There were no surprises on Team USA's 20-man preliminary roster that was announced today. In Part 1 of this post, I winnowed the list down by picking my locks to make the team (Durant, James, Howard, Bryant, Wade) and miss the team (Billups, Odom, Gay,
Curry, Granger). I also selected two reserve big men, Chandler and Bosh.
That leaves 5 slots to fill out of "smalls" Rose, Westbrook, Williams, Paul, Gordon, Iguodala, and Anthony. Although Love and Griffin weren't among my top two reserve big men, I will still consider them for the final slot as well. I should note again that these are my picks for who I think should be on the team, rather than who will be on the team. Who should be on the team will be determined almost exclusively by who would make this team play the best in this Olympics, but if there's a near tie (especially in the deep bench spots), it should be resolved in favor of younger players who could learn from this experience in order to help the team in 2014 and 2016.
The team needs at least two point guards and probably three. That still means that one of Paul, Rose, Williams, and Westbrook will not make it. It would be nice if the third point guard could play some 2 also, but all of the PGs on this list are big enough to do that in Coach K's system except for Paul. In fact, Williams played almost exclusively at 2 on the second unit with Paul in 2008.
I think it's pretty clear that Chris Paul should be the starter over Derrick Rose. While Rose may be the slightly better NBA player at this point (though many would debate that), for what this team needs Paul is far superior. Paul is the better passer and has made himself into a great standstill shooter, even from 3. Rose is not the distributor that Paul is, though he's to be commended for improving in this area each year. More importantly, he is less equipped to feast on the many wide open 3s that will be available, especially in the gap at the top of a 2-3 that is often occupied by the point guard in a zone offense. Defense between the two is a wash; Paul is the better ballhawk (which could fuel the Americans' transition game), but Rose is better at position defense at this point, as well as closing out on international shooters. Paul struggles in the latter aspect with his short arms. Nonetheless, Paul is so much better of an offensive fit that he gets the nod as the starter.
Deron Williams possesses many of the same advantages over Rose that Paul does. (I'll assume that Williams' slow start this season is an aberration and that he'll return to form. It looks like he's starting to turn the corner.) He's a much better shooter and is generally considered a better distributor. While Rose is probably better at staying in front of quick point guards at this point, the only player internationally who will really cause an issue in that regard is Australia's Patty Mills. (I'm assuming Macedonia and the fun-to-watch Bo McCalebb won't make it out of the qualifying tournament.)
Rose is the best scorer and penetrator of this point guard group, but the team already has that in spades from the wing positions. In forming a team, the chief consideration is to make sure it's well-rounded in all aspects, and that means picking players who provide added value of shooting and distributing the ball. In particular shooting, as Kevin Pelton's research has shown, helps the offense even when the player doesn't have the ball. Rose really only helps the team when he has the ball, and with Wade, James, Bryant, and Durant, that's not going to be that often. If fielding the best team in 2012 were the only consideration, I'd have to pick Williams as the backup.
The same sort of value-added analysis applies to Rose vs. Westbrook. The only use I can see for the third point guard is to come in during the second quarter of the team's 4th game in 4 days and give the team an energy boost. Rose, while he has grown more effective defensively, is more of a glider on defense. He either can't or won't defend with the short, intense, choppy steps and constant activity it takes to really pressure the ball effectively. Rose's ball pressure in 2010 was better than it is for the Bulls, where the longer game and his enormous offensive role preclude his expending a ton of energy on D, but he's no Westbrook. Westbrook excels at this in the international setting, and his pressure defense proved a game-changer at times in 2010. Westbrook's awesome offensive rebounding is another potential energy source for the team. As a third point guard, Westbrook too is better suited to his role despite being a worse NBA player than Rose
Of course, fielding the absolute best team in 2012 isn't the only consideration. With the aging of Williams (30 in 2014) and Paul (29 but with an injury history that does not augur well for his late-career participation in international competition), Rose will almost certainly be the best PG option in 2014 and 2016. Alienating him now to achieve an incremental (and uncertain) upgrade at the backup PG spot this year would be nothing short of foolish. Rose's hurt feelings would only be exacerbated by the enormous controversy leaving him off the team would create. It simply isn't worth it.
So, if I were running the team, Williams would be the odd man out, Rose the backup, and Westbrook the third point guard. Williams has a convenient excuse of focusing on his free agency, and Colangelo could offer him the choice of issuing a statement that he's "voluntarily" withdrawing from consideration for the team the day before the roster is announced.*
*Yesterday I joked that Odom wouldn't even be invited to tryout, but it looks like there isn't going to be a "tryout" this year since the roster is due on June 18. If Colangelo and Co. wanted to get really aggressive though, they could have a short camp for the guys who aren't locks and aren't playing in the Finals to determine the last few spots.
With this going so long, I'll push the remainder of the selection process to a third part.
I waited until now to reveal that the only basketball jersey I own is an authentic Derrick Rose 2010 Team USA jersey, #6. It occurred to me that if both Rose and LeBron make the team, someone is going to have to give up that number, and if it's Rose my jersey becomes a lot less cool. (We'll always have 2010, Derrick!) I suspect it will be Rose since James played twice* for Team USA with that number and it's his number for the Heat. But if we're being fair, LeBron wussed on playing for Team USA in 2010 for dubious "focusing on free agency that will be over 2 months before the tournament starts" reasons, so Rose should get to keep his jersey number. Either way, it certainly will be interesting to see who wins that little power struggle, especially if the Bulls and Heat play another hard-fought series this spring.
*I came across a guy wearing one of the most straightcashhomey.net/ jerseys ever at the gym a couple of weeks ago, a LeBron James #9 Team USA jersey from 2004. While I appreciate the Team USA support, This may be the worst jersey I've ever seen in public. Consider the following factors:
- James doesn't wear that number for Team USA anymore
- He barely played for that team.
- He was considered a cancer after complaining that he barely played for that team.
- The team lost 3 times at the Olympics, barely eked out a bronze medal, emerged as a poster child for what was wrong with American basketball, and was so bad that it provided the impetus to completely overhaul the national team.