2010 FIBA World Championship: Predicting Team USA's 2012 Roster

Robert KleemanSenior Analyst ISeptember 15, 2010

2010 FIBA World Championship: Predicting Team USA's 2012 Roster

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    The United States' uproarious Gold Medal finish Sunday night in Istanbul mostly fell on deaf ears back home. Coverage of the monumental, redeeming triumph, from sea to shining sea, was as scant as a G-String.

    Team USA boss Jerry Colangelo had to shame ESPN into sending a live broadcast crew to Turkey, so Mark Kestecher and Fran Fraschilla would stop calling the action from a studio in Bristol, Conn., according to Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum. 

    The Houston Chronicle, which serves the fourth, soon-to-be-third, largest metro area in the country, did not tease the Associated Press story and tournament recap on the front page, or even on the front of the sports section. You can guess which game took precedence.

    I heard zero mentions of the accomplishment on any radio sports flashes. Not even a sentence. The U.S., mind you, had not won this event since 1994.

    In most nations, the World Championship matters more than the Olympics. Consider it basketball's version of the World Cup.

    We're America, damn it, and we're better than everybody else, even if our climbing national deficit says otherwise. People here would never let a game with world-wide implications spoil their Tom Brady or Peyton Manning fixes.

    The top of the Chronicle's front page today featured a photo of Spaniard Rafael Nadal celebrating his U.S. Open win.

    A guy from Spain winning a tennis tournament, albeit one of the biggest, was played up more than a group of Americans (who surrendered most of their summers to represent the red, white, and blue) winning gold.

    That atrocity is a rant for another column. FIBA should consider hosting the event in late July or August to avoid coinciding with the apex of the NFL and college football seasons.

    An earlier start date would also allow more rest for players headed to NBA and Euroleague training camps in September.

    A number of international ballers were forced to fly straight from Turkey to their professional team's camp, a taxing, unnecessary proposition.

    That, too, is a suggestion for another column. Americans figure to care again come 2012, when the men's basketball team aims to defend its 2008 Olympic gold medal.

    A logical, interesting question accompanied the Sunday conclusion of the World Championship. With more than 35 players in the program, which players will make the London cut? Mike Krzyzewski and Colangelo will face some difficult decisions then.

    The Naismith Trophy, secured thanks to Team USA's 81-64 victory against host Turkey, afforded the Americans a 2011 respite. Colangelo will not need to construct a roster during a potential NBA lockout. Thank goodness for that.

    If league Armageddon ends before June 2012, and it better, the selection burden should weigh on the squad's decision makers like never before. When was the last time the U.S. basketball brass had to choose between more than 20 players from two different Gold Medal outfits?

    If countless writers can tell Denver Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri where to send Carmelo Anthony, still under a contract he signed, I sure as hell can speculate on the 12 players Krzyzewski and Colangelo will escort to London.

    While picking just 12 finalists requires educated guesswork, with so many qualified candidates, such a list is not a shot in the dark.

    I made my selections based on each competitor's performance and role in Beijing or Turkey. Playing time, attitude, and chemistry factored in to the equation. Before I attempted to solve it, I perused the census of available players on www.usabasketball.com.

    I sorted and alphabetized it by two positions. Since individual duties become murkier and more expansive in FIBA competition, I did not distinguish between point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, or power forwards.

    Chauncey Billups, an NBA one, started at the two in Turkey. Andre Igoudala, a career wing player, started at the four spot.

    Guards:

    Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams

    Forwards-Centers:

    LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Jeff Green, Dwight Howard, Andre Igoudala, LeBron James, Al Jefferson, David Lee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Kevin Love, JaVale McGee, Lamar Odom, Kendrick Perkins, Tayshaun Prince, Amar'e Stoudemire, Gerald Wallace

     

    A few things become obvious after examining that who's-who collection of elite talent. First, Krzyzewski could field a dominant NBA or world champion with a number of combinations of those players.

    Second, not everyone who wants to represent Team USA in London will. Colangelo will dismiss some deserving contenders to trim the roster to 12.

    The possibilities seem limitless with this cadre of All-Stars, youngsters with upside, and supporting cast members.

