NBA

Breaking Down 2010 Team USA Basketball

| by Hoops Karma

Two years ago in Beijing, Team USA defeated Spain 118-107 in the gold medal game to become global champions for the first time since 2000. Now, in 2010, the US will seek to stay on top of the world as it attempts to win its first FIBA World Championship since 1994. While several members of 2008’s Redeem Team want to return and defend their Olympic title in 2012, not one player from that squad signed on for this year’s world championships in Turkey, which begin on August 28.

Though the world championships may not hold the same significance in the US as the Olympic basketball tournament (anyone remember Indianapolis 2002?), for most countries, winning worlds ranks right up there with an Olympic gold medal. And while USA Basketball has tried to promote their new approach to international hoops, a US title is by no means assured. Traditional powers Argentina, Serbia and Greece (who knocked the US out of the last world championships) will all pose problems for the US. And though Pau Gasol will not suit up for Spain, the defending champs still have plenty of firepower returning from the squad that took the silver medal at the Olympics, including Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez. Spain also won the European championships last September in Poland.

Currently, the US has a 15-man roster that will convene in training camp in New York from August 10-16. They’ll play France at Madison Square Garden on August 15 before heading off to Europe for a series of tough exhibitions in preparation for the tournament. They face Lithuania and Spain, both in Madrid, on consecutive days (August 21/22) and then travel to Athens to play Greece on August 25. Finally, they open tournament play against Croatia August 28 in Istanbul. Between now and then, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA basketball director Jerry Colangelo must trim the roster to 12 players. Here’s a breakdown of the roster and my picks for who should stay and who should be sent home.

Kevin Durant, Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder

The unquestioned leader of the team, the NBA’s reigning scoring champ is the most talented player in the tournament. Durant is long and athletic and the US will use their talented guards to get Durant the ball in open space as much as possible.

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Verdict: Starter

Chauncey Billups, Guard, Denver Nuggets

Billups is a good defensive guard and a savvy veteran leader- both valuable traits on a squad short on both. He turns 34 next month, and, along with Lamar Odom, is one of only two members of Team USA older than 27. Though the US has several good point guards on the roster, Billups has the experience (he played in the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament) and skills to nab one of those spots.

Verdict: Makes the team

Tyson Chandler, Center, Dallas Mavericks

Though Tyson Chandler is not one of the league’s elite centers, Team USA doesn’t have many options at the position. Kevin Love is good, but JaVale McGee is inexperienced and doesn’t have a high basketball IQ. Since these three players are the US’s only options, Chandler will make the cut to back up Love.

Chandler can provide defense and rebounding, and while he is not a good offensive player, that is not his role on the team. He wouldn’t be my first choice at the position, but with the way the roster is, the US need his 7-1 frame, especially if he goes up against 345 lb Greek center Sofoklis Schortsanitis.

Verdict: Makes the team

Stephen Curry, Guard, Golden State Warriors

Curry is a fantastic shooter and can also push the ball if the US plays up-tempo. Because the US has plenty of PG depth but not much at SG, expect Curry to get minutes alongside one of Team USA’s elite points (Billups, Rajon Rondo, or Derrick Rose). Curry doesn’t offer great defense, but the international game values three-point shooting, and with the closer three-point line, Curry will make teams pay from deep. Between Curry, Durant, and Eric Gordon, the US will have plenty of shooters to take advantage of the line; it is up to Krzyzewski and his assistants to ensure that they get open.

Verdict: Makes the team

Rudy Gay, Forward, Memphis Grizzlies

Gay is exactly the kind of get-my-stats highlight-reel type player that is ill-suited to international play. He can be tantalizing to watch, but I don’t see how he fits well into the team dynamic, especially on a guard-oriented team. Would Gay be all right with surrendering points and minutes for victories? Team USA already an elite small forward in Durant. Gay is a luxury, not a necessity. The US doesn’t need him in Turkey

Verdict: Cut him

Jeff Green, Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder

While Green isn’t an elite player, he’ll fit in much better than Gay would on the US roster. He’ll make Durant, the team’s star, feel more comfortable away from home, as the two are teammates on the Thunder. In addition, the versatile Green could play across from Durant at power forward if the US wants to go small and run. Imagine a lineup of Kevin Love, Durant, Green/Granger, Curry and Rose running the break. I wouldn’t want to try and keep up with those guys. Green won’t have an issue taking a backseat to the team’s bigger stars, and can even shoot a little from outside (35% from three in his career).

