Predicting the 2016 U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball Team
By GAVIN SCHALL
College Contributor Network
With the Rio Olympics about a year out, it's an excellent time to examine what the United States basketball roster is going to look like.
With Coach Mike Krzyzewski returning for his third Olympic go around and the country's B-Team just a year removed from cruising to a World Cup victory, the Fighting Obama's have a deeper pool than ever to choose from.
A significant percentage of the United States' 34 player roster (plus eight newcomers) are expected to be in Vegas on August 11th for the team's three-day minicamp after GM Jerry Colangelo declared attendance mandatory for anyone who wants to be considered for the team.
With 42 players to pick from and multiple stars from the 2012 team questionable to return, it's the perfect time to make some educated guesses about what the roster is going to look like.
These predictions assume no injuries and everyone deciding to represent their country instead of sitting on a yacht playing with their pet snakes (looking at you Dwight).
Point Guard locks: Steph Curry, Chris Paul
Curry, right alongside Anthony Davis, is the biggest lock of anyone on this roster. His off-the bounce shooting can't be replicated by anyone else in the world and is made all the more deadly by the shorter FIBA moneyball line. Curry's ability to draw and pass out of double teams allowed the Warriors to essentially play 4-3 at points last year, if he can provide the same advantage in Rio other teams might as well not show up. Paul hasn't been exceptionally impactful in past international stints, but until he says he doesn't want to play, the best point guard in the world will have a spot on this team.
Possibilities: Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, John Wall
This is where things get dicey. All three of these guys are amongst the best 15 players in the league, but there's no scenario where Coach K takes more than four point guards to Rio. If Paul drops out the math gets easier, but sticking with the assumption he's in, Wall is probably the odd man out.
For whatever reason, Colangelo (or possibly Krzyzewski) has never viewed Wall on the same level as these other guys. Last summer Wall was a late invite to the World Cup camp and was unceremoniously cut in favor of the likes of (just recovered) Derrick Rose and DeMar Derozan. After a career season, maybe Wall's given stronger consideration, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Irving has the advantage of being a Coach K favorite after playing at Duke (like eight games, but still) and probably solidified his spot after an excellent World Cup showing, in which he shot 62 percent from beyond the arc and led the States with 26 points in the final.
Westbrook has been on every national team since 2010, and his otherworldly athleticism stands out all the more in international play.
Long-shots: Mike Conley, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Deron Williams, Michael Carter Williams, Trey Burke.
Rose and Williams have both contributed to the national team in the past, but barring miraculous comeback seasons from the pair, neither of them belong in the conversation.
Carter-Williams and Burke are going to be in Vegas, for the experience, but frankly I'd be surprised if either one of them (more so Burke) ever suited up for the red, white and blue.
Shooting guard locks: James Harden
This one doesn't take too much explaining, barring a disastrous, Kardashian-related implosion, Harden is going to be on this team. He's the best two guard in the world and it's not particularly close.
Possibilities: Klay Thompson, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Korver, Demar Derozan
And then it gets tough again. Thompson's combination of shooting, defense and overall professionalism make him the perfect designated shooter for this team, but he's not one of the 12 best players in this pool. I have a feeling with Wade's upcoming free agency and ongoing injury issues, he's going to voluntarily sit this one out. If he decides he wants to play, it'll be one of the hardest roster decisions Colangelo has to make. Wade might have been the best player on the 2008 team, and at his best still belongs on this roster, but his lack of shooting could prove to be a liability.
Butler is a superb two-way player, probably better than Thompson, but the shorter three-point line probably gives Thompson a slight edge. Look for Butler to be on the next World Cup team.
Korver is the best standstill shooter in the world, but if Colangelo didn't see enough to put him on a significantly weaker World Cup team, he's not going to make this one.
Derozan got inconsistent minutes in the World Cup, and despite some nice performances in Spain when he did play, isn't really in the conversation unless he makes a leap next year.
Long shots: Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo
Beal is pretty similar to Thompson, just not quite as good, he also failed to make the World Cup team. Oladipo has a future on this team as a "3&D" guy if his shot keeps on improving, but he's not there yet.
Small Forward locks: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Carmelo Anthony
Breakdown: The positional versatility of these four will dictate this team's style of play. Krzyzewski built the 2012 team around using James, Durant and Anthony at the four, a move that made Team USA's attack essentially unstoppable (just ask Nigeria), but left their defense more vulnerable to teams with strong bigs.
It'll be interesting to see if Colangelo decides to take all four of these guys or replace one of them with a true power forward that can shoot and compete on defense (see Bosh, Chris).
James and Durant obviously have spots if they want them. Durant's availability will likely be dependent on how quickly his free agency gets resolved, but the fact that he's showing up in Vegas, suggests he thinks he'll be ready to go.
