The USA Olympic Basketball Team revealed their 12-man squad, featuring the likes of Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony as they prepare to win their third straight gold medal in the competition. There are glaring omissions in LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook respectively, who chose to miss the event in order to rest. The league MVP Stephen Curry has also chosen to not play this year, primarily to recover from niggling injuries sustained in the playoffs for the sake of being fit and ready for the new season.
There have been concerns over the much-publicised Zika virus in the host country Brazil and as a result many athletes in other sports have bowed out in fear. It may have impacted decisions by certain players in the NBA, with Andre Iguodala and Pau Gasol having been in two minds over their status of participation.
Nevertheless, despite the many withdrawals, the USA will always have the strongest team in the competition due to the sheer quality of the NBA being the premier league in the sport. Other nations will be foolish in gaining more confidence because of this, as the likes of Durant, Anthony and Cousins are elite in their own right.
But considering many of the starters are absent, what would the first choice starting five look like at this stage? Point guard does seem to be a relatively weak position in the roster as in the absence of Curry, Westbrook and Chris Paul, Coach Mike Krzyzewski only deemed two PGs in Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry sufficient for the entirety of the tournament. Both Irving and Lowry are world-class players at the 1, however it only takes one injury to cause a slight headache for the coaching staff. After the Cleveland Cavaliers triumph over the Golden State Warriors last week and Irving’s inspired play in acting as LeBron’s sidekick, it will be surprising if we don’t see ‘Uncle Drew’ assume his position in the starting lineup at the point. However in the event that Krzyzewski has other ideas, USA fans can rest assured as Lowry is no slouch, leading his Toronto Raptors to this season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
At the 2, the US are quite frankly stacked with players coming off incredible seasons. Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan are all immensely capable shooting guards that can slot in seamlessly in the lineup. Again Thompson seems like the surefire starter, after a near perfect campaign in which he solidified his position as the best SG in the league as his Warriors won 73 games in the regular season.
The two forward positions can interchange due to the easier matchups that will await the USA in the tournament. Whether it’s Durant, Anthony, Paul George or Draymond Green, the opposition will encounter a nightmare when they step onto the floor. Even though Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are expected to start, they’re also likely to evenly split minutes with George and Green to keep them fresh as they get to the latter stages of the competition.
It’s a similar situation at the centre position, with DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins supremely talented players that will most probably share the workload. Averaging 12.7 points and 13.8 rebounds over the course of the season just gone, Jordan delivered as the defensive stalwart for the Clippers, managing to make the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. 2016 All-Star Centre Cousins on the other hand, was the lone shining light on a disappointing Sacramento team as he dominated the paint, finishing fourth in the scoring list with nearly 27-points per game.
Regardless of the starting lineup, the USA are expected to cruise to the gold medal, even settling games by half-time as the calibre of players that they possess is simply on another level in comparison to every team competing in Rio De Janiero. The USA Basketball team has won fourteen gold medals since the competition’s inception at the Olympics in 1936, therefore another victory won’t exactly be unforeseen. However as Athens 2004 proved, complacency is the enemy of progress and they should be aware of this considering the talent of respectable teams such as Spain that are also armed with NBA grade players.