As Chris Manning outlined yesterday, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were all announced among the 30 finalists to make the 2016 USA Men's Basketball team for the Olympics in Rio. It's a good indication of the respect the three stars have around the league, but it'd be an even great compliment if all three made the roster, but will they?
It's a stacked pool, with 12 roster spots to be battled over by 30 genuinely qualified players. Who makes the final roster?
Disclaimer: I do not speak for Jerry Colangelo or Mike Krzyzewski. This is how I think the process will go and there's a heaping helping of opinion layered into this.
THE MEGA ULTRA "NO-WAY-THEY-AREN'T-GETTIN'-IN" LOCKS
Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Anthony Davis
Most of these are no surprise. Curry is the remaining MVP, LeBron is the best player of his era, Anthony Davis is a floor spacing killer on defense, Chris Paul is in based on Point-Godliness and career contributions to the program. Paul George is a little surprising up here, but he was promised a spot on the roster after his gruesome leg injury prior to the last FIBA World Cup. This is sort of stressful, as six of the 12 available roster spots have been filled, so it's gonna get brutal from here.
One nice thing about this grouping is that there's a hilarious amount of positional versatility. Curry can play the one and the two, Davis can play the four and the five while James, Durant and George can play two through five in international play. These guys fit super easily.
Players Remaining in Pool: 24 (Aldridge, Cousins, Faried, Hayward, Leonard, Anthony, Gay, Howard, Love, Barnes, Iguodala, Thompson, Beal, DeRozan, Green, Irving, Butler, Griffin, Drummond, Wall, Westbrook, Jordan, Harden, Conley)
That said, if we're gonna cut this group down to 12, let's cut a few guys loose.
HEY, MIGHT NOT BE YOUR YEAR, MAN.
There's a few guys that just aren't yet at or just past the quality of play that it'll take to make this squad. We're going to have to say goodbye to Kenneth Faried, Gordon Hayward, Bradley Beal, DeAndre Jordan, Mike Conley, Demar DeRozan, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Some of these players contributed in past FIBA and Olympic competitions, but just about every player eliminated has somebody left in the pool that does what they do a little better or with more versatility. Sorrrry.
Players Remaining in Pool: 15 (Cousins, Leonard, Anthony, Howard, Love, Thompson, Green, Irving, Butler, Griffin, Drummond, Wall, Westbrook, Harden)
INTO THE NITTY GRITTY
At this point, it's probably wise to get into positional breakdowns, as fit with the established locks factors in here. Team USA typically has pretty solid roster balance, but has skewed towards playing small ball in recent years.
(Note: I only use small-ball as a stylistic term. It's not really fair to call it small ball when 6'9 LeBron is playing PF and 6'11 Kevin Durant is playing SF, especially when they're beating the hell out of Iceland.)
Available Pool: Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, James Harden
James Harden and Russell Westbrook are pretty close to being in the very highest tier, in my opinion, but their fits bump them just outside of that for me. I still think they make the team, but Harden's lack of defense and ball dominance hurts his fit, while Westbrook isn't an elite shooter and also loves to have the ball in his hands. That said, they're both super talented, and Westbrook especially is devastating when released as a havoc-creating monster against significantly less athletic guards.
I think Klay Thompson is in. Team USA has loved having a designated shooter historically, and no wing can do it on as high of a level as Klay. In addition, Thompson doesn't need the ball in his hands like, at all, and will defend at the 2 and 3 spot at a very high level.
There's probably only room for one more guard on the roster, and I think it'll be Kyrie Irving. Coach K obviously loves him, he won the 2014 FIBA World Cup MVP and he allows Team USA to use Stephen Curry as an off-ball ruiner-of-worlds as a shooter. He's on the fringe, but I think he makes the cut and impresses yet again.
Apologies to Jimmy Butler and John Wall: Butler's skillset is duplicated by someone like Kawhi Leonard, and Wall just doesn't have the international skill set these other guards do.
Players Remaining in Pool: eight (Cousins, Leonard, Anthony, Howard, Love, Green, Griffin, Drummond)
Available Pool: DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Draymond Green, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin
This is the area where feelings will get hurt. If I had my way, I'd bring at least 5 of these guys. As I currently gave it stacked, I only have room for two.
I don't see how you can leave Kawhi Leonard off. If Thompson is Team USA's de facto "designated shooter," then Leonard is easily their lockdown defender. The Americans have used Andre Iguodala for this role in the past Kawhi is even better suited to it. He's a truly terrifying defender that will be able to devote all of his energy to that position, and he'll be able to play the two, three andfour positions with ease. Also, he's shooting like, 50 percent from distance this year, and the closer FIBA three-point line will make him even more useful as a spacer.
Draymond Green's emergence makes this roster spot tough for the rest of the group, and I think he's my pick. He can handle the ball in transition, play defense at the three, four, or five spot, make open threes and generally help wreak havoc. Some chalk up Green's success to playing in the Warriors elite system, but guess what? Even if that is true, he's going to be playing with more space and even easier reads than he has to make with the Dubs! He's a perfect fit for FIBA play that incentivizes skill, passing and shooting above all else.
That leaves Kevin Love, Blake Griffin Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond off the roster. I'm loathe to enter FIBA play without a true center, but I think the spacing and versatility the hybrid forwards provide is just worth more. Sure, you worry about Spain, but I'd love to see Pau Gasol try to defend just about any lineup combination out there.
As a Cavaliers fan, I'd obviously prefer to have Love make the team. His passing, spacing and rebounding are all super valuable, but Green's emergence bumped him off the roster for me. Drummond, I think, will eventually make this roster down the line, but it's just not his time yet.
As for Blake, Melo, D12, and Boogie, it's just a bummer. Melo may get it in as a legacy (and by being super close friends with Paul and LeBron) but I just couldn't find space for him. Dwight was a key member of the Redeem Team, but it's starting to feel like the best the league has to offer has passed him by.
Griffin, for me, was the weirdest person to leave off the list. He's so incredible gifted, but he's not versatile enough to make the cut. He's best used at the four spot, and that'll be occupied by players like LeBron. He's not a great defender or shooter, so his fit is off just enough to leave him off my list. I hate that I couldn't find a spot for him.
Cousins could be a wild card and make the team if they want a true center, as he did prove his worth in the World Cup by beating the crap out of smaller centers, but I think the team would like to avoid any headaches and will prioritize spacing and versatility above a true center.
THE FINAL ROSTER
Here's how I think the roster plays out, and what position we'll see these guys playing the most of:
PG: Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving
SG: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook
SF: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson
PF: LeBron James, Paul George
C: Anthony Davis, Draymond Green
This team is stupid good, man. I really can't wait to see how it shakes out, and outside of the obvious cuts, there's no set of picks that could really have me bothered. This team should steamroll its way to a gold medal, and it'll be fun to see a group this skilled and versatile assert their dominance.