Saturday, July 7, 2012
Breaking down Team USA 2012
By Nick Friedell
LAS VEGAS -- LeBron James has a good idea about what is going to set Team USA apart from the rest of the world in the London Olympics later this month. It didn't take him long to respond when asked what qualities he liked most about the latest American basketball team trying to chase down a gold medal.
"Our speed," the reigning NBA MVP said Saturday night after the final roster was announced. "Our speed is one of the best, and also how dynamic some of the lineups can be, [guys] being able to play a lot of positions."
While Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski may not have the biggest team in the world, he definitely has the most versatile one. The Americans have an embarrassment of riches in terms of size and length up and down the roster.
"We got guys that can play a lot of positions," James continued. "[Kevin Durant] can play 2-5 if he has to, I can play 1-5 if I have to. [Andre] Iguodala can do it as well and Melo [Anthony] can play multiple positions and the list goes on, so it should be fun. ... If Coach K wants to get freaky or unique with the lineups, he has the ability to do that."
Therein lies Team USA's biggest strength as it gears up for London. The speed and athleticism that Krzyzewski has to choose from is ridiculous. With just one true center on the roster, New York Knicks big man Tyson Chandler, Krzyzewski doesn't have the type of players who can grind out all of the international teams down low. Then again, the Beijing group only had Dwight Howard as a true center in 2008 and he was ineffective during much of the tournament.
What Krzyzewski does have is firepower coming from the wings led by James and Kobe Bryant, and stellar point guard play led by Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook. When the Americans need instant offense, they can turn to Durant to light it up.
The Americans will look to run whenever they can and they know that if they can come together as a group and play solid defense throughout they should be walking away with yet another gold medal in London.
Let's take a quick look at the final 12 that Team USA will take to London:
LeBron James: The reigning king of the basketball world understandably takes pride in the fact that he will become a three-time Olympian in London.
"I'm humbled and I'm blessed," James said. "And I've been able to stay injury-free. To be here in '04, '08 and now in '12, this is huge for myself, my family and everything I represent. This is great."
James noted that his gold medal from 2008 is hung up in his office. As for the bronze medal from the Athens Games? Not so much.
"That's not an achievement."
James will be looked upon to be a gap filler for Team USA. If they need him to score, he can do that. If they need him to play power forward or center, he can do that as well.
What becomes clearer the more James speaks about this team is that he enjoys being an Olympian. He wouldn't have signed up for a third time if didn't want a shot at another gold.
"At the end of the day we're out here for one goal and it doesn't matter, whatever it takes to win a gold medal," James said. "It's that simple. I think it's a luxury for me to come in here and know I don't have to do as much. ... I don't have to carry as much, I think it's great. It's a great opportunity and we love it."
Kobe Bryant: The five-time NBA champion joked with reporters on Saturday that he was the "OG" for Team USA. If the Americans need somebody to knock down a big shot in the final minutes, Bryant is the guy they will likely turn to.
Carmelo Anthony: The former Syracuse star admitted that he still gets a charge out of playing in the Olympics. Like James, this will be his third time representing the USA.
"Going to practice and being around the guys, putting the uniform on, I still get excited about that," said Anthony.
Anthony is another one of the long, athletic players that Krzyzewski can use for instant offense. He has the experience that many others on this team lack and will want to prove he belongs alongside James and Bryant on the floor.
Kevin Durant: The Thunder superstar gets his first chance at a gold medal after torching the World Championships two summers ago in Turkey. Will he raise his game on the world stage again? His teammates believe he will. He will be asked to score early and often.
Chris Paul: The veteran point guard will play the role that Jason Kidd played in 2008. He is the stabilizer for a young group that may need one at times. He talked openly about how much he loved the competitiveness that Team USA has each and every day.
Russell Westbrook: It will be interesting to see how much Krzyzewski uses the young Oklahoma City point guard given that Paul and Williams are already in the fold. Obviously, he can score and he may be quicker to the rim than anyone else in the tournament. He could be an X factor for Team USA.
Deron Williams: The Nets guard is big enough and strong enough to post up many international guards. He figures to play a lot of minutes given his experience in Beijing.
Andre Iguodala: The Sixers swingman can score but it seems clear that he was added to be a defensive stopper for this team. If someone gets hot from the field against the Americans, Iguodala could be inserted to slow things down.
James Harden: At the very least, Harden figures to play the role that Michael Redd did for the 2008 team. Redd didn't see much action, but was available off the bench if Krzyzewski needed a jump shooter.
Blake Griffin: The former dunk champion is going to try to prove he can play big and defend in order to make his mark early. Paul is just hoping his teammate soaks up the entire experience and brings it to make himself better with the Clippers.
"Being here with this team, you learn so much," Paul said. "I think what usually happens, too, is guys leave from this experience and go back to their teams with confidence and we need that from Blake."
Kevin Love: All Love needs to do on this team is clean up the glass down on the blocks and, with his 3-point shooting stroke, stretch other teams' big men out around the perimeter to clear lanes for the wings.
Tyson Chandler: The NBA defensive player of the year needs to be the same player he was for the Knicks during the regular season. If he plays that way, Krzyzewski will be happy.