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

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.