Breaking down the point guard competition for 2016 Olympic team

Is John Wall right to be cynical about his chances of emerging from USA Basketball's heated battle at point guard?
Publish date:

USA Basketball announced on Aug. 6 a list of 34 players set to attend a mandatory Las Vegas minicamp in order to be eligible for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Team USA’s roster won’t be chosen until late June of next year, but competition is already heating up.

Among the initial 34 players are seven point guards: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Mike Conley and Michael Carter-Williams. One of those seven floor generals recently voiced that his chances of making the final 12-man roster are slim.

“Chris Paul has already won one [Olympic gold medal], Steph Curry had an amazing last year and just won the World Cup. Kyrie just won the World Cup. Russell will probably be on the team. They’ll use him as a two-guard,” Wall said, according to Ben Standig of Comcast SportsNet Washington. “So I probably won’t make it.”

The former No. 1 overall pick’s brutal honesty is humbling, but is his morose outlook on the mark?

• MORE NBA: Most Improved Player predictions | Best second-rounders

Wall’s career got out to a respectable start from a numbers perspective, but he wasn’t exactly living up to the hype of getting picked first overall in the 2010 draft. Over the course of his first two seasons, he shot just 23.6% from three-point territory and turned the ball over nearly four times per game (a figure that has stayed consistent throughout his career). He buffed his scoring output in 2012–13—though a stress fracture in his left knee caused him to miss time—but Wall appeared to turn a corner over the past two seasons.

In addition to playing all but three regular season games over that timeframe, Wall averaged 18.5 points, 9.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds. He bumped his three-point percentage to 35.1% in 2013–14, but that improvement wasn’t replicated last season.

In fact, Wall shot below league average from beyond the arc above the break and from each corner. Lacking such an important skill is a detriment to his case for making the 2016 Rio Olympics, doubly so when his competition has been so impressive launching shots from downtown.

• MORE NBA: Adidas unveils J Wall 2 | Wall not sure he'll make Team USA

By contrast, Irving shot the lights out from three-point range last season. He converted his attempts at an above-average clip from everywhere and ultimately notched a career-best 41.5% mark from distance. Wall can proudly say that he finished much better in the restricted area, but Irving’s outside shooting touch and Duke connection with USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski likely puts him ahead of Wall on the depth chart.

The tandem of five-time All-Defensive First Team member Chris Paul and reigning MVP Steph Curry, meanwhile, has to be seen as the front-running pair to make the Olympic roster.

They’re quite easily the most accomplished point guards of the bunch, and both led their respective squads to top-three seeds in the loaded Western Conference last year. The Clippers dispatched the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs before falling in seven games to Houston, while the Warriors stormed to their first title in 40 years.

Paul’s defensive chops and veteran leadership that extends into the Olympic sphere—he won gold medals with Team USA in 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London)—pretty much makes him a shoo-in yet again. As for Curry, well, just take a gander at how absolutely ridiculous his shot chart was a season ago:

• MORE NBA: Stern encourages to run for NYC mayor

The sharpshooter with a textbook, buttery smooth touch from the outside was above league average from everywhere on the floor. He finished extremely well at the hoop, sunk midrange shots with regularity and, of course, rained threes like a monsoon.

His MVP performance throughout the season and postseason was enough to make all-time greats like Steve Nash consider Curry as the best shooter ever. The two-time MVP marveled at Curry’s overall consistency and ability to make step-back threes. 

“Steph takes it to another level,” Nash told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher. “Steph is able to seamlessly get his feet down, gather his weight between his feet and go up in the air and shoot it in rhythm as if he’d just been standing there, caught it and shot it.

“Truly, from the eye test, he’s the greatest there’s ever been.”

That’s remarkably high praise coming from a player who shot 42.8% from three over the course of an 18-year career. It also helps hammer home Wall’s point that he’s a distinct underdog in the point guard competition for an Olympic roster spot.

Of course, even with Kyrie’s shooting prowess and the star power of Paul and Curry, the high-energy dynamo that is Russell Westbrook hasn’t been mentioned.

During an otherworldly stretch of games spanning from late February through early March, Westbrook collected six triple-doubles over an eight-game stretch (including four straight). He fought valiantly to keep the Thunder competitive without the injured Kevin Durant, showing off the ability to impact games not only as a scorer, but also as a distributor and rebounder. Critics will harp on his propensity to take ill-advised shots, but he makes up for those decisions more often than not with ludicrous athleticism.

Wall’s biggest competition includes the four guys featured above, but the defensive intensity of Conley and MCW also can’t be ignored. The face of Washington’s franchise is an elite player, but ultimately, his grounded stance that he’s a longshot for an Olympic roster spot is likely close to the truth.

More from Ben Leibowitz:

Can’t-Miss National TV Games of the 2015-16 NBA Season

Fantasy Football Preview: Best Value Picks and Sleepers

Ranking the Oldest NBA MVPs in History

PointAfter is part of the Graphiq network, a data aggregation and visualization website that’s collected all the information about John Wall and Stephen Curry and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join Graphiq to discover contextually-rich data visualizations spanning NBA PlayersNBA Teams and thousands of other topics.