On Friday, we discussed how the Team USA experience may force the stars inhabiting the roster to perform tasks not normally asked of them when on a NBA floor. With the roster officially announced on Saturday, the final pieces of the puzzle are place to resume our examination.
The Shooting Guards
While the versatility of Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Andre Iguadala could allow them to see minutes at this spot, Kobe Bryant and James Harden are the only traditional shooting guards on the Olympic roster. These two players couldn't be more different. From the point in their careers to their overall games, each has unique questions surrounding their inclusion.
For Bryant, it's a matter of fit. Looking back at his last go-round with Team USA, Bryant was a catalyst for a young and hungry rest from qualifying all the way through Beijing. His work ethic and defensive pride set the tone for a team looking to recapture the gold.
Four years later, the dynamics of the team have totally shifted. It is LeBron James' league now and players like Kevin Durant are among the preeminent challengers to that title. Just as fans are adjusting to a non-Kobe centric NBA, Bryant will have to adjust to a team that that will be far less reliant on his production and leadership.
It will be interesting to see how Kobe reacts. Will he graciously step back and allow others to take the shots while relying more on his often underrated passing skills? Or will we see a stubborn Bryant play a game that mirrors his last couple seasons with the Lakers? The best case for Team USA's success is obviously the former.
Harden, meanwhile, was a late addition to a roster pool hit hard by injuries. Despite coming on board late, he still managed to leapfrog some of the original members all the way into a spot on the final roster. Even considering his poor Finals performance against the Heat, Harden’s game is so compatible with the international style of play that his addition still makes plenty of sense.
First and foremost, Harden strikes a great balance between scorer and playmaker. On a roster heavy with players whose games are based on their scoring ability, it's a nice bonus to have another willing distributor on the wing. Harden's humility also helps as their stands a good chance he won't see too many meaningful minutes. Given how well he's taken to his sixth man role on the Thunder, it is extremely unlikely there will be any griping from Harden his warm-ups never come off for a single minute.
Should he see the floor, expect Harden to be much more of a spot-up shooter than a primary ball handler, despite his excellence in pick-and-roll situations. Harden actually possesses great value who can attack defenders recovering from stopping initial penetration. The ability to make efficient shot/drive decisions versus a scrambling defense is a very underrated skill and could earn Harden minutes in London despite his underwhelming defense.
Coming Thursday: The Lone Center