The FIBA World Championship starts in mere days, and while team USA comes into the tournament as a perennial favorite, it’s far from a sure thing.
There’s a huge monkey on team USA’s back considering it hasn't won the tournament since 1994, back when the likes of Reggie Miller, Dominique Wilkins, and Joe Dumars led the team to the top.
This is a huge deal considering this is considered the premier competition for international basketball. Maybe in America the Olympics are considered to be more important than the FIBA worlds, but that’s not how it is viewed around the world.
Team USA also comes into this tournament with a roster full of players that aren’t exactly the cream of the crop that this country has to produce.
None of the members from the "Redeem Team" are coming back for this tournament, and many of the players who were part of the 22 man roster withdrew, whether it was Amar’e Stoudemire with contract insurance issues, or Brook Lopez, who struggled to recover from mono.
To be honest, if the coaches had their desired roster we wouldn’t see many of these names.
While this squad is built much differently from the 2008 Olympic team, this is a very talented squad capable of winning it all, and by no means are these players scrubs. This is a very young team (five players on the team are 21), and only two are 30 or over. This is a roster composed of young NBA talent, a roster that includes names like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Kevin Love.
It used to be that USA winning an International competition was a foregone conclusion; none of the opposing teams could compete with the USA. However, now many other countries can not only compete with USA, but are capable of upsetting team USA in a game that counts.
Countries such as Spain and Greece will enter the tournament with a chip on their shoulder, as they think they are the team to beat.
Spain features a roster that includes phenom Ricky Rubio and big man Marc Gasol. Spain gave USA’s Redeem Team trouble in the Olympic Gold Medal game, and this is the kind of team that could give USA trouble because it can shoot the ball, which is crucial International play. Plus, they have a true center in Marc Gasol.
Greece, on the other hand, was a team that USA routed in an exhibition by a score of 87-59. But don’t take that at face value; Greece was missing its two big men, 6’11” Yannis Bouroussis, and 6’10" Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Both can play center and both can give USA trouble on the boards.
For this USA team to win it all, Kevin Durant is going to have to be the unquestioned leader. Durant’s role on this team won’t be the same as his role on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For the Thunder, Durant was asked to carry the scoring load; he’s not going to have to do that while playing for team USA, but he will have to be more of playmaker, and he’s going to have to be a better defender.
Let’s make it clear—the offense will run through Durant, Durant will have the ball in his hands for much of the time, and he’s going to take the last shot nine times out of 10. There is no way USA could win it all if Durant doesn’t show up; he’s by far the most important player on this team.
What makes this team unique from other teams and previous USA teams is that this team is extremely guard oriented. Mike Krzyzewski named five guards to the roster, and all five bring a unique skill set.
I expect that Derrick Rose is going to start at point guard for the team, as he brings the best combination of speed and athleticism.
The scouting report says that Rose can’t shoot, but in International play the 3-point line is shorter, and is well within Rose’s range.
Rose is the best penetrator on the team; he can frequently get to the line, and his ball handling is among the best in the NBA. I expect Rose to start at point guard because of his big game experience and the fact that he has the ability to be a playmaker, but score and be aggressive when called upon.
Then there is Chauncey Billups, the oldest player on the team, who will assume the role Jason Kidd did for the 2008 Redeem Team. Billups won’t be playing point guard like he has been while playing in the NBA, but he’ll likely start at shooting guard.
Coach K will be counting on Billups to provide veteran leadership and be a 3-point threat, given that he’ll be playing alongside Derrick Rose, who isn’t as sharp of a shooter.
The team will be relying on guards Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordon to provide some scoring punch off the bench. Curry could take over and run the point if called upon, and Gordon will likely be used as a spark off the bench.
Westbrook plays a similar style to Derrick Rose, which may mean he doesn’t see as much playing time because he’s not a shooter. But he’ll assume a defensive role off the bench.
Westbrook can play both guard positions, and he’s an exceptional defender who can guard dynamic shooting guards, remember he guarded Kobe Bryant in the playoffs.
Team USA will be playing small during the tournament, which is why a team like Spain could give them some trouble. Originally it had planned to have Amar’e Stoudemire and Brook Lopez starting in the frontcourt, but due to a series of injuries the selection up front has been.
It looks like Lamar Odom will be starting at center, and Andre Iguodala will be the starting power forward; both are by far the team’s two most versatile players.
Odom can play positions three through five and run the point for stretches; Coach K covets a player of his skill and versatility. At 30, he’s the only player on the team who has any major International experience.
Odom’s role on the champion Lakers was sixth man because he was playing in a stacked front court that included Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. On this team, Odom will be asked to have a role similar to Pau Gasol’s role on the Lakers, and he’s going to have to be the Lamar Odom before Pau Gasol came to LA.
Odom is certainly up to the challenge, as this is a guy who has averaged at least nine rebounds six times in his career. There is certainly a huge disparity between the Lamar Odom who plays on the Lakers and team USA’s Lamar Odom, but we knew Coach K was going to have to get creative because of the shortage of big men.
Andre Iguodala is palyer who doesn’t get as much recognition as he should because he’s played on some bad Sixers teams, but he is the team’s best defender and a true physical specimen. At 6’6”, Iguodala is going to be playing out of position and he’s going to be asked to defend players at least three inches taller than him.
Iguodala has great speed and athleticism and he can get to the free throw line, but his long range shooting is questionable. Nevertheless, Iguodala’s main role on this team is going to be a defensive stopper; most of the wing scoring is going to come from Kevin Durant anyways.
Meanwhile, the team has some front court depth on the bench with Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love.
Chandler is the team’s lone seven-footer; he’s going to see a good amount of playing time if the opposing team has a center that can score inside. Chandler’s free throw shooting is a concern, but he’s big and the team’s only true center.
Love is currently outside the rotation, but I think he’s going to have a big impact.
Love has the type of game that fits the FIBA style of play. He can play inside and outside, and the three point line is within his shooting range. Love will be used as a stretch four off the bench.
The bottom line is this team is far from a shoe in to get gold in this tournament, and the competition is going to be tough. However, this team is filled with young talent and Coach K is going to get creative.
With a roster built on young guards, a few veterans, and a new face of American basketball, Team USA has its best shot in years to win it all for the first time since 1994.