The Extra Pass: Ranking all 28 2016 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team candidatles

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Some names leaked yesterday for inclusion on the 2014-16 USA Basketball men’s national-team roster – the pool of players who will be considered for upcoming international events. That includes the World Cup of Basketball this summer, possibly 2015 Olympic qualifiers  – and, of course, the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Marc Stein of ESPN beat today’s official announcement with the full list:

Four years ago, USA Basketball added four more players to its pool a few months after the initial release, and the same could happen this cycle. John Wall, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, DeAndre Jordan and Michael Carter-Williams are among the players who would make sense as late additions. (Kobe Bryant, the lone 2012 Olympian not selected, has already announced his retirement from international play.)

Those 28(-plus?) will be parsed to 12 for each international event, but of course the biggest prize is a spot on the 2016 Olympic roster.

So, who has the best chance? Ignoring possible late additions to the expanded roster, some of whom would rank highly, here’s how the 28 already selected stack up for making the 2016 Olympic Team (age at the beginning of the Rio Games is listed in parentheses):

28. David Lee (33)

Lee was never good enough to make the Olympic team in his prime. He’s not getting there at age 33.

27. Tyson Chandler (33)

Chandler was an important piece of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, giving the Americans a center when they had no other decent option. He was likely aging out of contention anyway, but the emergence of other young centers really pushes out Chandler.

26. Deron Williams (32)

Another 2012 Olympian, Williams has already begun to look over the hill. Because he’s slipping from such a high peak, he’s still a helpful NBA player. But an Olympian now, let alone in two years? I don’t see it.

25. Andre Iguodala (32)

The third straight 2012 Olympian in these rankings – I’m sensing USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and crew picked a few players for the talent pool more to thank them for their previous service than in anticipation of 2016 – Iguodala was Team USA’s glue player in London. He’s a good passer and smart player, but too much of his game relies on athleticism to have a good chance of making the 2016 team.

24. Kyle Korver (35)

Korver clearly made the pool because of one skill: 3-point shooting. He’s a real wildcard, the only player on this list who wasn’t part of the 2010-12 U.S. Team or the 2013 minicamp (though, he did participate in the 2009 minicamp). That USA Basketball selected him anyway suggests they’re really intrigued by him. But he’s also the oldest player on this list. Even if outside shooting ages better than other skills, Korver still needs athleticism to run around screens and rise on his jumper. By the time he’s 35, I bet there are better shooters available – or at least similar ones with better complementary skills.

23. Kenneth Faried (26)

Once people got over Faried being a big steal in the draft thanks to his rebounding and offensive hustle, they began picking apart the holes in his game. Turns out, Faried is a pretty bad defender. He has a couple years to fix that major issue. Otherwise, Team USA won’t consider him strongly for a backup role.

22. Bradley Beal (23)

Beal is a good athlete with a smooth shooting stroke, making him a reasonable bet to grow into the type of player who fits at the end of the U.S.’s bench. But the second-youngest player selected to the pool, he might not be ready by 2016.

21. Klay Thompson (26)

Thompson is a better-developed Beal, a top-shelf 3-point shooter who doesn’t do anything else at a star level. Both belong on this list, because either could fit as a role player in Rio, but it’s unlikely either nudges out a deep group of stars, some of whom can shoot 3s themselves.

20. Gordon Hayward (26)

Hayward is a candidate to fill the Iguodala role. He’s a versatile offensive player, but his defense is lacking.

19. Kawhi Leonard (25)

Leonard is a better candidate to fill the Iguodala role. He’s an excellent spot-up shooter whose offensive game is expanding, and his perimeter defense is already remarkable. Depending when the Spurs hand over the reigns from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to Leonard, we could learn a lot more about the San Diego State product before the 2016 selections.

18. Andre Drummond (23)

Drummond is the youngest player on this list, and in a couple years, it might look foolish for him to be ranked so low. Just look how far his game has grown in the last two years, from the time he was underwhelming scouts at Connecticut to now. Drummond has the physical talent to skyrocket into the top three of this list. He’d just have to pass a deep crop of big men, including a few power forward who could play center internationally. Drummond’s size doesn’t separate him as much as it does in the NBA, and his defense needs major polish or else he’d be fouling out of every Olympic game.

17. DeMarcus Cousins (25)

Nobody doubts Cousins’ talent. The biggest question was his attitude, but Cousins making this list speaks volumes to how U.S. Basketball officials perceive him now. If Cousins keeps his nose clean, it’s going to be very hard to keep him off the team in 2016. He’s already elevated his game on the court, and even maintaining his current level of production might make him the NBA’s best center in two years as older players decline.

