With the Olympics underway and Team USA looking for it’s second consecutive gold medal, the 5 SDS staff members take a look at the challenges hat lie ahead, and of course, a comparison to the 1992 Dream Team.
1) Who is the most important player on Team USA? Why?
Daniel Christian (Co-Editor): LeBron James. I know the curveball answer here is Tyson Chandler, but I just can’t really support that when Team USA dominates playing small, too. LeBron seems to have his hands all over every play when he’s in, and his defensive contributions paired with his ridiculous offensive production has truly become a sight to behold, whether he’s crushing Spain or the Boston Celtics. It really just comes down to this with LeBron: he’s the team’s best scorer when he needs to be, he’s the team’s best facilitator when he needs to be, he’s the best wing defender on the court at all times, and a freight train in transition. He’s gotten to that unfair level where there are just no holes in his game. So go ahead, nitpick all you want, LeBron haters. Just know that if (when) we win the gold, it will be in large part thanks to LeBron James.
David Menze (Co-Editor): LeBron James. He is the unquestioned leader and tone setter for Team USA. Fresh off winning his first NBA title, King James knows what it takes to become a champion and does a tremendous job of leading by example. LeBron makes everyone on the floor better and always seems to get the best performance out of his teammates. James is the heart and soul of Team USA.
Bo Churney (Staff Writer): LeBron James. Why? Is that really a question? The dude’s the best player in the world. With the US using him as both distributor and defender in the paint, they are going to need him to be at his very best if they want to win. KD and Carmelo are both similarly important, but neither has to take on the floor general role like LeBron will.
Brad Rowland (Staff Writer): Tyson Chandler. This is an odd answer on a team with the talent level of this current US squad, but Chandler is the only true center on the roster, and the best line of defense against the bigs from Spain. He’s the one guy without a legitimate backup, and that makes him the most important for me.
Wesley Morton (Staff Writer): Not to beat this drum again, but it’s LeBron James. He is the only one who greatly affects the game offensively and defensively, playing a complete game facilitating and getting open in just about any situation. Theoretically, if a game came down to the wire, the ball would presumably be in his hands, and while he sometimes has a penchant for passing up the final shot, he usually does it when a man is free to get a better shot rather than jacking up one double-teamed.
2) What is your favorite Team USA lineup? Why do you prefer this lineup to the starting lineup or any others?
Christian: This is a tough one to answer, because I really, really wanted to put Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala in this, but I couldn’t sub anyone out from my favorite five. I’d take Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James. It’s mega small ball, but we’ve seen this KD-Melo-LeBron 3-4-5 lineup before, and it’s just an absolute offensive onslaught that wreaks havoc on whatever godforsaken defense tries to stop it. As for the Williams and Westbrook choices? When both of them are on the court at the same time, it’s hell for the opposing team’s guards. They are the two most physically imposing guards in London, and they’re defense and relentless offensive mindset would be nearly unstoppable. Flank them with Melo and KD, and then have LeBron slashing? Oh my. It also doesn’t hurt that Anthony has been uber efficient in semi-transition, pulling up and connecting on midrange jumpers like never before. This lineup is just too fast, too strong, too defensively dominant, and too transition oriented for any defense to slow it down. It’s pretty much like a group of 5 mad hounds feasting on a piece of meat. Release the hounds, Coach K! Release the hounds!
Menze: D-Will, Kobe, KD, LeBron, Tyson Chandler. I love this lineup because its simply unbeatable. You got arguably the best all-around point guard in the world bringing the ball up court with three future Hall-of-Famers on the wing (yes, I’m saying KD will be a H.o.F player like Kobe and LeBron when his career is over), along with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year controlling the paint. No team in the world can match up with that lineup.
Churney: CP3/Westbrook/Melo/LeBron/Chandler. Team USA’s big problem is that some teams, like Spain, create a matchup nightmare inside. Well, I think the best solution is to create an even more devastating matchup problem somewhere else. The athleticism in this lineup is ridiculous, meaning there is no way team’s can feasibly break even. You have three guys who can control the ball well, three elite defenders (Westbrook is good and Melo isn’t bad if he is actually trying), plus three excellent shooters. KD could be subbed for Melo, if necessary.
Rowland: Chandler-Lebron-Durant-Kobe-Paul. There’s just no way of defending Lebron and Durant at the forward spots when you have a pass-first point guard who can shoot (Paul) and another guy to spread the court (Kobe). Of course, this is predicated on Kobe knowing his role on this particular team, but this is the best 5 for me.
