All posts by Ben Rubin

Sizing Up the US Roster for the 2014 World Cup of Basketball

Like any red-blooded American, I love the US men’s national basketball team.  The best players on the planet teaming up and playing an entertaining brand of basketball is something that turns even the most casual fans into die hards for a couple weeks every four years.  The Dream Team and the Redeem Team are two of the most popular sports teams in American history and now as we are at the beginning of a new four-year cycle, it is time to start thinking about who will be on what is arguably the toughest team in the world to make.   Next summer is the World Cup of Basketball, formerly known as the world championships, and will prove to be a good indicator of who will be on the roster when the 2016 Olympics in Rio rolls around.

What we know already:  Black Kevin and White Kevin have committed to play in 2014!   We also know that the thing named LeBron (I mean this with this utmost admiration as he is definitely not a human man and is some type of specimen that we have never seen before) is likely done playing for the US at the international level.   That leaves us with 10 spots and lots of deserving candidates.

Locks: Kevin Durant, Kevin Love

They obviously just committed to playing in this tournament and look to be the cornerstones of USA Basketball for the foreseeable future.  In fact, USA Basketball chairman and U of I alum (gotta throw in any Illini reference I can) Jerry Colangelo described Durant as the face of the program going forward.  After seeing Durant making a mockery of the FIBA three point line (which they have now changed because of his performance) and have a phenomenal Olympics, I see him as the perfect player to build around.

If they want to play, then they are in: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler

This is a large group and one made up of Derrick Rose, who would have been on the 2012 Olympic team if he were healthy, Blake Griffin, who was on the team until a late injury forced him off the squad, and the rest of the 2012 Olympic Team that is not KD, K-Love, Kobe (he is too god damn old and is coming off a major injury), and LeBron.  If any of these people want to play, they have enough clout that they will be on the team.  I suspect that Melo who is a veteran of three Olympics (like LeBron) is done playing internationally.  I would also bet two time Olympians, Chris Paul and Deron Williams who are approaching thirty with injury histories are also likely done.   Also please watch this video if you want to see the greatest moment of 13 year old Ben’s life and why I will always love Deron Williams.  Chandler is getting old and also has injury problems and is likely done playing for Team USA as well.  That leaves realistic options for next summer as Rose (a healthy Rose would love to play for team USA), Westbrook, Harden, Davis, and Iguodala.  If you get 3 or more of those guys next summer than the US will be looking pretty good.

Very likely to be included if they tryout: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George

My love affair for Curry has been well documented (shout out to Michael Rosenson for sharing in this platonic love of Curry with me).  He would be the perfect offensive player for the international game and if he is healthy than he would be a great asset.  Kyrie is just plain filthy, but he too needs to stay healthy.  He was the star of the recent mini camp, as discussed by my comrade Jake Weiner.  He is looking like the point guard of the future for Team USA.  Now time for a little horn-tooting.  I knew Kyrie would be this good from the first time I saw him play at Duke and did not understand why there was so much doubt (other than injury concerns) about him being the number 1 pick and becoming star.  If you can shoot, dribble, and pass that good, you are likely going to be a stud.  George was the breakout star of the playoffs and would be an excellent, versatile option for this US team.

Intriguing options: Ryan Anderson, Harrison Barnes, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Andre Drummond, Jrue Holiday, Larry SANDERS!, Klay Thompson, John Wall

These players are all intriguing to me for different things they bring to the table.  Athleticism and rim protection (Drummond and SANDERS!), perimeter shooting (Thompson), versatility on the wing (Barnes), stretch 4 (Anderson), size and interior scoring (Boogie), shooting ability and can guard both guard spots (Holiday), and elite athletic ability and can guard both guard spots (Wall).  These players are all intriguing to me and are all very talented players, but these players will all have to have good seasons as well as a good training camp next summer to be on the team.

Filling out the rest of the team:  Everybody else in the player pool

There are some really good players I did not mention and really like.  Players such as Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, and many more are extremely talented and have as good of a chance as the guys in the section above of them to make the squad.  There is a year between now and the World Championships and players will emerge and have breakout campaigns between now and then.  Two personal favorites of mine that I hope are given the opportunity are everyone’s favorite Chicago Bulls two guard-Jimmy Butler, and my St. Louis homer pick of Bradley Beal, who I have been watching play for 6 years and has the prettiest jumper I have ever seen in person.  Another guy who would be a great fit to this team is Kawhi Leonard.  You saw what he could do in the finals and no one would be surprised if he turns in an all star caliber season in 2013-14.  Lots can happen between now and then and it will be fun to see how it shakes out.

Here is my prediction of the 12 man roster 2014 World Cup of Basketball Roster:

Guards/Wings: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard

Bigs: Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin

This squad is a bit small and that is definitely worrisome against the behemoth front line of Spain, but the versatility of this roster should offset those concerns.  This team would have two rim protectors (Davis and Drummond) and two major glass cleaners/contrasting offensive weapons (Love and Griffin) on the front line.  This team would also have three guys (Durant, George, and Leonard) who can guard both forward positions and play as an effective small ball 4.  Westbrook and Rose would bring dynamite athleticism in the backcourt.  Harden is a monster in the pick and roll and is a great all around offensive talent, while Irving and Curry would bring the necessary outside shooting strokes to space the floor.  I constructed this team assuming ideal health and certain players opting or opting not to participate.  Regardless, the US will enter next summer as the heavy favorite to win the World Cup of Basketball.

