Without question, the Redeem Team’s 2008 mission in Beijing to restore the luster to the USA Basketball program was a resounding success. Maybe even too much so. All 12 players on that roster have reverted to the old status quo by politely declining Jerry Colangelo’s invitations for a repeat performance at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey this August and September.
Okay, maybe the invitations for Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd were suspiciously lost in the mail. But while the job of LeBron, Kobe, & co. might be done for now, Team USA still has a reputation to maintain. In some parts of the basketball-following world (though clearly not the United States), the FIBA World Championships are actually a bigger deal than the Olympics–a World Cup of basketball, so to speak. And Team USA’s record, due to a combination of stars’ non-participation and general underachievement, is pretty spotty. They haven’t actually won the quadrennial tournament since 1994. Still, the fact that most of the NBA’s elite will be sitting this one out shouldn’t prohibit the program from continuing its renaissance. USA Basketball has assembled an interesting mix of 21 players who will compete for spots on the final 12-man roster at a Las Vegas training camp this week. We’ve parsed those names to assemble a group capable of taking the top honors in Turkey. AGR-endorsed selections are in bold.
Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook
Billups is the ideal point guard to lead this squad, both on the floor and in the locker room. The training camp roster is full of rising stars but short on veterans, so Mr. Big Shot’s experience becomes invaluable. Not to mention he’s still one of the best two-way guards in the league, and the international 3-point line suits his range very well.
Rondo, though still just 24, has plenty of experience in big games and also in keeping star teammates happy by spreading touches–all of which would presumably come in handy in Turkey. He seems like a shoo-in.
Rose can spell minutes at the point, and while his struggles with his jumper would make pairing him with the similarly challenged Rondo problematic, his driving ability makes him a decent option in the same backcourt as Billups.
Curry will probably enter camp as a longshot to make the final roster, but shooters are particularly useful to have in zone-oriented international competition (I swear, Michael Redd was on the Redeem Team). Given that the 5th guard will probably see little action, it’s practical that he have one specialized talent to offer.
Westbrook’s a terrific young player who could do great things in a USA uniform, but he doesn’t add much extra with Rondo and Rose already in the mix.
Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Andre Iguodala, OJ Mayo
This is a fairly middling group, and also an extremely young one. Only Iguodala is over 22. Evans will probably draw some consideration for the final roster, but I feel he’s too ripe and based on his rookie year I’m not sure how much he can produce without dominating the ball.
Iguodala, on the other hand, could blossom in a situation where he isn’t forced to carry the load on offense. In Philly, he’s always looked like an excellent complementary option forced to masquerade as a #1 guy. No backhanded compliment there–Iggy can fill up a stat sheet, but creating shots for himself has never been his forte. On this team, his all-around game can flourish.
Gordon’s a nice young shooter but his D needs a ton of work for him to be worth a second look here. Mayo’s in a similar boat–undersized, lacking point skills, and a below-average team defender. Not to say these two don’t have potential, but they aren’t ready to contribute this summer.
Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Lamar Odom, Gerald Wallace
Durant’s emergence this past season is the silver lining of the Beijing roster’s collective walkout, since he’ll get a clear shot to be The Man on this team. And his skill set should translate flawlessly to the international game; any D wishing to collapse the lane will be playing right into the hands of Durant and his uncontestable midrange J. The reigning NBA scoring champ shouldn’t miss a beat.
Wallace, meanwhile, is a hardass defensive stopper, who, like Durant, doesn’t get nearly the accolades he deserves and will be hungry to impress if given a chance this summer. Him and Durant, on the floor together, will cause plenty of problems with their length getting into opponents’ passing lanes.
Odom adds an extra dimension to the frontcourt with his ballhandling and vision. And while it’s seemed an unfathomable development at various points in his career, at this point, LO even brings a steady veteran presence. He can be plugged in to any lineup should the need arise.
Gay and Granger are gifted scorers, but don’t offer much else. Granger could slide in to the team as a 3-point specialist should Curry not be able to suit up, but barring such a development, both these guys are surplus to requirements.
Jeff Green, Kevin Love, Amar’e Stoudemire
It doesn’t take much imagination to picture Stoudemire as an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Billups, and his ability to command a double team down low will give Durant more space to operate than he’s ever known. His defensive commitment still pales in comparison to his offensive activity level, but he’s easily the best post option in the available player pool, so he’s entrenched as a starter should he accept his invitation.
Green’s a classic tweener who probably merits more consideration than a first look would suggest–he’s a committed defender and while his shooting can be erratic, he might find some luck with the international 3. Still, his all-around game isn’t quite there yet.
Love’s an intriguing option because of his prodigious rebounding skills (only Dennis Rodman has finished an NBA career with a higher career rebound rate than Love’s current 21.2). Stoudemire’s always been a far better jumper than actual rebounder, so this team would ideally have another big to compensate for his deficiencies. But despite Love’s otherworldly skills on the glass, he probably isn’t the guy. He doesn’t run the floor well, can’t reliably finish one-on-one, and doesn’t have the presence around the rim to erase Stoudemire’s defensive miscues. Like Green, he’s definitely one to track for the future, but his game doesn’t really fit in with how this team is shaping up.
Tyson Chandler, David Lee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez
Chandler’s career in is a strange phase right now – in a handful of years, he’s gone from being one of the NBA’s most promising low-post players and top rebounders to a platoon center who, at 27, sometimes appears mentally and physically worn down. But one need only look at the Bobcats’ ’09-’10 season to see what Chandler can still add to a team–they transformed into the league’s most efficient defensive unit with him primarily patrolling the lane. At this point, he doesn’t block a whole lot of shots (1.7 blocks/36 minutes last season, down from 2+ in each of his first 4 years), but he clearly has enough left in the tank to stop opponents from getting clean looks up close. Adding to that, he provides 9 years of NBA experience and doesn’t mind when his number isn’t called on offense, making him a perfect role player for this squad.
Lee’s 5 years in the NBA have been a model of offensive efficiency, which should only be enhanced on this roster since he won’t be the team’s primary option. He gets knocked for his D, somewhat deservedly, but Mike D’Antoni’s system could diminish any player’s defensive reputation to a degree, and in at least one valuable defensive skill–rebounding–Lee is an elite talent. Ideally, Lee would pick up the scoring slack when Amar’e sits while also fortifying the frontcourt on the glass.
Brook Lopez might actually be the most capable natural center in the pool. At 22, he already ranks somewhere above average at his position as a shooter, rebounder, shotblocker, and passer. In other words, he’s a steady option. The Nets’ 70 losses this past season are an unfortunate blemish on his brief record, but it would have gotten uglier without him, and no competitive person could emerge from a year where they won 15% of their games without some kind of chip on their shoulder.
Robin Lopez made some progress in emerging from his twin’s shadow this past year, but he’s coming off a late-season injury and his 38 NBA starts are probably too small a sample size to draw support for his inclusion. I hope that one day, the Lopez brothers will be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. And that day will be glorious. But it shouldn’t happen this summer.
The Final Roster:
G Chauncey Billups
G Stephen Curry
G Rajon Rondo
G Derrick Rose
G/F Andre Iguodala
F Kevin Durant
F Lamar Odom
F Amar’e Stoudemire
F Gerald Wallace
F/C David Lee
C Tyson Chandler
C Brook Lopez
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