LeBron James, fresh off of his first NBA Title, feels good about this team. Blake Griffin, fresh off of landing yet another highlight reel dunk, feels good about this team. Kobe Bryant, fresh off of growing a vicious goatee, thinks this team would beat the ’92 Dream Team. Then again, I don’t think Kobe has ever felt he could lose at anything, ever, so it really doesn’t surprise me to think that he would believe that. Kobe thinks he could take down Ken Jennings in Jeopardy while striking out Josh Hamilton on three pitches. But that’s besides the point. This collection of NBA players coached by college basketball icon Mike Krzyzewski should not lose a game in these Olympics. Hell, they shouldn’t win by less than 10. As arrogant as that sounds, it’s true. Especially if this team wants to be remembered in the same light of the ’92 Dream Team.
Let’s break it down as simply as humanly possible: the best players in the world play in the NBA; Team USA is the only team comprised solely of NBA players; Do I need to delve any deeper than that? I do? C’mon man. Alright, let’s go player by player and see what they bring to the table for the 2012 Redeem Team.
LeBron James, Apparently all five positions, Miami Heat
This may make you feel old: the 2012 London Games will be LeBron’s third trip to the Olympics as a representative of Team USA. Yup. Soak that in. This, however, is the first time he will make the trip as the unanymously considered best player on the planet and for that it would seem that he would bare more responsibility. I, however, do not believe that is the case. I think these Olympics will prove to show LeBron at his best: as a distributor. LeBron will put up points galore on dunks alone but in half court sets there is no reason for him to force jumpers, as that is the weakest part of his game. With the team assembled around him, he may average the most assists in the tournament. With this team of superstars around him, LeBron can step back, throw lobs and set up his shooters by drawing the attention from opposing defenses when he attacks the hoop. While LeBron will certainly get his points, I do not expect him to lead this team in scoring.
Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
This is who I expect to lead Team USA in scoring for this tournament for many reasons. First, and most obviously, the Thunder forward has led the NBA in scoring each of the last three seasons. Secondly, Durant is absolutely pissed. He already said it is hard to look at LeBron James after losing to the Heat in the NBA Finals just a month ago. And who could really blame him? The Thunder were embarassed in five games and Durant has clearly been motivated by the experience. Not only will Durant be playing against other countries, he will be playing against James on his own team, in the stat book, and in the eyes of the world. Durant is the consumate competitor. During the lockout he was dominating any court he could find. Hell, he was even winning Flag Football titles. There isn’t anyone in the NBA who can cover him, let alone what the rest of the world has to offer. I expect Durant to flourish in London.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
As far as I’m concerned, Durant and LeBron are the only locks on this team when it comes to consistent playing time and production. Every one else is a wild card on a game to game basis. While Kobe just finished a tenth of a point behind Kevin Durant for the scoring title this past season, I could see him playing in limited time as the oldest member of the team. Kobe is still a premier offensive player in 2012, so I do expect him to have his moments, but on a game to game basis it would not surprise me to see Krzyzewski go with a taller lineup or a faster option in place of Kobe. If there is any team Kobe would not bitch about sitting on the bench, I would imagine it is this one. That is, as long as he remains a starter. No one can doubt the fact that Kobe can still play at a high level against top talent. But he is on this team as a veteran leader and a tone setter as he comes to these games with more hardware than anyone.
Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Love has quickly become one of my favorite players in the NBA today (an elite group which features Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, & DeMarcus Cousins to go along with Love). His nack for rebounding and ability to shoot and distribute as a big man has propelled him into the upper echelon of bigs in the Association today. Since he is a deep threat and an elite passer for his size, I do expect him to play a big role on this team. He is not Dwight Howard in the sense that he cannot defend the rim in the same way. He is not Andrew Bynum in the fact that he cannot dominate in the low post offensively. None of that matters in these games. The European game is one built around finesse, not banging bodies in the paint. While teams like Spain have incredible size (Serge Ibaka and the Gasol brothers) Love will be able to grab rebounds and start fast breaks with long outlet passes. As LeBron James said, this team has more than enough speed. This makes Love that much more valuable in order to transition better and get easy buckets in the transition game.
