We just witnessed one of the most exciting seasons of NBA basketball in recent memory. It was filled with broken records, incredible upsets and major story lines throughout that kept everybody glued to their screens. The season finally culminated into a championship for a team (the Cleveland Cavaliers) that was at one point down 3-1 and was viewed as dead in the water. Then, just a short time after, we’ve seen plenty of new faces in new places. Whether its young men moving on from the collegiate level to the pros, or free agents looking for max contracts and/or to play for championship contenders, we’ve been spoiled with seemingly new league news on a daily basis.
However, we now find ourselves in the doldrums of the year in terms of NBA action, and most are looking at our calendars waiting for what’s next. Yes, we have the Summer League but it doesn’t carry the same amount of excitement that we just enjoyed the past nine months. Luckily we don’t have to wait too long for competitive basketball again. The Olympics start August 5, and the men’s national basketball will be in full effect. There are a few mainstays, but the roster will look much different than we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Here is your men’s national team:
Carmelo is no novice to the Olympics. This will be his fourth trip to the games and he’s looking for his third gold medal (which would be a record for an individual in this sport). Melo dealt with knee soreness and a right ankle sprain that led to him missing some time and it affected him on the offensive end. He had his lowest scoring output (21.8) since his second year in the league and he was on a team that still wasn’t competitive. With some time to rest since he last played, he should be fully ready to compete and lead this team to compete for the gold.
Plenty will see his name on the roster and find themselves doing a double take on as to how he landed a spot. No he’s not a star in this league, and he might find himself in this position because many of the bigger names decided to decline their Rio offer, but make no mistake that he can be a contributor to this roster. As a Golden State Warrior, he knew his role and performed it well. A long armed defender that makes it tough for his opponents to score. He also has the ability to find open spots on the perimeter to knock down threes when his star teammates are being double-teamed. He’s no specialist from beyond the arc, but he did convert 38.3% on the season which means defenses can’t lay off of him too much. He averaged 11.7 ppg last season and both the Dallas Mavericks and Team USA can use an athletic small forward.
With Derrick Rose traded, Butler is now the undisputed face of the franchise going forward. Although Rose was the Chicago native and former MVP, Butler has flipped the script in Chicago and has arguably been better than Rose the last few seasons. Butler is a two-time All-Star and averaged his career high in points this past season with 20.9 ppg. He has however had to carry the load pretty much by himself and his team suffered by missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Now, for the Olympics, he will be on a roster that is fairly talented to say the least, and he finds himself in a position where all the pressure won’t just be on him. He likely won’t face any double-teams, that he’s become accustomed to, and should be able to play freely in Coach K’s offense.
This time last year, DeAndre was viewed as one of the bigger names on the free agency market. Yes there was a guy by the name of Lamarcus Aldridge who is by far the better player, but it was Jordan’s free agency frenzy that was headlining NBA news. He re-signed with the Clippers and would go on to average a double-double for the season, getting more rebounds 13.8 rpg than points 12.7 ppg. His reason for being brought back to the Clippers and getting an invite from Team USA however is for his defense. The most athletic center in the league at 6’11” does an excellent job at locking down the paint, and when someone tries to enter said area to shoot, he usually sends it ten rows deep with volley ball-like spikes for blocks. This will serve Team USA well and when he’s on the court, they will likely dominate defensively.
Team USA’s only other center on the roster but will surely look to be a force. Cousins plays for the Sacramento Kings, and since he’s been drafted, they’ve been very uncompetitive with the rest of the league. He had got drafted with it being known that his personality might be tough to handle. Add in that he’s never been on a plus five hundred team as a pro and that makes for an ugly scene in Sacramento. People believe the Kings should move on from him by trading him but the Kings’ management thinks otherwise. Regardless of the negative attention placed on him, he is to put it lightly, a beast and has the ability to physically dominate anybody who tries to guard him. He averaged 26.9 ppg and 11.5 rpg. Other than possibly the Gasol brothers, there is no team that presents a player that will be able to handle Cousins and he should be very effective in USA’s Olympic run.
