Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Projecting the 2016 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team

A sight we'll mercifully never have to see again!

In Athens, just two Olympic Games ago, the U.S. was the major story in international basketball, not because of their continued dominance in the sport, but because of their shocking downfall. The same country that had run roughshod over the world in 1992, 1996, and 2000 had dropped off to bronze medal status, mostly due to massive roster turnover and our country’s lackadaisical approach to international hoops.

Now, eight years later, all that has changed. Gone is the apathy from our countries best and brightest. Gone is the damaging roster turnover that sapped the team of any and all chemistry. In its place stands a true international program, with solid leadership entrenched at the top and committed players on the floor. Over the last two Olympics, the U.S. has once again taken its place as basketball’s head, winning the last two gold medals in dominating fashion. As an American, I can say that I am extremely proud of the men who represented us in 2012. Congratulations, guys. 

Going forward, though, there will be changes. Major changes, potentially, starting with Coach K. The Olympics was his last go-round with Team USA, and the program will now have to deal with its first leadership vacuum since coming together post-2004. If that weren’t enough, the team could potentially see its first significant roster turnover as well. Age will obviously keep some out, as can only be expected, but long tenured members like Lebron James might also choose to bow out, feeling they’ve done enough on the international stage. 

That having been said, it would be shocking if Team USA fell into their pre-Redeem Team malaise. There is far too much young talent available to them, and far too much infrastructure to not mold them into a cohesive unit by 2016. And even though 2016 is a full four years away, it’s never too early to speculate on what that future gold medal winning team will look like:

2012 Retirees

Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski
G Kobe Bryant (Age in 2016: 37)

Both Coach K and Kobe have publically announced that 2012 was their last Olympics. For Coach K, the grind of balancing his commitment to Team USA with his job at Duke is probably too much for a man of advancing age. For Kobe, the reality of his basketball mortality precludes the thought of him being able to play at a high enough level four years from now. I’ve never been a huge fan of either, but there contributions to Team USA must be acknowledged. Coach K led the program capably and with great dignity, and Kobe played a huge part in getting the team back to where it should be. Without his heroics, we very well might have lost the gold medal game in 2008. Great work, guys. Now go away.

 2012 Holdover Locks

G/F Kevin Durant (Age in 2016: 27)
F Lebron James (Age in 2016: 31)
G Chris Paul (Age in 2016: 31)

These three were the unquestioned alpha dogs of Team USA, a status that will only be magnified come 2016 when other stars will have aged. By then, even Lebron and Paul could begin eroding, which would leave Durant as the best basketball player in the world. Either way, these three are the lynchpins of the program, and provide instant stability no matter how much roster turnover occurs around them.

Note: It is possible either Lebron or Paul (or both) will not want to play in 2016. Given how much time they’ve spent playing for Team USA, I wouldn’t hold it against them. Even if that occurs, I’m not too worried. Durant is, quite possibly, the most perfect international player that has ever been created. As long as he’s back, we’ll be fine.

F Kevin Love (Age in 2016: 27)
G Russell Westbrook (Age in 2016: 27)

Not that Love needed to be legitimized any further, but he really stood out in the Olympics. His rebounding and versatile offensive game were invaluable, and he should be an even bigger cog four years from now. As for Westbrook, he’s the ideal “energy” guy off the bench. His ability to play multiple positions and pressure the ball can’t be replaced on a team that really struggled defensively. Both guys will be in the prime of their careers, and barring injury, there’s no chance they get left home.

2012 On the Bubble

F Carmelo Anthony (Age in 2016: 32)

Melo has been consistently excellent in international competition, and I’d expect him to be back. After all, his versatility and lights out perimeter shooting made him, arguably, our third or fourth best player. However, he’ll be 32 years old and a 13 year veteran by the summer of 2016, so we’ll have to see where his body and game are at.

F/C Anthony Davis (Age in 2016: 23)

If Davis turns out like everyone thinks he will, then he’s as much of a lock as anyone. Can’t give him that status without ever seeing him play an NBA game, though.

G James Harden (Age in 2016: 26)

It wouldn’t be a shock if Harden were not part of the 2016 squad – he was, after all, kind of a begrudging pick for 2012 after Eric Gordon was too rusty to play – but it would certainly be a shame. His spot up shooting ability makes him an ideal 2-guard for Team USA, and the loss of Kobe Bryant leaves a gaping hole at that spot. Add in the experience he just gained in the program, as well as the obvious relationship he has with Durant and Westbrook, and it seems like Harden will probably be back.

2012 Long Shots

C Tyson Chandler (Age in 2016: 33)

He’ll be a 15 year NBA vet by 2016. Doubtful he’s effective enough to even be remotely considered.

G/F Andre Iguodala (Age in 2016: 32)

He barely belonged on this team, much less in 2016 when his elite athleticism will have undoubtedly eroded. Without it, what kind of player is he? He can’t shoot!

G Deron Williams (Age in 2016: 32)

You’re probably surprised to see him as a long shot, but Williams has a lot going against him. For one, his game has already begun to erode. His shooting percentages are down significantly, and he’s lost a bit of the quickness he had in Utah. Four years from now, I’m not sure he’s even going to be an All-Star type of player. Even if he is, though, the competition at PG will be stiff. Westbrook and Paul will definitely be there, Derrick Rose will be (hopefully) healthy by then, and the rise of Kyrie Irving and other youngsters will further complicate the matter. I just doubt they fill out the team with veterans like Williams when they could get valuable experience for younger guys.

That leaves 4 spots definitely up for grades, with one or two more possibly thrown in the mix. 