16. Carmelo Anthony (32)

Melo played well for the National Team, even when other stars weren’t meshing, and he could get a 2016 bid out loyalty. Or maybe he’ll just be deserving. For a player like him, 32 is hardly washed up. But either he will have expanded his repertoire to make a deep playoff run (increasing the odds he sits out the Olympics) or he’ll be the shoot-first scorer he’s always been (increasing the odds the committee chooses someone else).

15. Derrick Rose (27)

If it weren’t for injury, Rose would be a lock. For him to make it, obviously, he’ll have to be healthy in 2016. But let’s not ignore how much he struggled in his 10 games between injuries this season. That’s a small sample, yes, but there are a few excellent and younger point guards he’ll be competing with. Even if the slightest loss of athleticism could have Rose on the outside looking in.

14. LaMarcus Aldridge (31)

Aldridge might have the unfortunate timing of having his peak fall directly between 2012 and 2016. Consider him a lock for the World Cup of Basketball this summer in Spain, and maybe that builds up enough goodwill to warrant an Olympic spot two years later. After all, his mid-range offensive game should age well. But Aldridge is also currently a standout rebounder and quality defender, two traits likely won’t work in his favor in 2016.

13. Kyrie Irving (24)

Irving deserves his star status, but when compared to other stars, it’s hard to get over his defensive shortcomings. Plus, his frequent injuries lower his odds of making the Olympic team. Team USA has to catch him at the right – healthy – moment to include him on its 2016 roster.

12. Damian Lillard (26)

Slotting Irving and Lillard was difficult, but Lillard ultimately got the edge because he took such a big step forward from his rookie year. Irving has been running in place, admittedly at a high level, but Lillard seems to have more momentum.

11. Dwight Howard (30)

It’s a big deal that Howard is part of the American Basketball program again for the first time in six years. I suspect both sides are coming into this with the expectation Howard plays in Rio, but the best-laid plans often awry. There’s just no banking on a 30-year-old big man with back issues. Even if Howard can play, injury-related limits on him might make him less effective than Cousins or Drummond. Howard ranks so much higher than those two, though, because his trumpeted inclusion in the talent pool suggests he’ll get the benefit of the doubt.

10. Russell Westbrook (27)

Westbrook played well upon his brief return this season, separating himself from Rose in that regard, but two surgeries on the same knee for a player so reliant on his athleticism is concerning. I’d take the field of point guards behind Westbrook over him, but Westbrook has come up through the USA Basketball system and already reached the pinnacle with a gold medal in London. I think the mutual comfort will buy him a little leeway.

9. Chris Paul (31)

Paul will be old enough in 2016 to be concerned about his desire/ability to play, but not too old where it’s a real worry. He’s already won two Olympic gold medals and has probably earned a swan song.

8. LeBron James (31)

LeBron has a spot if he wants one. The only question is whether he wants one. Wade and Bosh aren’t in the running, at least right now, for a spot on in Rio, and any NBA team with LeBron is going to have a deep playoff run. Does he want to play those extra games without his Heat buddies?

7. Blake Griffin (27)

Griffin would have been an Olympian in 2012 if not for injury, and he’s clearly recovered just fine. Plus, Griffin has improved defensively and expanded his offensive moves. He’ll be an even stronger Olympic candidate in 2016 than when he was a de facto selection two years ago.

6. James Harden (26)

Best shooting guard in the NBA? Check. At least a few years younger than any other contender for the honor? Check. Even as Harden’s defensive issues become more exposed, it’s hard to find someone to bump him from the Olympic team.

5. Paul George (26)

In a medium sample this season, George has shown himself an increasingly good fit for the international style of play by protecting the ball better and polishing his jumper. But even if those improvements prove to be a fluke and he reverts to his previous levels, he’s still just too darn good to keep off the team.

4. Anthony Davis (23)

Davis was, by far, the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, and he’s just kept impressing since. He should be a fixture on the American squad for the next two to three Games.

3. Kevin Love (27)

Love, a gifted passer and shooter for his size, is an ideal fit for international play. Plus, he’s young and already one of the NBA’s top players. The only question is how much international center he can play – not that it affects Love’s candidacy, but the ripples would be felt lower on this list.

2. Stephen Curry (28)

Curry played for the 2010 World Championships gold-medal team, and that didn’t even get him a spot among the 20 finalists for the 2012 London Games. USA Basketball can – happily – make up for that snub this time. Curry’s shooting makes him ideal for international play. Plus, he keeps toning up the weaker parts of his game as he enters his prime around 2016.

1. Kevin Durant (27)

Not only has he surpassed LeBron as MVP favorite this season, Durant will quite possibly be better in 2016. He’s the easiest pick of the bunch and maybe even the face of the American delegation in Rio.

