USA Basketball officially announced the 28-man pool of NBA stars who will participate in the next three-year cycle of Team USA, which includes competition at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. A third competition — FIBA Americas in 2015 — is only in play if Team USA doesn’t win the World Cup this summer, which isn’t happening…right? RIGHT?
Well, probably right. But in order to win, they have to build a roster that is ideal for international play. For some reason, I find constructing FIBA rosters to be somewhat enjoyable. It’s a completely different brand of basketball (some modifications have brought the NBA and the international game closer together, but a huge chasm remains), and you can’t build rosters with the mentality of just running the other team off the court — because, NEWSFLASH, it’s not 1992 anymore.
So, let’s focus on 2014, because that will have the most new faces. We’ll start with the people who will be sitting out this summer:
LeBron James: Too much wear and tear after possibly four trips to the Finals. Also, he’ll probably be on the 2016 Olympic team.
Derrick Rose: Recovering from injury, although I have a feeling he may still work out with them this summer, as training camp isn’t until July.
Carmelo Anthony: He’s already said he won’t play this summer, but one has to think he’ll play in 2016 to finish a storied USA Basketball career that dates back to 2004. Both he and LeBron could end up with three Olympic gold medals — the first players to ever accomplish that feat.
That leaves 25 other players to fill 12 roster spots. One thing to keep in mind here is that these picks are based on the assumption that everyone is healthy. Also, USA Basketball uses the World Cup (formerly World Championship) to introduce a lot of new players to international competition. If you recall, no Olympians from 2008 were on the 2010 roster. This summer will be a mix of former Olympians and rookies:
Kevin Durant/Love: Both announced their participation last summer, and both are veterans of the two most recent competitions.
Anthony Davis: The 12th man on the 2012 Olympic squad, so he has international experience. His quick development and skill set has turned him into a FIBA wet dream. He can defend the rim as well as anyone, is a pick-and-roll whiz, and can stretch the floor on offense. His presence down low will help tremendously for a team used to only having one rim protector. Speaking of which…
…Rim Protector X: This will depend on what USA Basketball values more: experience, or introducing a young player into the system. If it’s the former, it’s Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler. If it’s the latter, it’s Andre Drummond. One of those three will suffice. (By the way, if you’re wondering where Roy Hibbert is, he’s tied to the Jamaican national team).
LaMarcus Aldridge: He has never made a roster for international competition, but it’s not for lack of trying. He’s similar to Davis in that he can stretch the floor on offense, which is required of a power forward. This selection is partially a reward for paying his dues in training camps, and partially because he’s better for FIBA play than the alternative (Blake Griffin).
Paul George: A no-brainer selection who is part of that “Next Gen” group that will play in the next two or three international competitions.
Andre Iguodala: The ball-stopping ace who was a whirling dervish in defensive lineups in 2012. His athleticism and ability to defend passing lanes will come in handy again. Doesn’t need (or even wants) the ball in his hands on offense, which, believe me, is a plus. Also, a veteran of two competitions.
James Harden: Getting back to his Oklahoma City roots, the perfect 6th Man for this team. The combination scorer and ball handler they need.
Stephen Curry: The FIBA three-point line is basically a layup for Curry. He will be on the team.
Russell Westbrook: He falls under the category of “if he’s healthy”, but if he is, he’s the right type of point guard needed for the physical play on the perimeter.
Damian Lillard: Chris Paul and Deron Williams aren’t going to be around forever, so one is going to have to sit out in favor of injecting new blood at point guard. There are enough defenders around Lillard to cover his liability on that end, and he can score with the best of them.
Deron Williams: Sorry, I’ve always preferred his size and physicality in FIBA over Chris Paul. If you’re a fan of CP3’s leadership, trust me, there’s plenty of leadership on whatever team is sent over to Spain.