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul continues to perform as one of the top point guards in the NBA. His abilities to shoot, distribute and defend have made him a perennial All Star and first team All NBA selection for some time now. With this team around him, he should have his way with opposing defenses, picking them apart while he is on the floor. It’s the “while he’s on the floor” part I’m just not so sure of. While there is no denying Paul’s talent, I could definitely see Krzyzewski going with quicker or bigger options while allowing James to run the offensive as a point forward. I truly believe these Olympics, with this 12-man roster will show basketball for what it has become: a game with blended positions. Traditionally, teams play with two guards, two forwards, and a center. The ’12 playoffs gave us a peak into a new formula for the modern NBA. The Heat won a title without any semblance of a center. The Celtics made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass in their front court. The Thunder, while they had Kedrick Perkins, elected to play the majority of their games with mainly guards, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka/Nick Collison on the court as the lone big man. This team has so many players with multiple skill sets that playing with a traditional five would actually seem ridiculous. Tyson Chandler is the team’s lone center. Is he going to start? I highly doubt it. Chris Paul will likely start, but with James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams behind him, how much game action will he truly see as he is restricted to playing the point and nothing else? It will be interesting to see how Krzyzewski splits up the minutes for these 12.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
I’m pretty sure this is the first time the Los Angeles Clippers have ever sent multiple players to represent Team USA in the Olympics. Good for them. Now, many people like to discredit Griffin because his offensive game is limited to dunks. Many people like to say his defense is mediocre. All I know is one doesn’t simply fall ass-backwards into averaging 21.7 ppg and 11.5 rpg through their first two seasons in the NBA. Griffin can play and if for nothing else he will add size and athleticism to a team with could use the former. The latter is just a bonus. While I believe Kevin Love will play a larger role with this team I expect Griffin to pull out some Vince Carter-esque posterization throughout the course of this tournament. Hell, he’s already impressed in practice. Practice? Yes, practice. Griffin’s ability to run and transition and jump over just about anyone in the world will give this team plenty of transition buckets. Chip in a few rebounds and Griffin will be more than worth his selection to this team.
Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
Since being traded to the Knicks Anthony has become a bit of an enigma around the NBA. While he continues to be one of the league’s premier scorers he has recently been tagged a headache and a ballhog on offense. This, along with the fact that Anthony has only advanced further than the first round of the playoffs once in his career, has caused some people to sour on Anthony. But, for some reason or another, Anthony always seems to play his best basketball in international competition. I don’t know why, he just does. In 2006, Anthony set the US men’s scoring record with 35 points against Italy in the FIBA World Championships. In the gold medal game against Argentina in 2008, Anthony scored 21 points despite shooting 3-of-14 from the floor (13-of-13 from the free throw line). Anthony remains an elite scorer in 2012. The only difference between 2008 and 2012: Kevin Durant. With Durant being the better option in these Olympics, it will be interesting to see what kind of role Anthony develops with this team. A lineup featuring both Melo and Durant along side James is a terrifying thought.
Deron Williams, PG, Brooklyn Nets
Fresh off of signing a max contract, D-Will comes in to this tournament hopefully excited to play with some talent for the first time in a long time. Williams also has the most recent experience with the European game as he played in Turkey during the lockout in 2011. Will this play a major factor? No. All of these players have some semblance of a history playing in international competition, but Williams can be utilized on this team. As a scoring guard it will be interesting to see who gets the most minutes between Paul, Williams, and Russell Westbrook. Williams averaged 21 ppg last season to go along with 8.7 apg. While Paul is the better distributor, and Westbrook is the most athletic of the three, Williams is an interesting medium of the trio. He is not a superior athlete considering his position but he can score in a multitude of ways while also being able to set up scoring chances for his teammates. Williams can shoot it from outside while also being able to drive and dish at any moment.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is an elite athlete. His ability to finish around the rim for a guard his size is simply astounding and his don ball efense is as good as it gets as a point guard. Yes, he takes too many shots. No, he is not even an above average distributor as a point guard. But the kid can play. In the off chance Team USA has to go into defensive stopper mode, I could see Paul and Westbrook out there playing in the backcourt along side one another as members of the All NBA Defensive first and second teams. That scenario should never play out though considering the ’08 team won by an average of 32.2 ppg and I would say the ’12 team is an all around better group. That being said, Westbrook will certainly look to expand his brand globally in these Olympics. If he starts taking and missing wild shots he will be getting plenty of time warming up the bench. If he is getting steals and turning them into fast break buckets, he could easily earn himself more playing time with this team as the tournament progresses. As of July 11, 2012, there is just simply no way to call it for Russ.
