Thursday, August 16, 2012

Olympic Basketball Age Limit: What Would the 2012 Team Have Looked Like?

Imagine these three playing in a tournament full of rookie year Darko Milicic's...
Yesterday, I wrote at length about what the 2016 U.S. Olympic basketball team could look like. With many of our top players still on the young side of 30, the next version of USA basketball should once again shape up as the dominant figure in international hoops. Lebron, Durant, Chris Paul…yeah, that’s a third straight gold medal right there. 

There is one small fly in the ointment, however. Those players may not be allowed to participate in the Olympics four years from now.

For varying reasons (publicity, less international competition for NBA stars, etc.), FIBA is pushing for a ‘World Cup of basketball’ type of event every four years. Ostensibly, this would be the FIBA World Championships on crack. That’s good and all that they want to have a huge, headline grabbing event – the problem is that they already have one. The Olympics. Therefore, for their plan to work, Olympic basketball must go the route of soccer. Pushed in large part by David Stern and a few vocal NBA owners, Olympic basketball may soon have a 23 and under age limit. This would separate the two events and force the main spotlight on the newly created ‘World Cup of Basketball.’ 

To be quite honest, I hate the idea. Hate it, hate it, hate it. The idea that playing internationally over the summer is somehow bad for these guys is ludicrous. As Kobe Bryant accurately pointed out prior to the Olympics, all these guys are going to be playing a ton of ball anyways. What could be better than playing in a controlled, organized setting against top competition and with plenty of medical staff around? 

Nevertheless, this age limit looks to be a fait accompli. Fortunately, it appears as if the 2016 Games will be safe, allowing us one last opportunity to watch a true U.S. Olympic team in action.

Now for the glass half full perspective; I think it will be a lot of fun to watch a group of young, up-and-coming American stars. Not only not, but it would be extraordinarily beneficial in the development of their games, and, subsequently, to the NBA product. Of course, it would be better if the young team played in the World Championships and the big boys played in the Olympics, but that’s not an option.

And so, with the age limit staring us in the face, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what a 23 and under US team would look like. Now, projecting a 23 and under team for 2016 would be far too speculative, even for a world class speculator such as myself. Most of these guys are either early in their college careers or haven’t even graduated high school yet. However, taking a look at what a 2012 23 and under team would have looked like can give us an idea of what we can expect in the future.

(Age in parentheses)


G Derrick Rose (23)
F Blake Griffin (23)

Well, that would have sucked. D-Rose and Blakey are two of the best basketball players in the world, regardless of age, so I’m pretty sure they would have given us a sizable advantage over Serbia’s 23 year old version of Darko.

G Avery Bradley (21)
G Iman Shumpert (22)

Would either have made the team? Probably not. Then again, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have one of these defensive aces to bring in off the bench. Now that I think of it, the real Team USA could’ve used that too…

The Stars

F Kevin Durant (23)
G Russell Westbrook (23)
F Kevin Love (23)
G James Harden (22)

Hey, where have I seen these guys before? Oh, that’s right, they were just having their new gold medals placed around their necks! Geez, good luck to the rest of the 23 and under world when we’re trotting out studs like this for our ‘B’ team.

One other note: It would have been really fun to see the Thunder claim 60% of the starting lineup. Slight boost to team chemistry there.


G Eric Gordon (23)
C Greg Monroe (22)
C DeMarcus Cousins (22)
G Kyrie Irving (20)
F/C Anthony Davis (19)

Don’t forget, we’re not picking anyone who is older than 23 for this team…and yet, our top 9 is absolutely ridiculous. Obviously it doesn’t have the top end talent that the full national team has, but in many ways, it’s a more complete team. There’s ball handling (Westbrook, Irving), shooting (Durant, Harden, Gordon), scoring (everybody, save maybe Davis), shot blocking (Davis, Cousins), rebounding (Cousins, Love, Monroe)…there’s everything, and we haven’t even picked the final three spots! To help with that, let’s step back and see what the depth chart looks like:

C: DeMarcus Cousins/Greg Monroe
F: Kevin Love/Anthony Davis
F: Kevin Durant
G: Eric Gordon/James Harden
G: Russell Westbrook/Kyrie Irving

Looking at that, I’d say we need one more big, a deadly spot-up shooter, and a versatile wing.

Candidates for the Final Three (Cylons) Spots – Did not make the cut

G Brandon Jennings (22)
G/F Tyreke Evans (22)
G John Wall (21)
G Jrue Holiday (22)

Talent-wise, these guys fit the bill. They’re just overwhelming athletes…and they can’t shoot a bit. Not a single one of these guys shoots 40% or better from 16-23 feet, most of them shooting it closer to 30%. You just can’t have that in international play, given the legality of zones and the importance of the three point shot. Plus, these guys are noted as being extremely ineffective without the ball, which would be a huge problem on an All-Star team like this. Sorry, guys, you’re out.

F Kenneth Faried (22)

I love Kenneth Faried, I love the energy and competitiveness he’d bring, and I think he’d be perfect as a “dirty work” type of guy off the bench, but I just can’t justify bringing along an undersized rebound/defense guy. Not when I already have a much bigger and more talented one (Anthony Davis), and not when I have a much better option out there as my extra big man.

G/F Gordon Hayward (22)

His skill set is a solid fit, as he can play three positions, handle the ball, and facilitate for others. But he isn’t a great shooter, and more importantly, he isn’t physical enough to compete in one of these international “football” games.

The Toughest Decision

F/G Paul George (22)
F Kawhi Leonard (21)  

I have to pick one of these guys, and it’s really hard. George gives me more flexibility in the backcourt, more scoring power, and a huge matchup problem for opposing wings. Leonard gives me more frontcourt flexibility, solid spot-up shooting, and a defensive ace on the wing. Decisions, decisions.

I’m gonna go with George. He gives me another wing shooter, and a guy that can create his own offense either on the perimeter or going to the basket. Plus, he’s a really strong defender in his own right.

The Spot-Up Shooter

G Klay Thompson (22)

All Thompson did was shoot 41% from beyond the arc in his rookie season. He’s already one of the best spot-up shooters in the NBA, and he’d be a terrific counter for when opposing teams play zone defense. 

The Extra Big Man

F/C Derrick Favors (21)

Favors had himself a bit of a breakout party in the playoffs last season, averaging a 12-10 in under 30 minutes per game against the Spurs. Going back to the end of the regular season, Favors posted double-doubles in 8 of his last 14 games, while also blocking nearly 2 shots a game in that same stretch. He’s an absolute beast down low, athletic and physically imposing, and it’s almost an insult to call him the “extra” big man. Heck, he might end up being the best big man on the roster!

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that this 23 and under team would wipe the floor with whatever young squads the rest of the world sends our way. The fact that our top players typically enter the NBA at 18 or 19 is a huge benefit to our country in this format, as our teams will almost always have the benefit of playing against better competition, being more physically developed, and being far more seasoned. If, indeed, the Olympics does impose an age limit, then they might as well start handing out the medals early, because the rest of the world will have even less of a chance then they do now. 

(Which is 0%, by the way. USA! USA! USA!)

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