    Both the 2008 and 2010 squads did this nation proud. Each group reached its golden goal via different methodologies.

    The Redeem Team boasted astounding athletes and proficient to exceptional isolation players. Talent alone made them the favorites.

    The supposed "B-team" boasted superior athletes but few players who excelled in one-one-situations. That necessitated suffocating pressure defense and a relentless fast-break attack.

    Durant also administered more bailouts than the Barack Obama or George W. Bush administrations.

    One player not listed above earned a spot on my projected 2012 roll call. The rest of them competed in Beijing or Istanbul. Continue reading to see my picks.

Andre Igoudala

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Why He Makes This Cut:

    Iggy impressed Krzyzewski and many others as Team USA's resident lockdown defender this summer.

    That welcome development surprised Philadelphia 76ers fans and other NBA enthusiasts who saw him before as a misfit, wannabe star.

    He made life miserable for tournament MVP candidates Linas Kleiza and Ersan Ilyasova last weekend and showed he can flourish in an accessory role.

    On a more star-studded squad, he would come off the bench and surrender the crunch-time minutes he enjoyed in Istanbul.

    The return of some program "regulars" would permit him to focus on man-to-man coverage more while lessening his scoring burden.

    It says here that Igoudala earned himself more than kudos and goodwill in the last six weeks. Barring an injury or a major screw-up, he should join the team in London.

Blake Griffin

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    Why He Makes This Cut:

    At least one outsider figures to get an invite to 2012 training camp, and Mr. Sport Coat seems like a circumspect choice.

    Why should Krzyzewski also hand him a roster spot, if Griffin makes it to Las Vegas?

    Any great international team needs new blood, and he would provide the youthful enthusiasm that marks those without FIBA empiricism.

    Krzyzewski and Colangelo should want a mercenary willing to do whatever it takes to find that Gold Medal feeling.

    Griffin's frame, length, and athleticism make him an ideal international four or five. Several scenarios might play out before then that will affect the former Oklahoma star's Team USA eligibility.

    The L.A. Clippers might not qualify for the postseason, or they might reach the second round or beyond before the London Olympics. Anything can happen in that dysfunctional disaster of an organization.

    Griffin missed the entire 2009-2010 campaign after a busted kneecap and botched rehabilitation required season-ending surgery. He might not turn out to be the upper-echelon player most think he can become.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Why He Makes This Cut:

    If NBA-level threes and fours struggle to check Anthony in the post, then the less-athletic international wings and big men have no chance.

    'Melo also boasts the strength and creativity necessary to manufacture points against comparable athletes.

    He held the record for most points in a World Championship game (37) until Kevin Durant one-upped it Saturday night (38) against Lithuania.

    Anthony also showed in Beijing that he could play aggressive, borderline angry, ball-denying defense when the mood suited him.

    He can log heavy minutes at power forward in global competitions because his verdure compensates for any size he lacks in a particular matchup.

    He might struggle against Luis Scola or Pau Gasol, but he can frustrate Linas Kleiza, Arsalan Kazemi, and Ersan Ilyasova to the point of visible anguish.

Chris Paul

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Why He Makes This Cut:

    Paul was a dutiful, terrific team player in 2008. If he wants in on the 2012 tournament, he's in.

    His marvelous passwork and court vision can rip any zone to shreds, and most elite foes use various zone defenses to force the uber-athletic Americans to shoot long-distance jumpshots.

    The risky strategy often failed with CP3 on the floor in 2008. Why would that be any different in two more years?

    His injury-plagued season with the New Orleans Hornets also earned him an excused absence from Istanbul.

    Since many opposing backcourts overseas do not excel in the ballhandling department, Paul's gamble-for-steals defense is more of an asset than a stupid bet.

Deron Williams

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Why He Makes the Cut:

    Williams' brawn makes it tough for any opposing point guard to cover him. With one dribble and a convincing up-fake, he can pull up from anywhere on the floor and shoot or draw a foul.

    When he decided he wanted to attack the basket in Beijing, few stopped him or impeded his path. He also excelled in transition, either as a recipient or an expert delivery man.

