As training camp opened Friday for the U.S. Olympic basketball team, there seems to be more questions than answers. The injuries to key contributors have left the roster situation much more fluid than anyone could have expected. But a core group of nine players has emerged as roster locks with five others in the running for the final three spots that are going to be announced Saturday night.
No matter how the roster inevitably takes shape, the interesting thing will be watching these supremely skilled players, most of whom are used to huge responsibilities with their NBA teams, reform their talents into new, less glamorous roles. But what will those roles be? Throughout the next week, we will take a look at how each player will be asked to change his game to ensure the U.S. doesn't leave London without the gold.
No matter how you slice it, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook are absolute locks to make the team. Paul and Williams were key members of the Redeem Team while Westbrook joined teammate Kevin Durant in Team USA's triumphant run through the 2010 FIBA World Championships. All three are among the elite players in the world at their position and all three will be expected to contribute heavily this summer.
Of the three, just Paul will have the same responsibilities he does stateside. Paul will no doubt be the primary ball handler and floor leader of this group. His otherworldly vision, unselfish distribution and pick-and-roll wizardry lend perfectly to having the ball in his hands a vast majority of the time.
For Paul, it will be no different than his time with both the Hornets and the Clippers, two teams that relied heavily on his brilliance for their overall success. On this squad, he will certainly have more talent around him to pick up the slack, but by and large the offense will start with him whenever he is on the floor.
Williams, on the other hand, won't see the ball in his hands nearly as much as he would in an NBA game. Instead, he'll be asked to backup Paul and play alongside him for long stretches. While he won't strictly be a spot-up shooter, the current Net will certainly be utilizing his 3-point stroke to much greater effect.
But that might be a dicey proposition for the U.S. Williams only shoots 35.1 percent from behind the arc in the NBA. Given the adjustment to a new ball and new distance, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see Williams struggle if asked to merely provide an outside threat. If that happens, don't be shocked to see his minutes decline as the stakes rise.
As the youngest of the group, Westbrook is perhaps the biggest wild card on the entire roster. Back during the summer of 2010, Westbrook was an up-and-coming young player but not the same "Russ" that dropped 43 points in a Finals game just a short time ago. His quick ascent into the league's elite makes it hard to figure out what exactly will be expected of him this summer.
In a lot of ways, Westbrook is currently the superior player to Williams. The problem is his attacking style and lack of outside stroke doesn't mesh with the less refined (and more congested) international game. Also, the issue of his tunnel vision applies just as much here just as it does during his time with the Thunder.
For Westbrook to play often, he will have to relish a role as a defensive stopper. At 6-3 and one of the best athletes in the NBA, Westbrook has always had the potential to be an elite defensive player. But with the Thunder, he is asked to expend quite a bit of energy on the offensive end of the floor as a primary creator and his defensive presence has never materialized because of it.
Expect Coach K to implore Westbrook to spend his time with Team USA expending his limitless energy pressuring opposing guards up and down the floor. If he can adopt a similar role that Avery Bradley did for the Celtics this past NBA season, Team USA's opponents will be in a world of hurt.
Coming Monday: The Shooting Guards