Verdict: Makes the team

Eric Gordon, Guard, Los Angeles Clippers

Gordon will serve as a nice change-of-pace to the explosive Andre Iguodala at shooting guard, and he can create his own shot better than Iguodala. I would expect Iguodala to start, but if Gordon catches fire, he may find himself starting later in the tournament. They are two different players, so it really depends what sort of system Krzyzewski decides to install.

Verdict: Makes the team

Danny Granger, Forward, Indiana Pacers

Though Granger is easily the Pacers’ best player, he’s never seemed like someone who should have to carry that burden. Granger averaged a team-high 24 PPG last year with Indiana, but he will never be the best player on a good team. That said, he has the same skill set as Green (versatile small forward, can do everything pretty well), though Granger is a more advanced version. Versatility will be key in Turkey, so Green and Granger will have to adapt and may see minutes at PF (Lamar Odom is the only other option, and he’s not a true PF either).

Verdict: Makes the team

Andre Iguodala, Guard, Philadelphia 76ers

Iguodala is a great athlete, and Team USA should be able to hide his lack of shooting touch (career 46% from the field, 32% on threes) because they have several other players who can shoot the ball. Iguodala is a good passer and rebounder, and if he can focus on using those skills, at 6-6 he could pose matchup problems at shooting guard. I say start him at guard and bring Gordon off the bench if/when the US needs more shooting.

Verdict: Starter

Kevin Love, Center, Minnesota Timberwolves

At 6-10, Love does not have the size of his rivals Chandler and JaVale McGee, but he is the most polished center of the bunch and should be the starter. He rebounds and passes extremely well, which will be important if the USA ever decides to play up-tempo. If I were coaching, I would design the offense around getting the ball in the hands of the top players (Durant, Rose, Rondo) and use the other players as supporting options (a role which most of them can fill quite nicely). Love is unselfish and fits into this model, so he’ll be getting the first shot at the starting role in this system.

Verdict: Starter

Lamar Odom, Forward, Los Angeles Lakers

Odom, like Billups, is an older player who knows how to win. Like most of the roster, he will be willing to defer to Durant, but as long as he does his job (rebounding, maybe some interior scoring), he should be able to succeed at power forward for the US. He might not start for the Lakers, but I think that he brings enough to the table to start for this team.

Verdict: Starter

Rajon Rondo, Guard, Boston Celtics

Though Rondo plays out of control at times, he has so much talent at the point guard position that his moments of greatness far outweigh his recklessness. He does a great job attacking the rim and can draw

defenders for a kick out to Durant or Gordon. He’s also an excellent defender and knows how to capitalize on turnovers. He and Derrick Rose are about even, but I’ll give the starting nod to Rondo due to his big-game experience.

Verdict: Starter

Derrick Rose, Guard, Chicago Bulls

Like Rondo, a very talented young point that is more than capable of running an offense. He’ll be one of this team’s main playmakers, and along with Durant and Rondo, I would try to get Rose as involved in the offense as possible, be it driving to the hoop or distributing to a teammate.

Verdict: Makes the team

Russell Westbrook, Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder

Though he would be a nice fit with Durant and Green, you simply cannot convince me that Westbrook deserves a spot ahead of Billups, Rose, or Rondo. Compared to those three, he is raw, and he is certainly not a playmaker like his PG competition. Perhaps down the road he makes a US roster, but I’m not convinced he’s ready to handle international competition yet.

Verdict: Cut him

JaVale McGee, Center, Washington Wizards

Even more raw than Westbrook, McGee is a fantastic athlete for a seven-footer, but I don’t see him matching up well against experienced international bigs from Spain or Argentina. He needs to develop an offensive game and improve his basketball IQ. He will be a nice prospect for the Wizards this season, but not a player who should be trusted with the US’s fate in Turkey.

Verdict: Cut him