    Coaches could not instruct their players to sag off because they had to respect his passable three-point stroke.

    Other point guards also hesitated to body him up for fear he would just leave them in the dust en route to the rim.

    It seems reasonable that Williams, like Paul, will wrangle one of the 12 slots if he wants another Olympic gig.

Dwight Howard

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    Why He Makes the Cut:

    You might remember that not-so-super defensive stand in the 2008 Gold Medal Game when Rudy Fernandez posterized Howard.

    He was caught watching the ball, again, and vacated his proper position, the one that would have prevented a driving lane for the Spanish guard.

    That spotty shot blocker figures to bear little resemblance to the player who will compete for a spot in 2012.

    After Beijing, Howard flexed an improved defensive awareness and led the Orlando Magic to the franchise's second NBA Finals appearance.

    He has continued to polish his skills on that end while developing enough of an offensive repertoire to tyrannize lightweight frontlines. Most of the walkover opponents' frontcourts qualify as "lightweight."

    His abysmal free-throw shooting remains a concern, but a late offense-defense, dead-ball substitution by Krzyzewski could cure that anticipated ill.

    He should start in London and make a significant impact, even if he does not finish games.

Dwyane Wade

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    Why He Makes This Cut:

    Wade led the Americans in scoring and minutes in Beijing, proof that a reserve can indeed play a starring role on a world champion.

    He acted as Kobe Bryant's backup then and provided an instant punch no squad, save for Spain, could answer.

    He can bail out Team USA with dramatic scores if the offense stagnates, and his one-on-one defense is stupendous when he makes the effort.

    If the point guards are stinking it up, a far-fetched development given the two names I mentioned earlier (CP3 and D-Will horrible on the same night? Nah), he can slide over and act as the makeshift floor general.

    Another championship with the Miami Heat before 2012 would add to his big-game pedigree. Can Krzyzewski and Colangelo afford to say "no" to Wade? I think not.

Eric Gordon

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    Why He Makes This Cut:

    Gordon was the B-Team's reliable zone buster, draining three-pointers at a better than 50 percent clip. He made plenty of defenders determined to pack the paint pay a steep price.

    If his inclusion drew a shrug, a laugh, or a scowl, perhaps you underrate or undervalue his potential. Krzyzewski needs a dead-eye shooter who will embrace spot duty.

    Gordon, the third-string two on this roster, would change games just by knocking down a few outside jumpers in five minutes of action.

    He ranks as one of five Turkey legionnaires who cracked my 2012 squad.

Kevin Durant

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    Why He Makes This Cut:

    Durant averaged 22.8 points in Turkey and took home tournament MVP honors just after the U.S. demolished the host squad 81-64.

    He established himself as one of the world's best players and became Krzyzewski's de facto, go-to scorer.

    He also shored up his inexperienced, faulty defense with some sumptuous performances.

    He stayed calm anytime Team USA veered off road and orchestrated more bail outs than the federal government. He did more than enough to guarantee himself a job in two summers.

    He will start in London and might even usurp some crunch-time shots from Kobe Bryant, if this squad plays any close games.

    Durant? Duh!

Kevin Love

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    Why He Makes This Cut:

    Love averaged 26 or so rebounds per 40 minutes, a prolific number, and kept so many loose balls alive he might as well have carried defibrillator paddles.

    His minutes in Turkey fluctuated from the teens against Iran and Tunisia to one in the Gold Medal final.

    Krzyzewski will covet a trash collector who can accept limited daylight without complaint. Love produces when he plays and provides cheerleader-esque moral support when he does not.

    He played adequate enough defense that no one repeatedly embarrassed him in Turkey, and he swiped a number of balls when guarding post-ups or chest passes to opposing pivots.

    Is there a better 11th or 12th man available?

Kobe Bryant

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    Why He Makes This Cut:

    Just after the Redeem Team's Beijing triumph, Bryant pledged London as his international competition swan song. A host of injuries and aches prevented him from a 2010 tour of duty.

    Does anyone still doubt his competitive fire? Phil Jackson had to beg him to sit out three regular-season games.