Leonard is the best perimeter defender in the world, and with no ego to speak of, he'll be perfectly content to be a menace on that end and get most of his offense off of kick-outs and on the break.
'Melo has always been his best in international play, usually playing the role of the world's most overqualified spot up shooter to perfection. If he decides he wants to be in Rio, there will be a spot for him.
Possibilities: Paul George, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green
If George can get back to the level he played at in 2013, it'll be tough to keep him off this team for sheer emotional value, plus at his best he probably deserves it. That being said George and Leonard essentially fill the same role and if Colangelo is forced to pick, I'd bet on Leonard. George is more developed on offense, but Leonard is more comfortable as a role player and a slightly more dominant stopper.
Iguodala and Green would both be great on this team. Green is the ultimate role player and his defensive versatility gives him a shot with some attrition ahead of him.
Iguodala's done some good work for the national team, but got inconsistent minutes in London, and played just two minutes in the final against Spain. Maybe the whole Finals MVP thing gets him another look, but I have a feeling Iggy's done with it.
Longshots: Rudy Gay, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Tobias Harris, Harrison Barnes
Gay has played on each of the last two World Championship teams, and Krzyzewski loves him, but he's not on the level of these other guys. The other four will get looks in the future, but none of them are going to be seriously considered next summer.
Power Forward locks: Blake Griffin
Griffin, had the misfortune of missing each of the last two cycles with injuries, but with better health he should book his ticket. While Griffin isn't a true stretch four, he's going to be an absolute menace in transition. If he can maintain the form he showed last post-season (in which he averaged a ridiculous 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists a game), Griffin might just be the best passing big man in the world. He'll allow Coach K to play two true bigs in crunch time and not worry about the offense bogging down.
Possibilities: Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kenneth Faried
Bosh would be a lock if his health was more of a sure bet (and the competition wasn't so damn fierce). That being said, he's the perfect international big. A true stretch four who can hold his own on defense both on, and perfectly comfortable as a secondary option.
Love provides the same shooting Bosh does, and his outlet passing is an invaluable skill on a team with this much speed, but he's going to need to play like he did before LeBron James entered his life to have a shot.
Aldridge is awesome, but he's not a good enough three point shooter to vault himself over Griffin or Bosh.
Putting Faried this far down the list epitomizes the difference between World Cup and Olympic participation. Faried was the leading rebounder and fourth leading scorer on the World Cup team and it's going to take a couple of injuries or guys deciding not to play for him to even be considered for Rio
Lee is probably going to Vegas just to see if his former teammates would be willing to foot the hotel bill this time around.
Center locks: Anthony Davis
We don't discriminate against the unibrow population in this column and unless Colangelo suddenly decides to take a controversial stance, look for the league's best young player to make his second Olympic appearance.
Davis's rim protection and potential to play out on the perimeter make him the most important player on this roster, so cross your fingers that he's healthy.
Possibilities: DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard
Outside of Davis no one else on this roster can comfortably match up with the Gasol brothers, which makes Cousins an excellent insurance policy if Davis gets hurt, or gets into foul trouble in a big game.
The same could be said about Howard, but at this point in their respective careers, Cousins is simply better.
Longshots: Tyson Chandler, Andre Drummond
Chandler's defense would be nice to have, but his best basketball is behind him. As for Drummond, it's a good thing he's use to getting rejected.
Final Projected Roster
Point Guards: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving
Shooting Guards: James Harden
Small Forward: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Blake Griffin
Center: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins
Next Five: Chris Bosh, Klay Thompson, Kevin Love, Paul George, Draymond Green
Bosh belongs on this team, and if he's healthy, he'll be on it because the odds of the other 12 guys staying healthy/all wanting to play are ridiculously low. While Bosh can play some center, if push comes to shove, you'd rather have Boogie's size.
If Bosh doesn't make his way to Vegas, Love is the next man up, though if he doesn't have a bounce back in a big way next season, George and Green will both get serious consideration.
If any of the guards are out, Thompson should get the call.
It's pretty obvious that this is the deepest group of American talent since the Dream Team. Guys like Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd and Tayshaun Prince, who rounded out the end of the bench in 2008, wouldn't even sniff the roster this year.
Even with some attrition a lot of incredibly deserving guys are going to be left home and the debate of turning stars into role players, or just taking the best role players is going to be more relevant than ever.
Regardless of what direction Colangelo decides to go in, America will once again be the heavy favorite in Rio.
Gavin Schall is a sophomore at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. The New York native and Knicks fan has miraculously managed to avoid total apathy towards the NBA and actually quite enjoys it. He covers the Phoenix Suns for valleyofthesuns.com, and can be heard broadcasting Sun Devil basketball and football on the school's radio station, the Blaze 1330 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @GavinSchall