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

Hawks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. kneed in the groin while defending 76ers (video)

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Since trading for him, the Hawks have gotten Tim Hardaway Jr. to buy in defensively.

After this help defense on 76ers center Richaun Holmes cost him dearly, I wouldn’t blame Hardaway if he gave up on the endeavor entirely.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Warriors, Russell Westbrook make statements

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You missed Wednesday night’s NBA action because you were busy watching videos then making your favorite foods seen on television shows and movies — like the ratatouille from Ratatouille — and we can respect that. Here’s what you missed around the NBA while you were cooking.

1) Warriors end doubt about who will finish with top seed in West, make playoff statement by coming from 22-down to beat Spurs. The Golden State Warriors, with a healthy Kevin Durant (as we saw the middle of this season) is the most talented team in the NBA, and it will be difficult for any team to beat them in a seven-game series.

Wednesday night we had to ask: Are the Golden State Warriors without Kevin Durant still the most talented and best team in the NBA?

The answer the last two nights has been yes. First, the Warriors beat the Rockets and hold James Harden in relative check. Then the next night the Warriors come from 22 down to beat the Spurs in San Antonio, dominating the game’s final three quarters. That ninth-straight win all but assured the Warriors the top seed in the West. It also was a statement from Golden State — nobody is better than us right now… and by the way, we get to add Kevin Durant

It also was a statement from Golden State — nobody is better than us right now… and by the way, we get to add Kevin Durant back to the mix in a couple of weeks.

It didn’t look like the Warriors were going to make a statement early in this game.

However, in the NBA a massive first-quarter lead is almost never safe against a good team that can shoot the three. Those leads get blown all the time. And by the second quarter, the Stephen Curry (29 points for the game) and Klay Thompson (23 points) shooting exhibition was on. By the third quarter, the Warriors were in the lead and looking to take command.

The guy who plunged the daggers into San Antonio was former Spur David West, who was fantastic in the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points.

Yes, Golden State looked like the team to beat heading into the playoffs last year, and all they did was have a chance to win it all in the final minutes of Game 7 of the Finals (Cleveland closed that out better). Those Warriors were a very good team — and this year’s version may be better. The ultimate test of that is ahead. But the statement they are the team to beat has been made loud and clear the last two nights.

2) Every time you don’t think Russell Westbrook can do more… he set an NBA record with a 57-point triple-double in Thunder comeback win. I don’t know if Russell Westbrook is going to win the NBA MVP award — I get the sense a lot of voters are swayed by the numbers/efficiency/wins James Harden is putting up — but I know I can’t stop watching him.

Wednesday night was another show — and I don’t just mean the 57 points, the 13 rebounds, and the 11 assists, becoming the first player ever in the NBA with a 57-point triple double. I mean leading a team back from a 21-point third quarter deficit, then hitting the game-tying three to force overtime when everyone in the building knew he would take it but he pulled up from 30 off the dribble and drained it anyway. I mean the rim-rattling dunks, but also the seven points in overtime to secure the win. I mean the smart passes when the entire Orlando defense seemed to collapse on him. Westbrook did it all.

I keep hearing about how Westbrook is chasing stats. Maybe somewhat. However, what I see is a guy chasing wins and knowing the only way the Thunder get those is if he is nothing short of brilliant — the Warriors have a .815 winning percentage when Westbrook gets a triple-double and .333 when he doesn’t. The Thunder need him to play this way, they are a bad team when he is off the court. When he is on it, you can’t take your eyes off him.

3) Milwaukee shows why it will be a tough out in playoffs, beats Boston and knocks Celtics back into a tie with Cavaliers. The single best moment on Wednesday night was when Giannis Antetokounmpo and Isaiah Thomas had to face off for a jump ball.

It may be a little bit on the nose, but that was a good metaphor for this game — Milwaukee is a big, long team loaded with athletes and on this night Boston could not overcome them. Thomas has a strong game with 32 points and kept things close — Marcus Smart missed a three to tie at the end — but the Bucks had better balance and depth (the Greek Freak had 22, Khris Middleton added 19).

I’d still pick the Celtics in a seven-game series (although the Bucks look to be the Raptors’ first-round problem) but let this game serve as a reminder that the Bucks will not go quietly into that good night. Also, you may want to avoid jump balls with them.

Stephen Curry scores 29, leads Warriors’ rally over Spurs 110-98

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 29 points, Klay Thompson had 23 and the Golden State Warriors rallied from a 22-point deficit in the opening quarter to beat the San Antonio Spurs 110-98 on Wednesday night for their ninth straight win.

Golden State extended its lead over San Antonio to 3 1/2 games for the league’s best record, beating the Spurs for the first time in three meetings this season.

Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and five assists for San Antonio. Leonard shot 7 for 20 from the field while being guarded by a rotation of defenders.

The Spurs had a five-game winning streak halted in inglorious fashion. San Antonio got off to its best start of the season two days after dismantling Cleveland in a 29-point victory. The Spurs raced to a 33-17 lead in the opening quarter, matching their largest lead of the season after the first quarter.

Andre Iguodala‘s 20-foot fadeaway jumper off one leg in the final seconds kept the Warriors from matching a season-low for points in the opening period.

Iguodala finished with 14 points.

Golden State rallied from that horrendous start, overcoming a 22-point deficit in the first quarter to take its first lead at 59-57 on Thompson’s 3-pointer 1:20 into the second half.

The Warriors outscored the Spurs 93-65 after the first quarter.

Golden State finished 13 for 26 on 3-pointers after shooting 2 of 5 on 3-pointers in the first quarter. San Antonio had 14 turnovers in the final three quarters.

Warriors forward David West, who was met with a chorus of boos upon entering the game, finished with 15 points. West signed with Golden State in the offseason after playing for San Antonio last season on a discounted contract.

Manu Ginobili had 18 points for San Antonio, and LaMarcus Aldridge added 17.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Golden State forward Kevin Durant worked out on the court before the game, but remains sidelined by an injured left knee. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said there is no update on a possible return, but is encouraged that Durant is moving well and progressing. Durant played a “hard” 1-on-1 against Golden State assistant coach Willie Green earlier in the day. “Kevin got him pretty good,” Kerr said. “It’s a good sign. If Willie had beaten him, I would have been worried.” … Curry has 289 3-pointers this season, second-most in league history, surpassing the 286 he made in 2015. Curry set the league record with 402 3s last season. … Golden State has seven winning streaks of at least seven games in three seasons under Kerr.

Spurs: Ginobili has played 987 regular-season games in his career, tying Hall of Famer David Robinson for third all-time in franchise history behind Tony Parker (1,136) and Tim Duncan (1,392). … PG Patty Mills has 582 career 3-pointers, one more than Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. … San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said rookie Dejounte Murray is progressing slowly, but remains out with a left groin injury. … San Antonio has eight games remaining, including four at home. … The Spurs are 106-57 overall against the Warriors.

 

Grizzlies beat slumping Pacers, who fall into tie for final playoff spot

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley matched his career high with seven 3-pointers on his way to 36 points, helping the Memphis Grizzlies rout the Indiana Pacers 110-97 on Wednesday night.

Vince Carter had 21 points and eight rebounds, and Zach Randolph finished with 17 points as Memphis snapped a four-game losing streak. Conley went 13 for 21 from the field.

Paul George led the Pacers with 22 points, Aaron Brooks, who provided an early spark from outside the arc, had 18 points, and Thaddeus Young finished with 16.

Indiana lost for the fourth time in five games.

Memphis played without All-Star center Marc Gasol, who missed his third straight game with a left foot strain. But Conley helped the Grizzlies get off the fast start, and Pacers were never able to catch up.

Memphis led by as many as 22 in the second quarter and carried a 72-53 advantage into the break. Conley scored 22 points in the first half, and the Grizzlies went 10 for 17 from beyond the arc in the first two periods.

Brooks made four 3-pointers and scored 14 in the first half for Indiana.

The Grizzlies led 96-79 after three, and the sliding Pacers never threatened in the fourth.

Indiana (37-38) dropped into a tie with Miami for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both are two games behind Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The Heat, Bucks and Hawks all won Wednesday night.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Brooks made a 3-pointer in the first quarter to reach 800 for his career. … Indiana dropped to 0-8 in road games on the second night of a back-to-back.

Grizzlies: JaMychal Green was out with left shoulder soreness. That caused Memphis to use its 22nd different starting lineup this season. … Memphis scored 38 points in the first quarter, matching its highest point total for any quarter this season. … Memphis has made at least 10 3-pointers in 36 games. … In the third quarter, Carter passed Ray Allen (24,505) for 22nd in NBA history for career points scored. … Reserve guard Andrew Harrison left in the third quarter with a right ankle injury.

PACERS HOMECOMINGS

Pacers forward Thaddeus Young played high school basketball in Memphis and still lives there. Pacers guard Monta Ellis has a home in the Eads community east of Memphis.

HOME STRETCH

Memphis (41-34), which sits seventh in the Western Conference playoff race, has a beneficial schedule down the stretch. Of its seven remaining games, five are at home, and five are against teams with losing records.

UP NEXT

Pacers: Visit Toronto on Friday.

Grizzlies: Host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.