clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2012 Olympics: Who Goes to London?

With likely the last source of real professional basketball for a while ending with Spain's victory at the Eurobasket -- barring a resolution of the lockout in the next week or so -- the stage has been set for the 2012 Olympics in London, where the members of the 2008 "Redeem Team" will seek to defend the gold medal they won in Beijing. Obviously, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will suit up for Team USA and Spain respectively, but past these two, do any of the current Lakers have a shot at joining the festivities in London? As Sasha Vujacic, Sun Yue, and DJ Mbenga are no longer with the team, the Lakers have a dearth of foreign players outside of Gasol, so any further Laker representation in the Olympics will be with Team USA or via a bizarre Chris Kaman-esque episode of a nominally U.S.-based Laker getting a foreign passport. Thankfully, Chris Sheridan, the former ESPN writer who has done a good deal of work on international play and now operates his own site at Sheridan Hoops, has given a breakdown on the players that, according to his sources, will definitely be present in London and those on the shortlist. After the jump, we will run through Sheridan's story, how the players on the shortlist would fit in international play, and which Lakers might be tagging along as well.

Sheridan greatly simplifies our analysis here by stating that eight members of the original 2008 team are all but guaranteed to participate next summer: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwight Howard. Most of these are absolute no-brainer choices, as the best available at their respective positions, and even the now-hilarious-in-hindsight presence of Miami third wheel Chris Bosh becomes obvious when you consider how well his game is suited for the international game. Joining these eight will be Kevin Durant, the 2010 World Championships MVP whose inclusion also requires no explanation, and Blake Griffin, whom Sheridan claims is a definite inclusion should he be interested. Before we get into the remaining two choices, let's list the definite selections thus far:

PG Chris Paul Deron Williams
SG Kobe Bryant Dwyane Wade
SF LeBron James Kevin Durant Carmelo Anthony
PF Chris Bosh Blake Griffin
C Dwight Howard

Looking at the above, the intuitively obvious choice would be to bolster the frontcourt, although the U.S. team has not followed that logic in past instances. For one, a lack of quality opposing frontcourt players makes it much easier for the U.S. to field smaller lineups -- the Beijing team trotted out a Paul/Williams/Kobe/LeBron/Bosh lineup fairly often, with every player save Paul playing at a position above their weight grade -- and even if there were some bigger players, they often lacked the mobility to deal with the sheer speed of Team USA's small lineups. Moreover, this fits with the nature of the international game, in which the preponderance of zones and other defenses that are disallowed in the NBA limit the effectiveness of straight-up post play and isolation. This puts an emphasis on spacing, cutting, and a lot of pick-and-roll, which is one of the reasons Mike Krzyzewski, the head coach, uses a fairly simplistic and straightforward offense. As such, a premium is placed on zone busters, which is the primary reason Michael Redd was on the team in 2010 and why several shooting specialists are also being considered for the 2010 team.

The point that Sheridan introduces which bucks this analysis has everything to do with the frontcourt of Spain, which looks impressive even by NBA standards. In addition to Pau, they have his brother Marc Gasol, the Thunder's Serge Ibaka, who became a naturalized Spanish citizen to play for their national team, and Nikola Mirotic, a recent draftee of the Bulls who slaughtered the competition at the 2010 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship by averaging 27 points a game and would have been a lottery pick if he had been able to get out of his contract with Real Madrid anytime before 2014. After dealing with the overpaid disaster also known as Carlos Boozer, Bulls fans are already looking forward to his future arrival. In any case, what this means for Team USA is that they can't afford to skimp on size and pray that another team gets an upset against Spain, easily the second best team in the world after Team USA and a favorite to make it back to the gold medal game. Making Durant or LeBron guard Pau, who is a force in international play, isn't a good solution, and FIBA's five foul limit is another factor that has to be accounted for.

As such, the first choice for the eleventh spot on the team almost definitely has to be a big, and Sheridan immediately throws out Kevin Love and Lamar Odom as the principal candidates for that spot. From the time he came into the NBA, many pundits thought Love's game was well-suited for the international game, as a big who could shoot from outside, distribute from the high post, and act as an excellent pick-and-pop player. Odom has many of those same strengths along with a solid handle, ability to distribute the rock off the dribble, and the versatility to play and defend multiple positions. That last point is particularly important in the international game, as with Team USA going small often as a matter of course, being pigeonholed into any position limits a player's overall utility.

What hurts Odom, however, is that there are no shortage of ball-handlers and distributors with this squad, as practically every guard on the team plus LeBron can pass the rock and run the offense, so that plays down his principal strength. Add on the fact that he's not as adept as Love from the perimeter nor as formidable on the boards and it's hard to justify not choosing Love here, even considering Love's poor defense. It's also not out of the question that Love makes another step next year in his fourth season, as he's only 23 while Odom almost certainly will fall from the highs he set with his Sixth Man of the Year campaign last year.

