|What would a younger USA Basketball team look like, and would it still be favored to win the Olympics? (AP)|
Earlier this week, my colleague, Matt Moore, made a convincing case that USA Basketball should drop the veil on working toward another Dream Team. In short, Moore believes no group will touch the '92 squad. Teams since then, having proven the U.S. proud most of the time, have and still will eternally fall short of an impossibly high bar that was left at a gods'-eyes level the day the Dream Team walked off the floor in Barcelona, gold medals dangling about their necks.
The discussion is only a topic now because, in the coming months/years, the NBA and USA Basketball will have to decide if it's going to change the way it selects its Olympic teams. In general, NBA players in their prime, particularly first-time selections, aren't going to rebuff an invitation to play for their country. Yes, Dwyane Wade offering up a scenario where he should be paid to play for Red, White and Blue is bad PR, but it's not like he was laying out an ultimatum.
We'd have to see a particularly individual or unique situation that would prevent one of the 15 best players on the planet, say around the age of 25, from playing in his first Olympics. So, yeah, the players aren't going to seek to change this rule, even if secretly some of the guys would rather spend their summers not training and playing for golds. If any change comes, the NBA itself will implement it.
Moore's post made me wonder, though: If the 23-and-under rules were in place now, what would the United States' Olympic team look like? Here's the current roster, which will but cut to size soon.
Would the U.S. still be favored to win it all? It'd really be exciting to tune into Olympic basketball and wonder how the young guys would fare. The gold wouldn't be a guarantee, and if anything, maybe the experience could truly mature and humble the best of the league's youth as they glide toward their primes. Win, lose or bronze, I think this kind of rule change would be good, overall, for the NBA, even if hoops lost some sizzle in the Olympics.
So, let's daydream here and pick a team. I'm going with the stipulation that all players would be 23 or younger by the start of the Olympics, on July 27, and also giving them the video-game option of turning off injuries. If you want to see the pool of players available for this mock exercise, this is what we're working with. And on a side note, while entertaining the notion of an all-college-players team would be fun, we've no evidence that all-amateur rule for hoops is going to, or will ever go back to, the way it was prior to 1992.
Bradley Beal. Only two out-of-college players are on this team, and while the NBA guys surely could roll their eyes at this selection, I'm going with Beal because the squad needs shooters and some wing types as well (this group is unnervingly bereft of true wings; a signal to change in the NBA?). Many have pegged Beal to be the next-closest thing to Ray Allen since Allen came into the league. I've said that comparison's loftier than a hipster hideout in SoHo, but Beal's still going to be a very good deep threat in the NBA.
DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins' character hasn't gotten too much in the way of his talent since he left Kentucky. He hasn't been an angel, but his production's been undeniable. In fact, he's closing in on averaging 20 points and 12 boards per game. I took Cousins over Greg Monroe here because of his girth. In picking two 5s, I wanted one with beef and one with deft ability to truly tilt the court. Meaning, Cousins is one of two former Kentucky players represented here, and will share a position with, of course ...
|Anthony Davis is as ready for Olympic play as almost anyone else under the age of 24. (AP)|
Anthony Davis. ... the freakiest college center we've seen in decades. It remains to be seen if Davis makes this year's team (he should, but probably won't), but if the group was pared off from all the older guys, you can best bet AD (Alien Davis, as I've dubbed him) would be a no-brainer.
Kevin Durant. Durant becomes the obvious best player on the team now. And there's no better ambassador for the sport, the country, than Durant. He's ready for the mantle of being the game's Next Great Player, and you get the feeling he may hold on to it for at least six years.
Kenneth Faried. Faried's a personal pick here. I wonder how many NBA writers would agree. He dropped about 12 spots too far in last year's NBA draft, and all he did to make up for teams' mistakes was come in third in Rookie of the Year voting this past season. He's indubitably hungry guy in the paint, and I actually think he'll go down as one of the 20 best rebounders in the history of the game when he retires. Even USA Basketball needs glue guys, and Faried would be that and more.
Eric Gordon. Like Beal, Gordon fills in spots needed from the mid-range. He's a good scorer/shooter. Right now, Gordon's in limbo and awaiting to find out if he makes the Olympic squad. I've my doubts. Overall, you could make the case Gordon's still the shakiest selection for this team outside of the offensively green Faried.
Blake Griffin. Griffin's game is a lot of flash, style and muscle, but he's getting better. He'd be a natural pick because of his star power and mismatch for so many teams, but really, it's high time we had someone supplant this highlight and create the next quintessential, embarrassing facial at the international level for the United States.
James Harden. Up until three months ago, you probably wouldn't have put Harden on the team. Or maybe I'm underestimating how renowned Harden's game and reputation has been for a year now. Nevertheless, his stock has found a rocket since March, and there's no doubt he'd be part of this group. Harden's game seems so international, too, right?
|Kevin Love: among the most versatile offensive players in the game now. (AP)|
Kyrie Irving. The 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year would have a backup role as a point guard for this team, but there's little doubt Irving is worthy, especially considering the other 1s on this team are different kinds of point guards. He's not as good as Stockton or Kidd, but that's what he'd be for this team, and it would be much better for it.
Kevin Love. Would there be a better all-around player than Love? He can shoot from 23 feet now, is still collecting double-doubles off the assembly line in his sleep -- and it doesn't feel like he's halfway to his prime. Love would be so valuable because, while he's a 4 at heart, he could be moved around to where he's needed. It says something about his game that, on a team filled with players who are fun to watch, Love would be amongst the most enjoyable to see play against the world's best.
Derrick Rose. I haven't talked a lot about defense, but overall, this team's D would be stout. Rose would emphasize that facet as much as any other player, save for Davis. And whereas I've been giving reasons for players' inclusion, or spotlighting how they'd work so well on this team, not much needs to be said about Rose, who's a dynamo. I'm not asking this rhetorically; I really need to know. Is there one international player who could keep up with Rose? I get the feeling he'd lay waste to anyone in a foreign uniform trying to play the break with him.
Russell Westbrook. And of course we have the third member of the Thunder closing out the roster. Westbrook's inclusion is mandatory, but he's so similar to Rose, I wonder how that would work. In fact, I think Westbrook's greatest value could come in getting him, Durant and Harden on the floor at the same time. When it doubt, rely on synergy. Well, synergy and the latest evolution of the NBA's untamed, carnal athleticism.
So, what do you think? Anybody beating these guys?