In previous international competitions, the common lament was that Team USA featured too many superstars and not enough role players.
Not only is Kevin Durant the only player on Team USA worthy of an inarguable "superstar" tag, but even role players are coming up short at certain positions.
In other words, Team USA is not an overwhelming favorite to take gold at the FIBA World Championships.
It all starts (and will likely end) with Durant. Unlike the 2008 Beijing squad, there is no debating who the alpha dog is on this team. This is both a blessing and a curse.
There will be no confusion on offense about who is Option A. Don't think opposing teams don't already know this. There is no pick-your-poison dilemma as there was with the LeBron/Wade/Kobe triumvirate. The other countries will do everything they can to deny Durant the ball, daring someone else to beat them.
That's where the uneasiness creeps in. There's no doubt who Option A is, but what about Option B? Who steps up as the beta to Durant's alpha?
The point guard committee seems the most likely source, but its flaws run rampant. Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and Russell Westbrook all have questionable outside shots—an achilles' heel against zone defenses opposing teams are sure to use.
They all have differing skill sets as well. Rose may be the best penetrater of the bunch. Rondo features the worst jumper, but the best ball-pressure defense. Westbrook is electric, but occasionally trigger-happy from the outside.
Chauncey Billups, the veteran leader of the team, will see more crunch-time burn than his predecessor Jason Kidd. Billups' physical style of play combined with his steady playmaking and clutch outside shooting make him the most complete point guard on the squad, despite his athletic limitations.
The X-factor is Golden State's Stephen Curry. The runner-up for Rookie of the Year boasts the best outside stroke other than Durant. Ditto his ability to carve up opposing defenses. The concern with Curry is his slight build (6'3", 185 pounds). Can he withstand the clutching, physical nature of international guard play?
It's all a far cry from Beijing, when Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul were all available off the bench.
Defensively, Team USA is nearing donut status with its increasing hole in the middle. Already short-staffed on big men, New Jersey Nets big man Brook Lopez pulled out for medical reasons yesterday, leaving Tyson Chandler as the only "true center" on the roster.
Chandler doesn't do much other than rebound and dunk, but he does those two things extremely well. Any caroms off the rim or high-bounce misses are sure to be gobbled-up by the lengthy dirt-worker.
Kevin Love, who looked made for international play in practices and scrimmage play, is a lock to make the team. He'll likely share duties at center as well as power forward. His rebounding prowess, basketball IQ, and relatively good outside shooting will be vital on the thin USA frontcourt.
Lamar Odom will likely be the other backup at center, with Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant sliding to power forward.
Offensively, it's not big deal. Defensively, it could spell disaster. Physical teams like Greece and Spain love to crash the boards and do so surprisingly well. If Chandler or Love get in early foul trouble (remember, only five fouls allowed as opposed to the NBA's six), offensive boards and second-chance points could kill Team USA.
Taking gold at the Worlds will hinge on two things: Tempo and chemistry. Unlike the Beijing group, this squad will still be getting used to each other as the tournament goes along.
If they can get out and run off rebounds and forcing turnovers, they'll be okay. But if contenders Greece, Spain, or Argentina slow them down and expose their fundamental flaws, don't be surprised to see the red, white, and blue fall.
Then again, can you see Kevin Durant letting that happen? Didn't think so.
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