Make no mistake about it, ever since the Dream Team was first assembled two decades ago, Team USA has always been filled with a collection of NBA superstars that are household names to anyone that remotely follows basketball. The same cannot be said for the Select Team, a squad that to most casual fans is filled with a name or two that most may not be familiar with. Perhaps even its purpose too, is a bit of an enigma.
There's a group of players that drives the Dream Team to gold, and they don't always get the credit they deserve. Those guys were named earlier this week, and their role is ultra important, both in terms of immediate and future success.
Having seen Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Andre Iguodala go through the program, the Select Team has shown not only its usefulness in impacting Team USA's preparations, but its ability to continue to mold the careers of the young players that inhabit the roster. In fact, it's become somewhat of a stepping stone on the path to stardom for many that have gone through it. That doesn't mean every player involved will turn into an NBA All-Star or make an Olympic team, but the Select Team has a way of boosting development in ways most can't initially appreciate.
While so much credit is given to coaches helping players reach the pinnacle of self-actualization, it could be argued that peer influence has a much greater effect on player’s career arc. Young draft picks surrounded by solid professionals seem to have a much better chance at reaching their ceilings than those put in organizations loosely bordering on an asylum. The Select Team being paired with Team USA during training creates a guild of sorts where players normally opposing each other are allowed to see how their counterparts prepare. (And before you go on thinking this is a bunch of nonsense, just ask Jared Dudley about the off-court influence that Grant Hill and Steve Nash have had on him.)
For the young players on the squad, most of whom are still finding their footing as professionals, it's the Chameleon Effect at its finest. After all, much of our social interaction is guided by mimicry. For years our mannerisms have been affected by the visual cues we’ve received from groups we’ve associated with. The callow youngsters in this training camp are no exception to this. Many across the league have surely heard of Kobe Bryant’s insane work ethic, but to see him finishing up a pre-practice workout that started at 6 a.m. drenched in sweat is most likely an eye-opening experience.
The hope is that all involved with the Select Team have a cathartic moment that deepens their commitment to the games. Something that links the vague notion of the work it takes to be great with the actual visualization of someone doing it. If their games improve because of this experience, we the fans benefit as it becomes much more enjoyable to watch them ball out. So with that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at those graced with the privilege of being on the Select Team roster.
Perhaps the opportunity to spend a week training with and competing against the best the US has to offer couldn’t have come at a better point in his career. Thanks in part to being saddled with less than solid professionals in Washington, the former Kentucky standout saw his once promising career arc plateau somewhat this past season. A mid-season trade that shipped out some of those questionable characters allowed Wall to finish in good form and his experience with the Select Team could propel this speed merchant’s game to new heights.
Though his role has been diminished somewhat, the ACL-less Blair has more or less defied expectations about his size, weight and knee issues to carve out a productive career for one of the NBA’s better teams in San Antonio. The former Pitt standout is a one trick pony that may never appear on the National Team roster, but his physical presence on the boards will definitely be felt during training camp this summer.
Anderson is fresh off winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award. In all reality, he didn’t improve as drastically as the namesake of the award suggests, he simply played enough for people to see how uniquely skilled he really was. Anderson is somewhat defensively challenged, but he has a deadly stroke from three and is a force on the glass. That latter combination makes him a highly efficient player well-suited for the international game. Keep an eye on this cat moving forward as he could one day sneak onto an Olympic roster.
Just as Durant patiently bided his time on the Select Team before becoming an integral part of the senior program, the uber-talented Irving will likely do the same. His game has a very “Chris Paul” look and don’t be shocked if he perhaps plays his way into consideration for London. Either way, this past year's No. 1 overall pick out of Duke flashed tremendous potential during his Rookie of the Year campaign and has a blindingly bright future in both the NBA and USA Basketball.
Like Irving, Cousins has the size and talent to be a huge part of Team USA for years to come. In fact, a strong showing in training camp could earn Cousins a roster birth THIS year. However, unlike the aforementioned Irving, professionalism isn't an innate quality for Cousins. Beckley Mason, a noble scribe from ESPN.com and founder of HoopSpeak.com, weighs in on what this summer can do for the undisciplined big man:
"DeMarcus Cousins is an interesting case as a flier for the USA Basketball pool, even on the Select Team. Considering that Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, LaMarcus Aldridge and likely Chris Bosh won't be available, Cousins is one of the most productive players left in America's big men pool. Still, there remain obvious questions about his ability to make the right play -- or simply not make the wrong play -- in big moments. But the Kings aren't a serious organization, and haven't been since he arrived. The front office is a disaster, his coaches have been either OK or terrible, and Sacramento's player development resources are minimal. So it's easy to imagine why Cousins might benefit in a big way from training and practicing with the Team USA crowd. He gets away with a lot of things in Sacramento that wouldn't fly there, and playing with more restraint and focus in a healthier, more demanding environment could do wonders for his game."
DeRozan interesting selection given his production in the league to this point. He is an all-world athlete but struggles shooting the ball from deep and isn't exactly a refined playmaker. Perhaps this camp will push DeRozan to round out his game but until then, don’t expect him to play a major role for USA Basketball going forward.
An explosive finisher with great size, Favors compares favorably to current Knick Amar'e Stoudamire. While his offensive game profiles to be similar to Amar’e in his heyday with Phoenix, Favors fortunately doesn’t possess Stoudamire’s allergy to defense. At just 20 years old, Favors has major potential to break out in a big way, it’s just too bad he’ll be doing it in Utah. Still, get familiar with his name if you haven’t already, as you will be hearing a lot more of it soon.
George just capped a terrific sophomore campaign with the Indiana Pacers. As a 6-foot-10 wing who moves well, George has the potential to be a defensive stopper who can also space the floor with a silky smooth three-point shot. After coming off a six game series marking LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, his time spent training against the USA’s best should only to continue to accelerate his growth as a defender on and off the ball.
Gibson came into the league as an unheralded rookie and in just three years has established himself as one of the game’s premier defenders. He was so good, in fact, that he received serious consideration for defensive player votes despite only averaging a shade over 20 minutes a game for Chicago. Not a bad guy to have sparring with the Team USA standouts as they prepare for London.
Thompson possesses perhaps the most valuable skill in all of hoops, he can shoot the hell out of the basketball. The former Washington State product has one of the smoothest strokes in the league and ripped up the nets over the second half of the NBA season. His other limitations will most likely restrict his potential in the program, but thanks to his jumpshot, he may always have a chance to sneak onto an Olympic roster.
After struggling through his inaugural NBA campaign, Hayward rebounded with a very solid year that helped push the Jazz into the playoffs. Spending time this summer going against the league’s best wings will only help aid this versatile wing’s development.
Leonard’s draft day trade to the Spurs was largely a footnote. An athletic rookie that couldn’t shoot didn’t seem like he’d play a major role for Greg Popovich’s squad this year, but boy did he surprise. He was among the top wing defenders and rebounders in the league while shooting a more-than-respectable 37.6 percent from deep. Unlikely to ever see Olympic duty, Leonard nonetheless will be a valuable member of the Select Team.
Lin’s rise from obscurity came complete with a chance to spend the summer training against the USA’s best. But despite this past season’s production and the pick-and-roll savant’s inclusion the USA basketball program, this process will only be a learning experience for Lin as he has virtually no chance to ever see an Olympics….with Team USA that is.
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