With LeBron deciding to pass on his Olympic offer, KD is now the captain of this young squad. Durant came off an impressive season where he averaged 28.2 ppg and helped his Thunder team push the vaunted Golden State Warriors to the brink of elimination. That was until Golden State returned to their regular season form and dominated the rest of the way to advance to the Finals. The Thunder made huge strides in the right direction and added assets to entice Kevin to stay. That however was not enough and he decided to sign with the Warriors. Durant is a scoring machine and will be the best player on the floor for every game they play in their Olympic run. It will also give us a preview of what’s to come for GSW since he will play alongside Klay and Draymond.
Lowry just had arguably his best season as a pro. He had career highs in points (21.2) and steals (2.1), selected to the All-Star game, and played a huge role in why the Toronto Raptors had their most successful season in franchise history. They accumulated their most in wins in the history of the franchise and made it to their first Eastern Conference Finals. He’ll be one of two point guards on the Olympic roster and he’ll get the chance to compete for the starting role. He’s a small guard at 6’1″ but much stronger than he looks and will be one this team’s toughest players.
Toronto’s other starting guard was an All-Star as well and had a huge impact on the team’s success in making it to the Conference Finals. Averaging 23.5 ppg and coming off his second All-Star game selection this past season, he has continued to improve his game. He does struggle from the three point line but this USA squad has a plethora of shooters who can do that. He can be effective by attacking the basket and shooting his patented mid-range shot.
Klay will play competitively for the first time in a while without his fellow Splash Brother Steph. Curry will use the offseason to rest due to nagging injuries, but Klay is fully capable of taking over a game himself. He averaged 22.1 ppg and almost four threes a game. That kind of scoring is lethal and he will have more open looks than he could ever imagine on this Olympic team. Expect Klay to have a field day against his competition and he may give us one of those games where he gets hot and has ten threes.
Two games into the Finals and Kyrie Irving had yet to show up, along with the rest of Cleveland’s offense. LeBron would step his game up but it wasn’t until Kyrie went Uncle Drew on Golden State that Cleveland grabbed control of the series. Kyrie presents a mix of handles and craftiness that leaves most defenders in a daze; just imagine what’s in store for his awaiting competition in Rio. Kyrie came back just before Christmas after suffering a broken knee cap in last year’s finals. He took time to regain to form only averaging 19.6 ppg, but when the playoffs hit, he got back to his high volume scoring of 25.2 ppg and 44% from downtown. Other than LeBron, he may have easily been the best player on the floor during the finals, coming up with clutch performances and big time shots. The USA team should expect Kyrie to continue his recent play because he is healthy and has more confidence than ever before after winning his first championship.
Stephen Curry may have won MVP, but maybe LeBron had a point when he said there is a difference between the MVP of a season and who the best player was that individual season. Draymond is the life version of a Swiss Army Knife because he can simply do everything on the court. He a power forward that can defend, rebound (9.5 rpg) and push them ball up the floor himself, score (14 ppg) and get teammates involved (7.4 apg). With all that, there might be something he’s better at than all that. He is the heart of the Warriors and will likely carry this with him to Rio. Draymond will get in people’s faces if need be, but its ultimately to get his teammates motivated and this will help them if they find themselves struggling throughout a game and in need of a wake-me-up.
Just a few years ago, George and his Pacers were pushing LeBron’s Heat to the edge in constant playoff battles. Then he got an invite to play for FIBA in 2014, but that’s where ‘IT’ happened. In an exhibition game for Team USA, he broke his leg in one of the uglier injuries you’ll ever see. He didn’t let that stop him and now this past season he had an MVP caliber year in getting the Pacers back into the playoffs. He averaged 23.1 ppg but has the ability to torch anybody at any spot on the floor. Paul George is a man on a mission and don’t be surprised if he’s the one to win MVP of the Olympics. Yes, this dude is that good and it won’t be long until everybody remembers what he’s capable of.
With this kind of firepower, the names might be different but the results should be the same barring something crazy happening. The squad will bring home the gold in dominating fashion, which might be boring for some that would like to see it be more competitive, but it does give us some highlight filled basketball until the season eventually starts up again.