In wake of Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas, it’s fun to play what-if games to pass the time leading up to the 2016 Olympics, which could create perhaps the most talented American roster ever on the basis of quality depth.
Now take that possibility and forget about it completely. Behold, bizarro Team USA, in a world where NBA players aren’t allowed to play and where we get to implement (extremely fuzzy) hypothetical selection rules.
The aim was to put together a team of Americans playing abroad, top college players and over-the-hill veterans who could represent the U.S. if active NBA players weren't allowed. We opened the pool to any American player who is either not currently on an NBA roster, or who will not have played in the league by the time 2016–17 season rolls around. Yes, if you can't tell, it's the middle of the off-season. Without further ado, our roster:
PG: Kris Dunn, Providence
Dunn has an argument as the most talented point guard in college basketball this season and though he’ll probably be drafted next season, we’re fudging him onto our roster since he won't technically have played an NBA game yet. He’s extremely athletic, can score and distribute and has the length to defend both guard positions, which means we can slide him over and run small if we want. He’ll be relied on to do a bit of everything, and though he’s not an elite shooter, he should benefit from the international three point line and will have shooting around him to compensate.
SG: Jordan Crawford, free agent
Crawford spent summer league with the Mavericks and has yet to catch on with an NBA team, but remember this is the guy who once averaged nearly 15 points per game with the Wizards. We know he’s an NBA-caliber player, and with my options whittled down, I tabbed Crawford to launch his latest comeback attempt with Team USA. He’ll be leaned on for backcourt scoring and gifted with a shot at redemption.
SF: Dorell Wright, Chongqing Dragons
Rumors linked Wright to a Miami return this summer, but he signed with the Chongqing Dragons and is thus eligible for this team. Wright can provide size, shooting, defense and some rebounding on the wing as a role player. He’s got 11 NBA seasons under his belt but will only be 30 and still technically in his prime when the Olympics come around.
It doesn’t hurt to have a versatile three-and-D type guy in international play and Wright fits that bill. If this team wants to go small, he could slide down to power forward for stretches and USA can play four out.
PF: Georges Niang, Iowa State
Niang’s another probable draftee and possibly the best senior frontcourt player in college basketball. He’s got a varied offensive game with diversified skills and the ability to step out and shoot a three, which makes him well-suited for the international game. Niang can play either forward spot on offense as well as facilitate play and will be paired with defensive cover since he’s a tad undersized and not a great rebounder... His leadership and versatility makes him a logical fit with this group—he won’t be fazed playing with or against veterans.
C: Jameel McKay, Iowa State
This team sorely needs a defensive presence on the inside, and McKay provides that as one of college basketball’s top shot-blockers and rebounders. We’re admittedly putting a lot of stock in Iowa State here, but the plan is to distribute minutes pretty evenly and he’s a good fit for this role, able to help control the paint and operate without the ball in his hands offensively. With a few undersized power forwards on the roster, McKay will be an important contributor operating as more of a five. It never hurts to have a guy with his type of energy around.
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Luke Ridnour, free agent (we think)
We heard Ridnour needs a new team, and he’s already so well-traveled that a ticket to Rio won’t faze him one bit. Without any real elite scoring point guards available, the emphasis shifts to a balanced offensive attack, and though Ridnour isn’t a top defender, he’s a savvy veteran and an NBA-quality contributor. I’d prefer him to a lead guard that will eat up shots and possessions (which is why our friend Stephon Marbury gets to stay home in Beijing).
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
After watching his ascent from unknown high schooler to Kentucky’s likely show-runner this season, I’ve learned better than to doubt Tyler Ulis, and there’s no college point guard I’d rather have on my team. He’s small, but as tough as it gets with an elite feel for the game, and he’ll be tasked with running the second unit for stretches and changing the pace. Ulis will distribute the ball, score when needed and pester opponents on the defensive end. There’d be an adjustment curve for the international game, but I’d expect him to rise to the challenge.
Ray Allen, free agent
This guy looks familiar. Assuming he’s not retired in a year (or latched onto a contender), we’ll treat Allen as eligible and still a good option to run off some screens or park in a corner. His experience is invaluable, and perhaps a strong Olympics could be a good way for him to go out. When the game’s tight and time is winding down, who else would you want catching it out of a timeout?
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Devin Smith, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Carlos Boozer, free agent
I picked Boozer because he has Olympic experience, went to Duke (Coach K, after all, is still running the show) and can still hit midrange jumpers. He wouldn’t be relied on a whole lot, but he’s another veteran who won’t get pushed around. He’s seen Team USA at a low point, and hopefully can provide some wisdom and the occasional bucket in the post.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Hayes brings physicality to this group and has plenty of big-game experience with the Badgers, which we hope will translate to international play. He shot nearly 40% from three last season, which bodes well for international play, as he’ll be needed to rebound, clean up misses and occasionally step into the corner to create space. He’s got a great attitude and makes a lot of sense to bring along for interior depth.
Anthony Randolph, Lokomotiv Kuban
Randolph played well for the U.S. at the Pan-American Games this summer, and with his size, skills and international experience, he’s a logical choice to bring back. He averaged 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds playing 23 minutes per game and will be relied upon to defend the rim as well as space the floor (he shot 46% from three). His ability to step outside offensively coupled with the size to throw him on opposing centers makes him a good fit with the other, smaller bigs we’ve selected.