Potential 2016 Additions

C Dwight Howard (Age in 2016: 30)

Tough pick, right? Team USA had a size crisis in 2012, something that must be addressed in the future. Howard…well, yeah, he would probably help.

Odds of making team: 100%

G Derrick Rose (Age in 2016: 27)

Assuming he returns as Derrick Rose and not ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Derrick Rose,’ he’s a lock. I could even see him slotting into Kobe’s starting spot and playing alongside Chris Paul.

 Odds of making team: 100% (if he’s healthy)

G Dwyane Wade (Age in 2016: 34)

Definitely would have been on this year’s team, but I see no way he makes the 2016 team. Who knows if he’ll even be able to walk four years from now! His athleticism will be sapped, and that’s not a good thing for someone who shoots as poorly as Wade. 

Odds of making team: 5%

F Chris Bosh (Age in 2016: 32)

If Bosh had been healthy, he would have been a major cog on this year’s team with his length and jump shooting ability. He’s another guy, though, that will be on the wrong side of 30 come 2016. Tough to believe that after 13 years in the league, Chris Bosh will still be playing at his current level.

Odds of making team: 10%

F LaMarcus Aldridge (Age in 2016: 31)

Holy crap! LaMarcus Aldridge will be 31 in 2016??? When did that happen??? Wow. Well, since I put the kibosh on Bosh, I guess I’ll stay consistent and give Aldridge little chance. Finesse big guys who aren’t great rebounders just don’t age that well, and Aldridge will be a 10 year vet by the next Olympics. Either way, we need rim protectors, not tall jump shooters who average less than a block per game.

Odds of making team: 10%

F Blake Griffin (Age in 2016: 27)

Knee, knee, knee, knee. Blake was going to be a major part of this year’s squad until he tore his meniscus, and any future participation with Team USA will largely be dependent on his health. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to play. You just don’t turn away talents like Blake, and even though he’s not a great shot blocker, his elite rebounding would have been huge for us this year.

Odds of making team: 100% (if he’s healthy)

C Andrew Bynum (Age in 2016: 28)
C DeMarcus Cousins (Age in 2016: 26)

Based on talent, either one of these guys would be great picks to back up Dwight Howard. Problem is they’re both knuckleheads. Beyond the maturity issues, though, there is a serious question as to how well they would fit on the team. What made Tyson Chandler this year and Dwight Howard so valuable four years ago was their willingness to do the dirty work inside without seeing many post touches. After all, on a team with so many stars, everyone has to sacrifice for the greater good. Having watched a good deal of both Bynum and Cousins, I’m not sure they’re in a place where they’d be satisfied with that role. That’s unfortunate, because our competition just wouldn’t have the beef to match up with a Howard-Bynum/Cousins front line. Maybe four years from now…

Odds of making team: 15%

C Roy Hibbert (Age in 2016: 29)
C Greg Monroe (Age in 2016: 26)

Not as physically gifted as the above two centers, but much better fits in my opinion. Hibbert would give Team USA imposing length at the rim, while Monroe would give them a legit high post option to run offense through, as well as a rapidly developing rebounder. Of the two, I’d probably have to lean towards Monroe. My irrational love for Hibbert aside, his deficiencies in defending the pick-and-roll are tough to overlook in an international game full of pick-and-roll based offenses.

Odds of making team: 5%

G/F Rudy Gay (Age in 2016: 29)

This is just a courtesy listing for a guy who was in consideration for this year’s team. We have more than enough big perimeter guys.

Odds of making team: 1%

G Stephen Curry (Age in 2016: 28)

If you had asked me this before the Olympics, I would have said Curry should be a mortal lock for 2016. Now? Probably not. The fact of the matter is the U.S. proved they have plenty of perimeter shooting, making Curry a non-priority. No need to add a specialist when the court is already flooded with versatile shooters. There’s also the matter of Curry’s problematic ankle.

Odds of making team: 1%

G Kyrie Irving (Age in 2016: 24)

His inclusion depends entirely on how many guys come back from this year’s team. If only four slots are available, he might have a rough time. The team will already have Paul, Westbrook, and Rose at PG, and will almost assuredly prioritize those other three open slots on adding size. Then again, if Irving develops at his current clip, it will be all but impossible to keep him off. I’m keeping his percentage lower for now, but we’ll definitely keep an eye on this.

Odds of making team: 20%

G Eric Gordon (Age in 2016: 27)

Assuming Gordon stays healthy, he’ll almost definitely be the league’s best SG four years from now. If that is the case, then he’s a 100% lock to make the team and take over Kobe’s spot. Honestly, I’d love for this to happen. His knock down three point shooting is an obvious asset in international play, but so is his ability to play physical and finish through contact. As we just witnessed, the international game can get quite physical, and the refs are extremely inconsistent in what they call. A bruiser like Gordon is exactly what you want at SG. 

Odds of making team: 85%

Candidates for Head Coach

Doc Rivers

For me, the list starts and ends with Doc. As coach of the Celtics, he’s had the task of melding some major personalities into a cohesive unit, and he has absolutely excelled at it. He’s a motivator, he’s a tactician, he’s a psychiatrist, he’s a media darling, and most of all, his players absolutely go to war for him. Not only will Team USA continue to play as a cohesive unit on the offensive end, but they’ll quickly band together as the type of dominant, cohesive defensive unit that has led Doc’s Boston teams to so much success.

Odds of being selected: 90%

As always, though, the future is a fickle thing. Four years from now, there may be a new superstar we didn’t anticipate. Who knows, maybe Kenneth Faried adds a killer three point shot to his arsenal and turns into the greatest power forward of all time. Four years from now, we’ll likely look back at these predictions and laugh. That’s fine with me, just as long as we kick the world in the teeth again and add some more gold to our collection.

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