2016 Olympic Basketball Team Frontrunners

The 2016 Summer Olympics aren’t any time soon, but people are already excited to see who will make the final roster for Team USA. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

The 2016 Summer Olympics aren’t any time soon, but people are already excited to see who will make the final roster for Team USA. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

We’ve obviously got quite a bit of time before the 2016 Summer Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro, but many are already wondering who might be on the men’s hoops roster for Team USA. As of now, there is a pool of 34 potential candidates (they’ve added a few since the original pool of 28 was announced). Twenty-two of these players will have to be cut before the final team of 12 athletes is set and the 2016 Olympic Basketball team begins to take shape.

No one knows who the final 12 Olympians on the 2016 Olympic Basketball team will be, but there are certainly a few players whose names stand out on the pool. Below, we’ll examine the merits of a dozen frontrunners who we would personally like to see make the final roster. We’ll then briefly discuss the other sixteen candidates for the 2016 Olympic Basketball team, and what they might add to the roster if they should be chosen to compete for Team USA when we face off against the rest of the world in Brazil next summer.

Note: We will only be considering players for our 2016 Olympic Basketball team mock roster if they are currently listed on the official website for the 2014-2016 pool. Unlisted players reported to be joining the Team USA minicamp such as Harrison Barnes, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green would certainly make great additions to the pool. In fact, the new invites raise the pool from 34 up to a whopping 41. But since their spot on the roster is much newer and is still potentially uncertain, we will not be discussing their chances of leading us to a gold medal until more information has been announced.

1. Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers

Griffin was originally supposed to assist Team USA in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but he was replaced by Anthony Davis after a meniscus tear rendered him unable to participate. Things haven’t been much better since then. While he made the 2014-2016 pool, he hurt his back last summer and could not participate in the FIBA World Cup. In short, he just hasn’t had much of a chance to prove himself.

Hopefully he’ll be able to do so at the Team USA minicamp, so that he can make the 2016 Olympic Basketball team and finally be given the shot at glory that he missed four years ago. Interestingly enough, several injured players will actually be attending the camp. But some of them, such as Kevin Love, Chandler Parsons, and Paul George, will still be too injured to play. This means that, while they will technically be available for selection to the 2016 Olympic Basketball team, they won’t have as much of a chance as players such as Griffin who will be able to show off his skills at the three-day camp.

2. LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James has come a long way in the public eye. He lost a bit of respect when he left Cleveland (not so much for leaving, but for how he did it). Now that he’s back with the Cavs, he seems to have mellowed out and gained some humility. And he certainly hasn’t lost any talent in the process, which is why he’s one of our top picks for the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. It also helps that he participated in the 2012 Olympics. In fact, 10 of the 12 players from 2012 will be in the running for the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. The only two former Olympians not in the running are Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, who are dealing with issues pertaining to age and injury.

Jerry Colangelo, executive director for Team USA, has decided that it won’t be his decision whether or not James plays on the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. It’ll be up to LeBron himself to decide. And we’re pretty confident putting King James on our mock roster, since Colangelo strongly believes that LeBron will choose to play.

3. Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

Durant dropped out of the FIBA Cup after seeing Paul George get injured, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still join the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Durant dropped out of the FIBA Cup after seeing Paul George get injured, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still join the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Durant decided not to represent the United States during the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still planning on wearing a Team USA jersey next summer. He’s one of many former Olympians in the running for the 2016 Olympic Basketball team, and he’d love to get picked for the final roster. And while most people are trying to figure out what’s going on with his Twitter feed, whether or not Colangelo is going to pick him for the team seems like a much greater issue.

See, Durant pulled out of the FIBA Cup at the same time as Kevin Love, but Colangelo sees Love’s withdrawal as more of a necessity due to trade issues. In the case of Durant, he wasn’t exactly straightforward about why he withdrew. He claimed that he just needed rest, but it later surfaced that he was shaken after having seen Paul George break his leg on the court. Some may wonder why an injury should freak out a player so badly when it’s a risk they take during every game, but seeing George’s leg get broken up close reminded Durant that it could happen to him every time. That seems perfectly understandable, but Colangelo doesn’t seem to be cutting Durant the same slack he’s cutting Love. We’d like to see Durant on the team, especially since he’ll be more fit for camp than Love will, but we might not get our wish.

4. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

As the only player in the pool who wasn’t born in America, Kyrie Irving would make an interesting addition to Team USA. His dual citizenship allows him to play for either Australia or the United States, and he actually had the chance to join the Aussie team in London back in 2012. He decided not to, almost specifically because he was hoping to play for the United States as a part of the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. He made this decision after learning that Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Irving at Duke University, would be coaching next summer.

His passion for joining the team aside, there are some issues with Irving that should be acknowledged. He’s one of the best point guards in the association for his age, but that’s the problem: he’s young. And a young player shouldn’t have the history of injuries that Irving has. In addition, he’s coming off of his best season, and some are worried that his shooting is going to suffer as he moves forward. If that’s true, and Irving really is peaking at a young age, then this might actually be the best possible time for him to represent us in the Olympics. You never know when one more injury might do him in and his shot at Team USA will be gone forever.

5. Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony played for Team USA in London, and he did so in impressive fashion. Not only did he break the American record for points in a single Olympic game, but his 37 points just barely fell short of Durant’s record for most points (38) scored in an international event. He was part of a team that made 14 three-pointers in the first half of their game against Nigeria, which broke yet another record. If he can bring even half of that hustle to the 2016 Olympic Basketball team, then Colangelo would be crazy not to add him to the roster.

