dished, defended and drove."
There's no denying that Rose has looked impressive, perhaps even better than anyone else in attendance for Team USA. However, it's important to keep perspective, as we won't really know anything about Rose's return until there's a large sample of games that count.
"In seven preseason games—he missed the game against the Wizards in Brazil—Rose averaged 20.7 points and showed his old explosiveness around the rim, as well as an improved three-point shot," Joe Cowley wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. "Opposing coaches who’ve seen him this preseason have raved about his play. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Rose already was an MVP candidate."
That was last preseason.
And, well, we all saw how the ensuing season went for the supposed MVP candidate.
It's too early to declare that Rose is back. However, he certainly appears to be tracking toward that status, and there's no doubt such a dynamic point guard would be on the Team USA roster if he were at full strength.