Morton: My favorite lineup is Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, and Kevin Love. I don’t know if they’ve played this lineup much together if at all, but hypothetically it would be a dominating lineup. Chris Paul with Iguodala playing point forward, would find Durant in open space, Lebron and Love would crash the boards mercilessly and the group would be unstoppable in transition. Good luck trying to get free space one-on-one against Iggy and Bron Bron.
3) Which foreign player can cause Team USA the most issues? Why?
Christian: There’s a bunch of choices here: Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili, Nene, Leandro Barbosa (dark horse choice of awesomeness), Luol Deng, Nicolas Batum, Anderson Varajeo (not really). I guess the list of good to pretty good European NBA players abounds, but I’m going to go with Marc Gasol, and I’m only picking him over Pau because he’ll likely be receiving a bit less defensive attention. Pau is more potent offensively, but Marc is a better defender and is no chump in the paint. He’s a problem for anyone not named Tyson Chandler, and even then, he’s still somewhat of an issue. His brother’s ability to pass from the post, paired with his own should make a more than formidable Spanish frontcourt. Honestly, a Gasol-Gasol-Ibaka front line would be one of, if not the best in the NBA. But that’s segueing into the next question…
Menze: Manu Ginobili. He is a very smart and crafty player, a good defender, and a proven winner. Ginobili has shined on the biggest international stages including winning three NBA Championships as well as a Gold medal in the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. He knows team USA, their in’s and out’s, their different style of play, he knows how to defend guys like Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul — more importantly, Ginobili knows what it takes to beat Team USA. He is the single biggest threat standing in the way at our shot of winning Gold.
Churney: Well, it’s two players, but it’s the Gasols. The US could technically play Anthony Davis and Tyson Chandler at the same time to try and counter the two, but then there is absolutely no depth after those two. Team USA will really miss not having Dwight Howard, and in my opinion, made a mistake by adding Harden over someone like Demarcus Cousins, or even Taj Gibson.
Rowland: Marc Gasol. For all of the talk about Spain’s size advantage over the US, Marc Gasol is the x-factor. Pau Gasol isn’t a terrible matchup at all for Chandler, and Ibaka isn’t a post scorer that could burn up the US. Marc Gasol is both of those things. At a legit 7 feet and with a 280-pound frame, Gasol can abuse the undersized US front-court, and if Chandler is off the floor, who guards him? Lebron?
Morton: I’ll go with Nene for Brazil. He, Tiago Splitter, and Anderson Varejao are very mobile big men that are too big for guys like Lebron and Carmelo but too active for Love and Chandler. Nene’s game is a perfect fit for the up-and-down tempo of international play, as he can quickly get to work in postups as well as clean up misses with emphatic dunks.
4) Which team is the biggest threat to Team USA and their quest for a second straight gold medal? Why?
Christian: It has to be Spain. Argentina and Brazil aren’t far behind, but I’ll take the Gasol brothers, Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez, and Jose Calderon over every other roster not comprised of Americans. Brazil seems to be Spain’s closest competitor for #2, because their Big 3 of Varajeo, Nene, and Barbosa can cause some problems for the US. (Did you all see Barbosa rip Kobe’s defense apart at the start of the Brazil game?) Still, with a healthy Marc Gasol, there’s no team that can compete with Spain that isn’t Team USA. With Juan Carlos-Navarro and Fernandez as offensive firepower, they could potentially bomb their way into a shootout with Team USA.
Menze: Spain. They have the one thing Team USA doesn’t have — size. The 7-foot Gasol brothers, along with Serge Ibaka, can pose a huge threat to Team USA because of their lack of big men depth. The two biggest players for the USA, Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis, are considerately outmatched by Spain’s front court. If Team USA wants to repeat as Gold Medal Champs, they will have to rely on their speed and athleticism.
Churney: For the reasons listed above, Spain. If Rubio wasn’t injured, then Spain could have practically equaled the USA based off of international rules.
Rowland: Spain. I’ve already mentioned them in my other responses, but it’s clear that they present the biggest challenge. The Gasol brothers and Ibaka give them 3 legit NBA bigs, and their perimeter guys are stout as well. It helps the US that they’re playing with Rubio, but with Calderon, Navarro, and Rudy Fernandez, they have high-level perimeter guys who won’t be intimidated.
Morton: While Brazil, France and Argentina are all very formidable, the obvious answer here is Spain as usual. The Gasol brothers are even better than the last cycle and Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez, and Jose Calderon fill the part as role players. The player to watch, however, is Juan Carlos Navarro. Nicknamed “La Bomba”, he can be a dynamic scorer with an ability to get hot at anytime. On paper, the US seems to have more talent, but cohesion is an issue in which Spain has an upper hand.
