Numerous international tournaments (FIBA U-19, adidas nations, etc) occurring during the summer between the 2012 Olympics and 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup triggered for me the thought of what the next USA Olympic basketball team can and should look like.
Among other differences, FIBA basketball generally has a shorter three-point line and a rule on goaltending that I personally would love to see the NBA adopt. Both of these distinctions affect the composition and play of high-level teams. Interestingly, the new crop of American talent may actually benefit more from the shorter three point line than many of their opponents and have the athleticism to use the goaltending rules to their advantage if they can get their big men used to it.
One note before continuing: While he would be a great fit for the team, I cannot include Roy Hibbert as eligible for consideration for Team USA before he gets his release from Jamaica. Under FIBA rules, switching countries after playing for them is incredibly difficult- Marc Stein tweeted that it was “near impossible” while discussing Hibbert’s situation.
First off, we have the players who would make the team if they choose to participate but I do not expect to play:
LeBron James (PF/SF, 31 years old)
Chris Paul (PG, 31 years old)
Deron Williams (PG, 32 years old)
Carmelo Anthony (PF/SF, 32 years old)
If LeBron elects to represent his country one more time, Team USA can just line him up with Stpehen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and whoever they want at center and everyone else can just go home. It would truly be a sight to see.
NOTE: In parenthesis are the positions the player should guard in international ball and their age on the day of the 2016 Opening Ceremonies.
The Starting Lineup:
PG: Derrick Rose (PG/SG, 27 years old)- A fascinating player for international ball as long as his three-point shooting percentage maintains or even improves. Rose was a genuine force his last healthy season and can help set a defensive identity for the team.
SG: James Harden (SG, 26 years old)- An offensive dynamo who will have chemistry with a vast majority of the key players on the team. Another benefit to Harden playing a key role on the team is that he already has experience as both the lynchpin and a supporting piece for elite offensive teams and he could be forced to take on both roles during an Olympic run.
SF: Kevin Durant (SF/PF, 27 years old)- I’m not sure any of us can fully see how good Kevin Durant will be as he moves closer to his prime. Having already improved on defense, Durant’s scoring works even better with the shorter international three-point line. The lead crunch time guy on the team and likely an emotional leader as well.
PF: Kevin Love (PF/C, 27 years old)- A player absolutely born to play international ball because of his skill and offensive potential with the shorter three-point line. Thanks to the Gasol brothers getting older, we could see a weaker group of interior big men for the 2016 Olympics, which would open up some windows to play Love at center and really mess with opposing defenses.
C: Dwight Howard (C, 30 years old)- After missing the 2012 Olympics due to injury, Howard seems more likely to make a return in 2016. His defense and rebounding would give the USA their identity on defense without having to carry any of the offensive load other than crashing the boards. Potentially could sit at the end of close games should the team have any of those where free throw shooting becomes critical.
Paul George (SF/SG, 26 years old)-With Andre Iguodala firmly on the back end of his career at this point, look for George to become the perimeter defensive stopper in international play. Like Love, George will benefit from having better teammates and the closer three-point line on offense. It would not be remotely surprising to see him start if the team goes with more offense at center.
Russell Westbrook (PG/SG, 27 years old)- Third in the league in WARP at just 24 years old last season, one could argue that Westbrook deserves better than coming off the bench here. If Derrick Rose plays, Westbrook becomes a sparkplug off the bench that could spend meaningful minutes defending both guard positions and unleashing dunks that demoralize opponent in the early rounds.
Stephen Curry (PG, 28 years old)- Shockingly older than all of the non-Dwight starters, Curry will play huge minutes on this team as the best shooter on the planet. An ability to play on and off the ball makes him even more dangerous and both Rose and Westbrook should be able to handle opposing SG’s on the defensive end. Potentially a starter or closer on the team depending on what they do with Paul George and the center spot.
Anthony Davis (C/PF, 23 years old)- Another nice fit for FIBA play due to his guard skills and insane physical attributes. He fits incredibly well with Love on the defensive end because he can guard both big man positions, allowing the team to hide Love on the less dangerous player.
Brook Lopez (C, 28 years old)- Having a reliable back to the basket scorer helps immensely in international basketball, as we have seen from Spain over the last few major competitions. Lopez has improved as a defender and rebounder and could very well start and/or finish games, particularly if Dwight elects to sit this one out.
Kawhi Leonard (SF/PF, 25 years old)- A perfect glue guy on a team like this because of his elite defensive ability and skill at the corner three. Another few years under Gregg Popovich could turn Leonard into an even bigger force than he was for the Spurs in the 2013 playoffs.
Julius Randle (PF, 21 years old)- An absolute beast already who will already have made a name for himself in the league at this point. His combination of athleticism and skill will be a nice complement for the rest of the interior players and an improved jumper could even push him into the rotation.
Kyrie Irving (PG, 24 years old)- In all likelihood, one of the point guards on the team pulls out due to injury and gets Irving the spot on the team that he absolutely deserves. His handle and shooting already make him a tough cover in the NBA and a few more years of work should allow him to develop into a legitimate all-around force.
John Wall (PG/SG, 25 years old)- It’s a shame that Wall may have to wait until 2020 to play in his first Olympics. The PG class is just too strong right now to put him any higher than this despite how well he played at the end of the 12-13 season and how much better he can get over the next three years.
Andre Drummond (C, 22 years old)- If Dwight Howard chooses not to go to Rio, either Drummond or LARRY SANDERS! should get the spot as the designated center defensive beast. Drummond had a simply monstrous rookie season in a strange situation and will only get better with time. I shudder to think about what he could do with the amazing PG’s Team USA will have for the next ten years.
Others considered: LARRY SANDERS! (C/PF, 27), Andre Iguodala (SF/SG, 32), Blake Griffin (PF/C, 27), Klay Thompson (SG/SF, 26), Jabari Parker (SF/PF, 21), LaMarcus Aldridge (PF/C, 31), Ryan Anderson (PF, 28), Nerlens Noel (C/PF, 22), Harrison Barnes (SF/PF, 24), Jimmy Butler (SG/SF, 26), Mike Conley (PG, 28), Andrew Harrison (PG/SG, 21), Greg Monroe (C/PF, 26), DeMarcus Cousins (C, 25), Andrew Bynum (C, 28), JaVale McGee (C, 28) and Kenneth Faried (PF, 26).