The 2012 Olympics are starting up soon in London and Team USA has released the squad that they are taking to England. The 2012 version of Team USA is trying to duplicate what their 2008 predecessors were able to do; win the gold. Many players on the 2012 team who also played in 2008, as well as Coach Krzyzewski who coached the 2008 team, say this year’s team could be better than the team who won gold in ‘08. After a number of injuries to players who were practically guaranteed roster spots(Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose as well as possibly LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh), we finally know the team that will represent the Red, White and Blue in this year’s Olympics. Let’s take a look at what we have at each position.
Point Guard: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook
In 2008, the starting point guard was Jason Kidd who for the most part was put on the team to help guide the young guns and show them how Olympic gold medals are won. Chris Paul and Deron Williams played with the second unit and mostly played together splitting the point guard and two guard roles. I imagine Chris Paul will get the starting nod but it should be the most interesting position battle on the team. Deron Williams has mostly been forgotten in New Jersey until he re-signed with them this past week, but he is still one of the top point guards in the league.
As a point guard, and especially on a team like this, your number one job has to be to get your scorers the ball in solid positions for them to succeed. With that being said, how much playing time will the most athletic, explosive point guard get on this team? I am a big fan of Russell Westbrook, but does anyone trust him to consistently set up his scoring teammates instead of looking for his own shot? In OKC they need him to score, on Team USA there are at least a handful of guys who need to be shooting more than him. He is also the best defender of the three at this point in their respective careers which will be valued by Coach K, but when you are sitting behind two of the best set up men this country has to offer, you have to wonder what kind of minutes are available.
Shooting Guards: Kobe Bryant, James Harden
In the waning minutes of the gold medal game in 2008 against Spain, Kobe turned into the alpha dog for a team that hadn’t had a true test the entire tournament. Kobe made some plays and some big shots as the US was able to capture their first gold since 2000. Since then, Kevin Durant has turned into the best closer in the game and LeBron is the clear alpha dog in the basketball world. If another close game comes along, how will the Americans handle it? Will Kobe be able to not take the last shot? He is still one of the world’s best players but will his ego fit into this team filled with incredible talent? Of the best players on this team who played in ‘08 or 2010 in the World Championships, you could make the argument that he is the only one who is not better now than he was then. Will he adjust accordingly?
James Harden is the only player on this team who is used to coming off the bench. Being the only other shooting guard, he should get some decent playing time, although there are so many guys on this team who can play multiple positions. Harden can bring a lot to this team with his pick and roll game, his outside shooting and his knowledge of how to play with other stars on a consistent basis. He will come off the bench as he does in the NBA and he may not get a ton of minutes, but I am glad we are bringing the beard to London.
Small Forwards: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala
Carmelo Anthony is the third best small forward on this team and the last time we said that… wait, we have never said that. How much playing time will Carmelo get? He and LeBron will have to play a lot of the power forward position to allow all of their unique talents to be on the court as much as they should. Carmelo’s offensive game is amazing at the international level with the closer three point line and the ability to go by bigger defenders who must guard him. Yet, we find him in the same situation as Westbrook, he is stuck behind the two best players in the world. He was a leader one the ‘06 and ‘08 teams and his dedication to the USA program over the years will help him out.
I think LeBron James will get the starting role at small forward as Coach K starts a traditional one through five. But make not mistake, although Kevin Durant may not be starting, he will be finishing. At the end of games I expect KD to play the three as LeBron moves to the four. And it won’t really matter who does or does not like it, Durant should be taking the last shot. It will be tough for any team to match up with Kobe, Durant and LeBron at the same time. As KD and LeBron proved in these last playoffs, it takes a special defender to guard them. If you put a smaller guy on them, they will post you up; a big guy and they go right by you. If the US put CP3, Kobe, KD, LeBron and let’s say Kevin Love out on the floor for the last few minutes of the game against Spain, can Spain afford to have two of their best three big men out on the court(Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka)? Who will Pau guard? LeBron? Durant? All I know is that those are licking their lips just thinking about it.
As far as Andre Iguodala goes, I am not sure why he is here exactly. I know his value lies in his defense because his offensive game is no where near the level of the other three small forwards on the team. But with perimeter defenders like LeBron, Kobe, Harden and Westbrook, is he really needed? I would have liked to see his spot go to another big man.
Power Forward: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin
It worked well enough in 2008, so we are trying to use only three big men in 2012. It helps that LeBron has proven he can be as effective of a big as anyone else, but I would have liked one more big man on this team. But as we look throughout the NBA, you can see we brought all the big men who are healthy and that we can apparently trust. Big guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Andrew Bynum have the talent and skills to be on a team like this, but does anyone really trust them with a gold medal on the line? And the injury bug got to trustworthy, talented bigs like Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis.
Kevin Love, is going to be great in the international game; his rebounding is the best in the world, but his ability to knock down outside shots will stretch opposing defenses. An opposing team could slide a smaller guy over to him, but would you want a small European boxing out Kevin Love? I didn’t think so.
Blake Griffin doesn’t have offensive games like Bynum or Cousins, but we can trust this guy. He goes 100% all the time, and with USA written across the front of his jersey, I can only imagine how much effort he puts in to every single game. His offense and defense is not quite polished yet, but foreign big men will have problems keeping up with his size and athleticism. They haven’t seen anyone quite like him. It will be interesting to see which one of the three big men get the last spot in the closing minutes of games. LeBron will be playing four as KD plays the three, who will they trust to be the five? Love offers more offense and the guy we discuss next brings the defense.
Center: Tyson Chandler
We are only bringing one center to London; it is the reigning defender of the year, Tyson Chandler. Chandler’s offense is nothing to write home about, but when the league respects you enough on defense to give you that award over Dwight Howard, Serge Ibaka and Lebron James, your defense must be something special. How effective will his defense be though? Will it allow our perimeter defenders to gamble on defense so our explosive team can get out for rim rattling fast breaks? His value will show the most against the games against Spain with the stable of big guys they have out there.
As I mentioned before, I expect Coach K to start a traditional 1-5 with Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler. The end of the game will be different with big decisions to make at point guard and center. I imagine the player to get the spots at the end of games will depend on match ups and who has had the hot hand. With the embarrassment of riches we have with our versatility and athleticism, Coach K can throw out any number of lineups.
Starting: CP3, Kobe, LeBron, Love, Chandler
Athletic/Explosive team: Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Carmelo, Griffin
Defense: CP3, Harden, Iguodala, LeBron, Chandler
Shooting: D-Will, Harden, LeBron(posting up and kicking out), Durant, Love
Small Ball: CP3, Harden, Kobe, Durant, LeBron
Going Big: Harden, Kobe, LeBron, Love, Chandler
Free Throws/Icing: CP3, Westbrook, Kobe, Durant, Carmelo
Crunch Time: CP3, Kobe, Durant, LeBron, Love/Chandler(depending on the need for offense or defense)
No matter the lineup, where we play or who we play against, Team USA will be fun to watch. They will have to watch out for international powers such as Argentina, Spain and Greece, but this team is too good not to take gold. If they can mesh and come together as a true team, there will literally be no stopping them. I am excited to watch this combination of talents continue the gold medal winning legacy that is USA Basketball.