By Joel Huerto
USA Basketball recently announced the 20 finalists who will compete for the 12 spots on the senior men's national team that will represent the U.S. in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Among the finalists are holdovers from the 2008 gold-medal winning team in Beijing: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony. Assuming all eight accept invitations to London, there are 12 players fighting for four spots which leaves USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski the dirty task of having to cut star players without embarrassing them in public.
Injuries will certainly play a big part of the selection process, especially with Bryant (wrist) and Wade (foot). Both have hinted they would love to play in London, but it'll depend on how their teams finish and if their injuries will get worse should they play through the summer. Not having Kobe or Wade in the Olympics will be a huge blow to Coach K but those two were the go-to guys in Beijing. When Team USA needed a basket in the fourth quarter, Coach K called on Kobe's number first and then Wade was a very close second. That was evident in the gold-medal game against Spain when Wade was the catalyst in the first half and Kobe closed the deal.
With or without Bryant and Wade, Team USA should field a dynamite team in London and be heavy favorites to win gold again. But just like the 2008 team Colangelo and Krzyzewski can't pick a team based on star power or All-Star game appearances. Talent alone won’t get it done in London, just ask the 2006 U.S. squad that lost to Greece in the FIBA World Championships. The 2012 Olympic squad needs to be balanced and flexible enough to adapt to any situation. The guards must be physical enough to play through a lot of contact because the international referees oftentimes will allow physical play, the forwards have to knock down 3-pointers, and the big men must be quick enough to defend the perimeter.
Here are the 12 players who should make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team:
CENTER: Dwight Howard
Comment: Because the majority of the big men in the Olympics are perimeter oriented, you really don't need more than one true center. Dwight Howard wasn't a huge factor four years ago in Beijing and, at times, struggled to guard the 3-point shooters. Hopefully four years of experience will help Dwight adapt to the international game.
FORWARDS: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Iguodala
Comment: Two years ago in Turkey, Kevin Durant showed the world what he can do in the FIBA World Championships. Now, it's time for USA Basketball to recognize Durant as the centerpiece of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Durant has the perfect game to play against international competition. We know about his consistent outside shot (something LeBron and 'Melo struggle with at times), but what the 6-foot-10 Durant presents is a mismatch at the forward position. He's too big for small forwards and too quick for power forwards. Iguodala played well in the 2010 world championships, especially on defense. Iguodala can match up against guards or forwards, and his length and athleticism really bothered the great scorers from Europe.
Love and Aldridge are better fits because they can knock down shots, which is extremely important in opening up the court for dribble penetration. Love and Aldridge can also play some center if needed, and in some instances Love or Aldridge are probably better options at center than Howard. This means the committee will have the tough choice to exclude Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin from the team. There will be a ton of pressure to add Griffin on the squad because of the excitement and hype he'll bring to London, but it’ll depend on how many guards Coach K will carry on the roster.
GUARDS: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams
Comment: It will be hard to knock off any of these guards off the team, but if Kobe or Wade decide to pass on the Olympics, then Eric Gordon should be the next man up. Gordon played well in Turkey in 2010 and he has the game and built to play against the rugged competition.
One key factor to watch is how Paul and Rose will keep defenses from zoning on them. Teams will gladly give up 3-point shots to CP3 and D-Rose to take away their dribble penetration. Rose was up-and-down at the 2010 worlds because he wasn’t too confident with his jump shot, something he has aggressively worked on the past four years.
Coack K also has the option of playing Williams at shooting guard with Paul or Rose at the point, and won't rule out moving Iguodala at guard to make room for another forward if Bryant and Wade are not available.
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