With that settled, we're faced with the choice for the last spot, which Sheridan presents as a choice between another big, a shooting specialist, and another point guard. Of the three, the last makes the least sense considering the number of ball-handlers noted above, as well as the fact that the two principal choices, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, aren't particularly well-suited for the international game. Both operate principally in isolation and drawing free throws on aggressive drives to the rim, neither of which are all that effective in the international game due to the numerous zones and tendency of the referees to call less fouls in those situations respectively. Moreover, neither are good shooters and while their traditional point guard skills are certainly improving, they don't come near the level Paul, Williams, and LeBron are at right now. Those same players require them to also play off the ball, which is less of a problem for Westbrook and more for Rose, compounding the spacing problems they already introduce. There really isn't a pressing need for a player with their skill set, especially compared with the other two options unless they're good enough to beat either Paul or Williams for their spots, which is highly doubtful.

For the second option, Sheridan writes that the two favorites are Eric Gordon and Stephen Curry, both of whom played on the 2010 team. For the specific role they would be entrusted with -- a situational shooter for out-of-bounds plays and similar situations -- it's hard to go wrong with either of them; Curry is the better shooter by a hair and has good point guard chops while Gordon has a more versatile offensive game and is largely a better defender. If pressed, Gordon would be my choice, but both would provide practically the same thing to the team. How useful this would be is an open question, however. Michael Redd played infrequently in Beijing, as there wasn't a whole lot of court time for him in a crowded backcourt that also had Jason Kidd, and Paul and Williams are good enough shooters that an additional one isn't absolutely necessary, especially if Love is on the team.

With that noted, we come to the first choice, the notion the Lakers pretty much ignored last season, which is that you can pretty much never not have enough frontcourt depth. Along with Odom, Sheridan offers Tyson Chandler, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kendrick Perkins. If you're wondering how Perkins made that list and Andrew Bynum didn't, it's primarily because Team USA tends to reward players who build a commitment to the team by participating in the summer selection camps, and due to his injuries, Bynum hasn't had much of an opportunity to do so. To his credit, he had an invite to the camp for the 2010 World Championships, but declined since he wanted to recuperate during the summer. As Dave McMenamin aptly noted in a 2010 article, Bynum will only be 28 by the time the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero roll around, and should he build on the solid post-ASG campaign he had last year, he definitely should be the mix for the 2014 World Championships as well barring more injuries. Whether he is still in a Lakers jersey by then is a fair question, notably if the player that likely will still be ahead of him in the depth chart is wearing the purple and gold, but that's a question for another time.

As for the choices available, Aldridge is by far the best overall player of the bunch, as he was a bona fide All-Star last year and asserted himself as Portland's franchise cornerstone with Brandon Roy now a shadow of himself due to knee injuries. He also notably shed much of his "soft" label by becoming a better defensive player, notably against the pick-and-roll, and he saw a good deal of time playing as an undersized center last year due to Portland's never-ending spree of career-threatening injuries, both of which should endear him to the Team USA brass.

Chandler is the best defensive player of the four, and indeed, after his masterful defensive performance in the playoffs, in which he covered huge swaths of the court and regularly shut down penetration from the likes of Wade and LeBron, there is a fair argument that he is the best non-Howard defensive big in the game. Perhaps some of that was due to Rick Carlisle, who made a strong case that he's the league's best coach not named Gregg Popovich with Phil now gone, but there's no discounting how effective he can be at that end, particularly since guarding the perimeter will be a valuable skill in international play. He also has remedied his offensive limitations by adding a somewhat reliable jumper, and if that fails, he will have his old pick-and-roll compatriot in Paul to throw the alley-oop passes that made the two such an effective combination in New Orleans.

All of Chandler's strengths, however, are fairly glaring reasons for why Perkins looks like the worst choice of the four. Aided by the presence of Garnett in Boston and to a lesser extent, Ibaka in OKC, Perkins largely only had to concentrate on post defense and some basic help defense, which doesn't help him against the bigs who will take him out to the perimeter in the international game. Moreover, he's very limited on offense when not close to the rim outside of his admittedly solid screen setting. Of these four, Aldridge would likely be my first choice given that he fits best with Team USA's tendency to go small, and he can stretch the floor from the center position.

Luckily for Odom, Coach K has liked to reserve a spot on the team for an older player who can act as a team leader and a glue guy, and while not as old as Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups, the previous two such players, Sheridan notes that he could fulfill a similar role on the 2012 team. As a utility player holding the last spot on the bench, Odom is also an attractive option for being able to play all five positions in the international game, allowing him to fulfill the roles of a third point guard and fifth big simultaneously. The selection committee, namely Jerry Colangelo, would also likely take into account Odom's years of service, as he was part of the dysfunctional 2004 team that took home the bronze in Athens, as well as being part of last year's championship team. For all practical purposes, the twelfth spot is somewhat inconsequential barring a spell of massive foul trouble in a game, and Odom, for whom this would almost certainly be his last hurrah with the national team, has accumulated quite a few brownie points in Team USA's selection process. Regardless, whomever ends up on the team, the U.S. will go into the 2012 London Olympics as the likely favorites to win the gold, and the principal members of the Lakers will be well-represented should the U.S. and Spain find themselves pitted against each other in a rematch of 2008.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Silver Screen & Roll Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Los Angeles Lakers news from Silver Screen & Roll