5) A two-fold question: Who wins the gold medal? If you picked Team USA, do you think the 2012 Team USA would beat the 1992 NBA Dream Team in a head-to-head matchup?
Christian: Spain and Brazil are the only two countries that I can see legitimately challenging Team USA, and even then neither can make a compelling case. I’ll pick Team USA to win the gold in a decently close, late pull-away game against Spain.
As for the Dream Team part of the question, my answer is simply this: yes, 2012 Team USA would beat them. Before you call me blasphemous and accuse me of being someone who doesn’t appreciate basketball history, just know that I think given the relative decades, the ‘92 squad put together a more impressive team. Having said that, if you took that exact team from that exact year, and matched them with the 2012 Team USA, they’d be overmatched. Sure, Ewing, Robinson, and Barkley seem like guys who would have a field day inside the paint, but I have a difficult time believing that their particular advantage inside wouldn’t be outweighed by the perimeter advantage of the 2012 squad. In 92, the Dream Team had the best athletes of their time. We have the same thing in 2012, but now the athletes are bigger, faster, stronger, and better. Michael Jordan, in all his greatness, would have a much more difficult time scoring against Andre Iguodala’s ridiculous, swarming, suffocating, ball-hawking defense than you’d think. And you thought Magic could run a fast break? Try having every player 6’9” and under being able to lead a break, one of which is also 265 pounds and has a 40+ inch vertical leap. That same guy is faster than any player on the ’92 Dream Team was, and he isn’t even the fastest player on his 2012 team. Yup, we’re talking about LeBron.
What made Magic Johnson so dominant? It wasn’t athleticism, it was his incredible, unprecedented vision paired with his height and mastery of the game. Do you actually think that James’ defense wouldn’t slow Magic down sufficiently? No one had ever seen a player of his diverse defensive capabilities in 92, and much less, other than LeBron, no one has in 2012. You have the freight train LeBron paired with a lanky, ball handling 6’11 sweet shooter in Kevin Durant. Who guards him? Not to mention the sheer explosiveness of Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams, who would just maul Chris Mullin, John Stockton, and anyone else. I could go on longer, much longer, but the explosiveness on today’s roster is too much to overcome. /Essay complete. (It’s also worth noting that even though the Dream Team won by a preposterous margin of 44 points per game in the 92 Olympics, they also only crossed 6 total NBA players en route to the gold medal, none of them particularly imposing, either. 2012 Team USA beat a French team by 30 that had 6 NBA players itself, one of them an MVP candidate from last season. Food for thought. /Essay even more complete).
Menze: USA! USA! USA! There is absolutely no way we get beat. Spain may have a slight advantage in the one area that I alluded to before, but it still won’t be enough to dethrone the reigning world basketball supermecy, United States of America.
Even though I’m apart of the “new school”, I think the original 1992 Dream Team would win. Every single player on that team is now in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think you can say the same for this 2012 team.
Churney: Despite Spain’s strength, I still see the USA winning the gold. Too many weapons on the American team not to win. As for beating the Dream Team? Yes, I think they could do it. Would they win in a seven game series? I don’t know, but they would definitely be capable.
Rowland: The US will win it. I think, even with the roster limitations, that the US have clearly the best roster, and with a full buy-in, they could win the gold medal. I wouldn’t say that they could do so on cruise control, but with A-effort, I don’t see them losing. As far as the 2012 vs. 1992 question, I still favor 1992. A full breakdown of this would take a lot more words than we have time for here, but with MJ, a big advantage in the front-court, Scottie to throw at Durant/Lebron, and big-time depth, I’d pick the 1992 team despite their athletic limitations (relatively).
Morton: The USA takes home the gold with close victories against the teams mentioned above, but frankly they aren’t in the same category as the 1992 NBA Dream Team. They were comprised of 11 hall-of-famers (with the 12th, Christian Laettner, hardly playing) and some of the greatest players of all time mostly in their prime, sharing the ball and scoring at will. Think about this: they shot a combined .578 FG% while dominating the opponent by an almost 44 points per game differential in the 1992 Olympics. No competition in my opinion.
Topics: Anderson Varajeo, Andre Iguodala, Anthony Davis, Argentina, Brazil, Carmelo Anthony, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin, Chris Paul, David Robinson, DeMarcus Cousins, Deron Williams, Dream Team, Dwight Howard, France, James Harden, John Stockton, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kobe Bryant, Leandro Barbosa, LeBron James, Luis Scola, Luol Deng, Magic Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Michael Jordan, Nene, Nicolas Batum, Patrick Ewing, Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Spain, Taj Gibson, Team USA, Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker, Tyson Chandler