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State of the Warriors

golden-state-warriors

What does it take to be a championship contender in today’s NBA?

 

-Guys who can create quality shots for others and themselves

-An elite defense (most likely anchored by a rim protecting big man or by a cyborg like Lebron)

-Some threat of inside scoring

-Athletic wings that are versatile defensively and can shoot 3s (being proficient from the corners is a necessity)

 

These are just some of the components a team must have to succeed in the NBA in 2013.  Good coaching, chemistry, just enough depth and health are vital as well.  I believe the Warriors, as currently constructed can check off all those boxes and are a legitimate contender for the 2013-14 title.   Though there is still work to do in constructing this roster (which I will get to shortly), the signing of Andre Iguodala will establish the Warriors as contenders for the foreseeable future.

The Warriors have Stephen Curry, one of the league’s 15 best players on one of the league’s best contracts (4 yr/$44 mil).  If you watched any basketball during the 2012-13 season, you know how awesome of a player Curry is.  The dude made 272 three pointers (a new single season record) at a 45.3% clip!  Guys who shoot that accurately typically are spot up shooters, such as a Steve Kerr or Kyle Korver, but Curry is pulling up from 28 ft and hitting contested jumpers.  We have NEVER seen anyone like him offensively and as you can tell by this man-crush paragraph, I am bullish on his future, provided his ankles don’t shatter into a thousand pieces.

The Dubs have more than just Curry though.  They have Klay Thompson, who may be the league’s second best shooter behind Curry and has great size for a wing player. He is not a great defensive player, but is improving and only entering his third year in the league.  On the wing they have another exciting prospect in Harrison Barnes.  Barnes had a breakout performance in the playoffs and possesses all the traits a team would be looking for in their small forward (just like our beloved Jimmy Butler, you guys).   Barnes showed he can play as a small ball four, stretch the floor as a shooter, and even showed a nice dribble drive game towards the end of the year.  Even without the addition of Iguodala (see below why I love this move), the Warriors had one of the league’s best wing tandems, but his addition makes them arguably the best and most versatile trio of swingmen in the league.

Though they lack frontcourt depth, the Warriors have two very good big men.  Andrew Bogut started to look like Andrew Bogut again during the playoffs and at his peak he is an elite rim protector and passer, as well as being a good finisher and rebounder.  If he is healthy, he is the perfect compliment to Curry and co.   People love to hate on David Lee’s defense and I do not blame anyone that focuses on that aspect of his game, but I do find these people to be shortsighted when they forget how brilliant of an offensive player he is.  He is an efficient post player, great mid range shooter, can attack opposing bigs off the dribble and like Bogut is an awesome passer.  If he is playing alongside a rim protector like Bogut than a lot of his defensive miscues can be neutralized and he can focus on the one thing he does do well defensively (rebounding).   Thinking of a completely healthy Dubs team with these two feeding each other for easy buckets and the perimeter guys for open 3s arouses (sexually, mentally, emotionally) basketball purists like myself.  This team is capable of playing some of the most aesthetically pleasing basketball known to man.

Andre Iguodala compliments these 5 guys perfectly and is a great use of the Warriors resources.  Iguodala is undoubtedly one of the five best perimeter defenders in the league.  He can guard 1s, 2s, 3s, and even an occasional small ball 4.  He is also a very capable secondary ball handler who has averaged over 5 assists per game in 6 of the last 7 seasons.  Now that Jarrett Jack is gone, the Warriors needed someone else who could create easy looks for others and they could not have done much better than adding Iggy.  He was woefully miscast as a number 1 option in Philly, but if he is playing the role that I envision the Warriors have him filling (10-12 shots per game, secondary ball handler to Curry, be a smart cutter and run the floor, absolute menace defensively) than he would be an incredibly valuable player to any team.  He is a mediocre shooter, but that is fine since he is playing with the Splash Bros, Barnes, and Lee, there will still be plenty of space offensively.

Though I believe this may be the best top 6 in basketball, the Warriors as currently constructed, have very little depth.  Their bench led by Jack and the also departed Carl Landry blitzed opposing second units.  Jack was a crucial crunch time performer, could back up either guard spot, and allowed for Curry to play off the ball at times, while Landry is an excellent scorer and willing passer.  As good as these two were, a part of why they were so great last year was because they got both of these guys on the cheap.  They deservedly cashed in on their success, but I would not pay two bench guys a combined $12 million a year and the Warriors made the smart move to let them go, now they need to make some shrewd decisions to fill their void.

They now need to focus their attention on finding a backup point guard and a backup power forward. Their bench is not completely barren, as I do like some of the young pieces they currently have.  Festus Ezeli has no semblance of an offensive game, but is an adequate rim protector.  While Draymond Green does not bring the same quality to the position of point forward that resident DRAT crazy person Steven Kerstein does, he is an intriguing young piece who can guard 3’s and 4’s and brings a diverse set of skills offensively.  Depth is needed to get them through the season, but in the playoffs when rotations shrink and every minute is at a premium, the Warriors will not need all that much from players 7-9 in their rotation.

As you can tell in this long-winded manifesto, that I LOVE this Warriors team.  They have athleticism, shooting, passing, and defense.   If they stay healthy and can find a useful, cheap piece or two during free agency, they will absolutely be able make noise come playoff time.