The USA is the big winner in London — in our “winner take all” society they won the gold medal, they get the spoils. And no doubt they were the best team in the games.
But a number of players came out of London as winners in the reputation game. Eric Freeman nailed a great look at what the gold means to the members of Team USA over at Ball Don’t Lie, but I want to broaden the list — a number of players from around the globe leave London big winners.
Here are my 11 players who came out on top individually from London.
• LeBron James. You don’t have to like him, but you have to admit he has cemented his place as the most dominant player in the game today. For most people the fact he is NBA MVP, NBA champ and Olympic gold medalist at the same time helps move the needle on his perception and legacy. Him saying after the gold medal game that this was all about the USA just helps reinforce a perceived change.
Four years ago in Beijing, when things got tight against Spain in the fourth quarter, it was Kobe Bryant who took over. That was his team. This time, there was no mistake throughout the London tournament that this was LeBron James’ team — he was the guy that took over games, he was the guy setting players up, he was making big buckets (the three over Marc Gasol in the Gold Medal game was the last of many). Doug Collins had a good line about all this on the NBC broadcasts — LeBron’s fingerprints were all over these games. He had the first ever Olympic triple-double to prove it.
• Pau Gasol. Shortsighted Lakers fans (and some basketball fans in general) like to rip the guy as a soft Euro (forgetting how he stood up to Dwight Howard in the NBA finals, for one of many examples). That has always been shortsighted. Gasol is a finesse player who can use power in the right situation, but that is different than soft. He remains the most skilled scorer in the low post in the game today. Mike Brown hurt Gasol last year, trying to take advantage of his variety of skills (passing, mid-range shooting) and moved him out of the post most of the time. It was a mistake. Hopefully with a more fleet-footed Dwight Howard at the other big Brown can start to get Gasol the post touches he deserves.
• Chris Paul. Simply put, the best pure point guard, the best floor general in the game and the Olympics showed it. Deron Williams is good. Derrick Rose is explosive and good. But nobody controls the tempo and flow of a game like Chris Paul. Nobody. I’ve already written an ode to him, so I move on.
• Manu Ginobili. If LeBron James was the single best player in this tournament, Ginobili was second. He scored 19.4 points per game, shot 44 percent from three and more than that really controlled the flow of the offense for Argentina. He helped set up Luis Scola (18 points a game). Manu looked young in transition and deadly in the half court. At 35 the Spur has a few years left.
• Kevin Durant. In case there was still any lingering doubt, he is the best pure scorer walking the face of the earth. If you want points, he’s the guy who can get them with threes, off the drive, in transition, cutting, whatever you want. The LeBron/Durant two-man game the USA ran (LeBron with the ball handing off or not to Durant coming off his screen) was simply the USA’s best and most unstoppable play.
It feels even more and more like he will get his soon.
• Andrei Kirilenko/Alexey Shved. Minnesota Timberwolves fans had to love these Olympics. Over the summer it seemed GM David Kahn overpaid for Kirilenko (well, he did), but in the Olympics he was the best player on the bronze medal winning Russian team, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The question with AK-47 has always been consistency of effort, but he looked good in London. Shved and his shaggy hair were a hit in the games as he averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 assists per game. He looked like the perfect backup point guard to Ricky Rubio.
• Andre Iguodala. He played a key role with Team USA as a defensive stopper on the wing and a guy asked to score in transition and with space in the half court. In the middle of the Olympics he gets traded to Denver where he will be asked to do what he did for Team USA (just on a slightly expanded scale). Let me put it this way, I would move Iggy way up your fantasy boards.
• Juan Carlos Navarro. He had one unhappy season in Memphis and was back to Spain. We NBA fans lose out because of it, that guy can flat out play.
• Anthony Davis. The question with the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Hornets is not does he have the talent but can he develop said talent. Starting out your NBA career by getting to hang out with and watch the work ethic of Kobe, LeBron, CP3 — really everyone on this team — gives him a huge head start on the learning curve. Plus, he gets a gold medal.
• Linas Kleiza. He can fall out of pubic consciousness up in Toronto, but consider this a reminder the Lithuanian forward can play — 13.8 points per game as the leader of Lithuanian team.