At this time we have no idea what kind of rotations that coach Mike Krzyzewski will use for Team USA. He has a roster loaded with talent especially in the fields of athleticism and speed. Therefore, fans of basketball should be in for a treat once Olympic basketball tips off in London.
The roster has been set. Lineups, however, are a whole other animal. With a team so repeat with talent, finding the right combination of efficient chemistry could take time, yet, with the summer games set to begin in a few short weeks, time is of the essence.
One thing we do know is that Coach K plans to have LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant on the court at the same time for heavy minutes. These players can be cycled through any position that a given lineup has to offer from one through five. They will likely be paired with Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant giving Team USA a college feel with a two guards and three forwards set, forgoing the traditional center.
Team USA does have one center on its roster in Tyson Chandler. Honestly, if Chandler does start a game it will be for appearances only or to compete with the bigs of Spain. Other than that, his role should be limited in London. This is a hybrid team with players who can play multiple positions. Why bow to archaic positional traps? That is not what Team USA is about anymore. 2010 solidified that when the team that won gold at the World Championships started Lamar Odom at center.
Traditionalists may warn that smaller lineups will pose defensive shortcomings in the half court but that is if we assume that opposing teams have fluid, unchallenged ball movement and can work the ball into the post or lane. Reports coming out of Las Vegas, where Team USA was holding practice and scrimmages with the Team USA Select team, noted that the Select backcourt of John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Jrue Holiday were harried from the moment the ball was inbounded and they were tasked with bringing it up court.
This stifling full court defense will be a staple of Team USA. It allows the team to play smaller, more versatile lineups and prevent opponents from easily setting up their offense potentially forcing plenty of turnovers in the process. Smothering the ball as they will could draw comparisons to when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen traded off guarding Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics. Take the ball out of the hands of the playmaker or the opponent’s best player and that team stands little chance.
The key defenders that will be tasked with harassing the ball will be Bryant, though the oldest player on the team he can still muster good defensive possessions, Paul, Deron Williams, James Harden, and most importantly James and Andre Iguodala, whose admission to the final roster was likely based on his defense. Aside from Paul, each of these players can defend multiple positions with James and Iguodala being able to guard anything from a point guard to a power forward. James could also be asked to defend centers. He has that ability.
In fact, that defensive versatility is what makes this team so astounding. Referring back to the lineup of Paul, Bryant, Durant, Anthony, and James, these players can guard almost anyone, towering centers aside. Both James and Anthony proved they could defend power forwards during the NBA regular season and playoffs while Bryant and Durant are suited to guard wings. If their pressure defense works as well as it can, opposing centers could be taken out of the equation all together with ball denial.
However, where versatility is the biggest asset is on offense. Team USA should blaze up and down the court. Key to this will be rebounding. Since the team is relatively undersized it would make sense that Kevin Love should see more playing time on this squad than he did in Turkey, where he was an unbelievably efficient player. His knack for rebounding in volume and his ability to pass into the break plays into the speed that this team possesses. A scenario where Love gets a rebound, hits Westbrook/Paul/Williams with the outlet pass, and the play finishes with a layup, lob, or dunk is very real.
Imagine the above scenario and picture Blake Griffin as the one scoring at the end of the break. Enough said. That is what makes this team so dangerous and why the anticipation for the games to begin that much greater.
Even if a team slows down Team USA, they have a savvy floor general in Paul who can dissect a defense with his passing, and Westbrook to run a pick and roll or find and open shooter. There is no shortage of premier shooters on this roster.
The hardest part, right now, is building a cohesive unit, with interchangeable parts, capable of adapting and excelling in every situation. With a roster as loaded as this one and with the general camaraderie amongst players in the league, not to mention many of these players having played together before, everything should fall into place nicely.
Before Olympic play begins, Team USA will play in several “friendlies” just to wet out appetite.
July 12 vs. the Dominican Republic
July 16 vs. Brazil
July 22 vs. Argentina
July 24 vs. Spain