    What a 34-year-old Kobe lacks in explosiveness, he will make up for with acumen and aplomb. He might even let Durant and Wade handle most of the isolation scoring in a tight fourth quarter.

    He will enter that summer with at least five championships, immeasurable toughness, and lots of NBA miles on his body.

    He will serve up the veteran know-how Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups did in China and Turkey, and no youngster would dare slack off in his presence.

    If this all-time great asks Krzyzewski and Colangelo for a 2012 ticket, they cannot justify a refusal.

Zarko Cabarkapa

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    This Serbian-born, injury-prone NBA bust is not eligible for Team USA. I just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention.

    Gotcha. You can punch me later.

Russell Westbrook

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Why He Makes This Cut:

    I said after the USA-Greece exhibition match three weeks ago that Derrick Rose might start on the 2012 squad.

    Westbrook, instead, curried my favor (and perhaps Colangelo's, too) when the games mattered most.

    Krzyzewski kept Rose in the starting lineup for continuity's sake, but Westbrook stole more hearts and lazy passes.

    He demonstrated a proficiency in attacking zone defenses that few others possessed.

    If he develops a consistent jumpshot by 2012 training camp? Consider it gravy on a bed of loaded mashed potatoes.

Say What? No LeBron James?

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    Nope. Chris Bosh, Stephen Curry, Carlos Boozer, Tyson Chandler, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Tayshaun Prince, and Derrick Rose—all experienced 2008 and 2010 players—also missed this cut.

    Jason Kidd retired from international competition, and this piece assumes Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups, the 2010 squad's veteran voices of reason, will do the same.

    Odom has said he wants to play in London, but he might change his mind, or an injury might do that for him, in two more years.

    James watched Bryant and Wade deliver the crunch-time knockout blows to Spain in the 2008 Gold Medal game. He should have learned this summer that he needs Team USA more than it needs him.

    Iguodala can approximate James' stretches of powerhouse defense, while others can bridge that double-figure gap in the scoring department.

    His omission is not a form of wishful banishment or punishment for his ill-advised television special.

    Instead, I excluded him as a means to reward Igoudala and three other youngsters from the newest gold-medal winning team.

    Durant, Bryant, Wade, Williams, Paul, and Anthony all boast clutch experience. Adding James would crowd the mix.

    He tops my standby list. Should any of the 12 predicted selections not make the trip, he should snatch up the spot.

    This exercise required some painful cuts, so please try not to see the absence of your favorite player as a fool-hearted vendetta.

    A number of questions will decide who flies to London to defend that No. 1 world ranking.

    Can Griffin stay healthy, become a commodious contributor, and do enough to beat out established U.S. squad members, if Colangelo invites him to audition?

    Will David Lee, a prodigious, instinctual four-space rebounder not yet mentioned in this piece, turn enough heads to win a slot?

    Will every roster contender stay injury-free in the preceding NBA season, or will bumps, bruises, and broken limbs cause a personnel overhaul?

    If some of the senior members express antipathy, will the Team USA brass encourage them to compete or look to hungrier youngsters?

    With two Gold Medalist squads and a deep pipeline with which to pick, which players qualify as "senior members?" What does that mean?

A Projected Depth Chart

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    One potential deficiency caught my eye when I pieced together this roster. Dwight Howard is only true center on the team. The unit's spectacular firepower, length, and athleticism, though, should offset that shortcoming. The U.S. showed in Istanbul that it could survive without multiple seven-footers. Of the notable absences for other countries, only a handful were big men.

    This squad has plenty of perimeter assasins, stingy defenders, dirty work hustlers, rebounders, and wily veterans. If this bunch failed to capture gold, it would qualify as an epic flop. It wouldn't happen, though...unless one of the other international powers invented a time machine and signed Michael Jordan in his prime. That, my friends, is not legal or possible.

    The depth chart, without speculating on who would start, looks like this. Since several players can tackle multiple positions, I listed them at all pertinent spots.

     

    Point Guards:

    Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook

     

    Shooting Guards:

    Dwyane Wade, Eric Gordon, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant

     

    Forwards:

    Andre Igoudala, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kobe Bryant

     

    Centers:

    Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love