James Harden, Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
Apparently, this is the first time Team USA has selected three members from the same franchise. With Serge Ibaka playing for Spain, that gives the Thunder four of their players represented in the Olympic games. Not too shabby. But, back to Harden, I believe Harden can assume a major role on this team off of the bench if he plays like the Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and not the NBA Finals James Harden. The Sixth Man of the Year Harden was one of the premier scoring guards in all of basketball with the ability to drive to the bucket and shoot the lights out from long distance. The NBA Finals Harden was some bearded imposter as far as I’m concerned. If he can regain his Sixth Man form, his ability to score and run the offense off of the bench will be invaluable to this roster. Since Harden has the tools to play multiple positions, it will be 100% his call as to how much playing time he gets. If Harden is knocking down shots and attacking the basket, he could play primary backup to Kobe and Paul. If he is missing his shots and playing inefficient basketball, he will likely lose his playing time to a combination of Westbrook, Williams, and bigger players. But as I said, it’s really up to Harden. Because, when performing at his best, he is too valuable to leave sitting on the bench.
Andre Iguodala, SF, Philadelphia 76ers
One of the last men to be added to the roster is certainly a dynamic athlete. Iguodala is not exactly a go to scorer, a premier rebounder, or even an above average shooter, but Iguodala can both defend and run the court with the best of them. His ability to defend alone makes him a worthy choice over Rudy Gay. Gay was also up for the last spot on the team, but seeing as Gay is more of a scorer than anything, why not take the defender? Not like this team is going to be struggling for buckets. While Iguodala is only about 6’6″ he should be able to make any lineup he is on more versatile. Imagine LeBron running the point with Carmelo at the two; Iguodala playing his natural three while Durant and Love round out the front court. How dominant of a lineup is that? Iguodala would be the shortest player on the court representing the Red, White, and Blue but his length would allow him to hold down the three on both ends of the court. I don’t expect Iggy to garner many meaningful minutes due to how deep this team is but he is a nice asset to have just in case.
Tyson Chandler, C, New York Knicks
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is the lone true center on Team USA. Should this be worrysome? Not at all. Spain should be your only concern heading into this competition and even though a frontcourt featuring Serge Ibaka, Marc and Pau Gasol seems too big to handle, do not forget how much bigger the paint is under FIBA rules and restrictions. Defensively, Team USA should not have to worry about getting bullied in the post since most teams lack the personel to attack in that manner. Even Spain’s frontcourt is more of a jump shooting group than a back to the basket bunch. Chandler is on the team for his defense and as insurance incase some team is getting too many easy buckets in the post. While I firmly believe this team should play primarily with Love, Griffin, and James at the “center” position, it certainly helps to have a true center in the middle just in case. Without the services of Dwight Howard, Chandler is the most obvious replacement. Not saying Chandler is better than Andrew Bynum, because that would be asinine, I do believe his game is better suited for the Olympics as well as in terms of meshing with this roster that Coach K has selected.
There they are. The second go ’round at redemption features twelve of the brightest stars the NBA has to offer. If the 2008 team won by an average of 32.2 ppg, I’ll set the average margin of victory at 34.3 ppg. Why? Because Russell Westbrook will likely be playing plenty of garbage time minutes. That means Westbrook is going to take, and make, plenty of garbage time shots. If there is anyone who could care less about running up the score in order to get himself some buckets, it’s Russell Westbrook. As I said before, a single loss and this team is nothing less than disappointing. Gold medal simply isn’t enough. It must be done in a complete and utter dominant fashion in order for this team to live up to their own billing. Besides, they still should have something to prove after that Bronze medal in 2004. That performance still looms as a black mark on USA basketball and it still is in need of redeeming.
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