-Dan Feldman

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Kevin Durant and Tony Parker put on a show:

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Bobcats 95, Clippers 91: The Bobcats may be six games below .500 in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but that’s good enough for the eighth playoff spot there, and Charlotte actually has one of the league’s better defenses. If teams like the Clippers continue to take them lightly on the road, outcomes like Wednesday’s will become predictable rather than surprising. The Bobcats are seventh in the league in defensive efficiency, and held L.A. to just 43.3 percent shooting. Al Jefferson led the way and finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, a more impressive feat than normal considering the matchup with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin inside. — Brett Pollakoff

Bulls 98, Cavaliers 87: The Bulls improved to 7-2 with this victory since trading Luol Deng to Cleveland, and Carlos Boozer sat out with a calf injury while Deng was an ineffective 2-of-11 from the field in almost 40 minutes of action with his new squad. D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson did the heavy lifting with 27 and 26 points respectively, and Joakim Noah was his usually-active self in finishing with 18 rebounds and six assists. — BP

Hawks 112, Magic 109: Atlanta led this game by 19 points in the third, before a furious Orlando comeback required the Hawks to focus once again to finish this one out. Paul Millsap (a likely All-Star reserve in the East, if you haven’t been paying attention) led Atlanta with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals, and five blocked shots. Victor Oladipo led the Magic with 24 points on 13 shots, to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Jameer Nelson missed a deep, tough three-point shot that would have tied it as time expired. — BP

Raptors 93, Mavericks 85: Vince Carter returned to Toronto, which is apparently still a big deal for a franchise with nothing else to focus on all these years later. What Raptors fans should be concerned about is the fact that their team fell behind big once again, this time by 21 points before mustering the strength to come back and secure the victory against a Dallas team that was playing without Dirk Nowitzki. DeMar DeRozan poured in 40 points on 22 shots, but it really shouldn’t have taken that kind of effort to put away these Mavericks. — BP

Celtics 113, Wizards 111 (OT): Gerald Wallace drove for the game-winning layup to give the Celtics this victory, but his teammates gave him no more than cursory congratulations for his effort, largely due to the way Wallace has been shooting his mouth off all season long. On the Wizards side, they seem to have an aversion to getting over .500, and John Wall posted a triple double line of 28 points (on 29 shots), 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in the losing effort. Jeff Green poured in 39 points for the Celtics. — BP

Sixers 110, Knicks 106: This was yet another bad loss for the Knicks, but especially so considering both the state of the Sixers and the fact that this game was within reach in the fourth quarter. New York led by six with under nine and a half minutes remaining, but the team’s inability to get stops (which is seriously unacceptable, given Philadelphia is 29th in offensive efficiency) cost them down the stretch. Evan Turner led the way with 34 points and 11 rebounds for the Sixers, while the Knicks have now dropped five straight. — BP

Rockets 119, Kings 98: Rudy Gay went down in the first quarter with an Achilles injury. DeMarcus Cousins went down in the second quarter after rolling his left ankle. Hopefully neither of those turn out to be serious injuries (X-rays on Cousins were negative and he is day-to-day). Still, with them out the Kings could not hold off the Rockets, who went on a 14-5 first quarter run to take the lead and never looked back from there. Lots of Rockets players were putting up numbers: James Harden had 24 points and nine assists; Dwight Howard had 26 points and 13 rebounds; Omri Casspi had 20 points and 12 rebounds; and Chandler Parsons finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. — Kurt Helin

Bucks 104, Pistons 101: The Milwaukee Bucks were down 13 in the third quarter but mounted a come-from-behind win thanks to their bench, which was hot and coach Larry Drew rode through the fourth quarter. Caron Butler had 8 of his game-high 30 in the fourth quarter, although the real reason Milwaukee won is the Pistons shot 21.1 percent in the fourth (Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey combined to go 2-of-11 in the fourth). — KH

Thunder 111, Spurs 105: This is what makes me wonder about the Spurs in the playoffs — they struggle with athletic teams. Granted, once Kawhi Leonard had to leave the game with a broken hand the Spurs got less athletic, but this is not a new problem — Kevin Durant had 36 (that’s nine straight with at least 30 points) and guard Reggie Jackson slashed his way to 27 points on 17 shots. And the Thunder did that without Russell Westbrook. I don’t want to read much into one January regular season game, but the pattern of the past couple years leads me to think the Spurs can’t beat a healthy Thunder team in a seven game series. — KH

Suns 124, Pacers 100: You read that score right — the Suns dropped 124 on the best defense in the NBA. Let’s give the Suns some credit here, they started the game 10-of-15 from three, they got a strong game from former Pacer Gerald Green who had 23 points. Also, lets admit that this was just an off night on the road for Indiana — they played terrible defense. This is a team that has been marching through the West with little trouble but they didn’t get back in transition defense Wednesday and the Suns made them pay for it. — KH

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safty

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.