He’s also got something to play for besides national pride. Anthony’s eight-year-old son Kiyan was too young to remember his father’s participation in the London Olympics. Now, however, he’s a bit older and tearing up the junior courts against older kids. LeBron’s son Bronny is similarly talented, so he and Anthony would have a common bond if they wound up on the team together. True, every player has a family to whom they can dedicate their games. But off-the-court connections like this can be good for team-building. Two highly talented players on the same team who respect each other’s game? That’s never a bad thing.

6. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Much like Love and Durant, Westbrook took himself out of the 2014 FIBA Cup. He’d had two surgeries on his right knee, so the decision was more than a little bit understandable. However, his chances of making the 2016 Olympic Basketball team seem potentially high. He and Durant organized a special training camp for the Thunder this summer, so he’s getting quite a bit of practice and should be at the top of his game for the Team USA minicamp.

Some people criticize Westbrook for the sheer number of shots he takes, but it seems to be working for him. Last season, he posted the highest stats of his career in terms of points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. This is not a player who is on the decline. He’s a much better player than he was when he joined the Olympic team in 2012. He’d be an even better addition to the team next summer.

7. Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans

If it hadn’t been for Blake Griffin’s injury, then we never would have seen Davis perform in the 2012 London Olympics. And that would have been a downright shame, because his performance was nothing short of impressive. He was still a rookie, having only just been drafted prior to the Olympics. But when Love was briefly put out of a game against Tunisia due to injury, Davis rushed in and did everything he could with the minutes he had. Team USA had been trailing, but the 12 points Davis put up in just over a quarter helped them to get things back on track on fight their way to a 110-63 win.

There’s one problem with Davis, which is that he’s letting his talents go to his head. This started coming to light last season when he trash talked Greek player Giannis Antetokounmpo and called him “young fella,” apparently forgetting that he himself is barely in his early 20s. At the same time, he’s certainly got a lot of talent to go to his head. Fansided blog BigEasyReliever ran some numbers and found that, had Davis played in an earlier era, he could have possibly rivaled Wilt Chamberlain. Granted, these numbers took some fudging due to the fact that some of Chamberlain’s records (such as minutes played) are literally unbreakable. Still, the point still stands that the kid is good, and he only seems to be getting better with time.

8. James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets

James “The Beard” Harden says that he is happy to have been a part of the original 28-player pool, but he almost certainly wants to join the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. He referred to his participation in the 2012 London Olympics as being “at the top of [his] basketball career,” and he couldn’t be averse to winning another gold medal with Team USA. He helped the Rockets make it pretty far into last postseason, and he posted the best regular season and postseason stats of his career while doing so.

If he doesn’t make the 2016 Olympic Basketball team, he’ll still be busy enough. Harden runs a summer basketball camp for children (he’s been doing so for about three years now), and going to Rio next summer would likely mean that the camp would either have to be cancelled or that he would not be as involved. It would be great to see him continue his work with those kids, but not at the possible expense of a gold medal.

9. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors

Klay Thompson played alongside Harden in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, and Harden’s probably the only player who performed better than he did. Even teammate Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors to a win in the 2015 NBA Finals, could not match up against Thompson’s game back in 2014. Playing more minutes per game than any player on Team USA aside from Kyrie Irving, Thompson landed over half his shots and was second in scoring throughout the tournament. But while his offense was respectable, his defense was what had everyone buzzing. He brought that same defense to the court last postseason, and it’s what we’d like to see him bring to the 2016 Olympic Basketball team.

Thompson may have been overshadowed by Curry this past season, but he was a strong player throughout the year. In fact, one game in particular got him nominated for an ESPY last month. He was up for Best Record-Breaking Performance, due to a January game against the Sacramento Kings in which he scored 52 points, 37 of those scored in the third quarter alone. Thompson lost the award to Peyton Manning (who won for his 509th touchdown pass), but that did not make his performance any less impressive. Does one performance indicate that Thompson could win us a gold medal? No. But he’s been solid for the past couple of years, and his participation in the 2016 Olympic Basketball team is an absolute must.

10. Chris Bosh, PF/C, Miami Heat

After a few health issues, Chris Bosh might be experiencing a return to form that could make him suitable for the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. (Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

After a few health issues, Chris Bosh might be experiencing a return to form that could make him suitable for the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. (Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

Much like Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh did not get a chance to prove himself as a vital part of Team USA back in 2012. He had to withdraw from the London Olympics due to injury, although he wished Team USA the best of luck without him. He’s now a part of the pool, and we’d like to see him make the final cut. He’s a strong offensive player and, while his stats were dropping for a couple of years, they started to rise again last season. It looks like he might be experiencing an upswing, but he’s 31 and that upswing won’t last forever. We don’t want to miss our chance to see him participate in a gold medal-winning team.

He might not make the 2016 Olympic Basketball team, but it’s not the actual likelihood of making the roster that puts him on our list. He’s been suffering some health issues recently, and if we’re being honest, he might have less chance of making the 2016 Olympic Basketball team than players such as Kevin Love who are recovering from injury. That said, he seems to be healthier than ever recently, and he has a sense of optimism about him that we’re hoping is based on more than just wishful thinking. If his optimism about next season turns out to be justified, then it just might give him the boost he needs to double his efforts and offer a standout performance in Rio next summer.

11. Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard has had his issues over the past few years, but the main obstacle potentially keeping him from the team is sheer disinterest. (Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

Dwight Howard has had his issues over the past few years, but the main obstacle potentially keeping him from the team is sheer disinterest. (Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

Dwight Howard is another player whose participation on the team is somewhat uncertain. As one of the best centers in the game right now, he’s almost guaranteed a spot on the team if he wants one (not that Colangelo has made this as clear as he has in regard to LeBron James). Unfortunately, there are some who appear skeptical that he has any interest in playing ball for Team USA next summer. He has at least committed himself to attending the minicamp, so he must have at least some interest. It’s just not clear how much interest he really has. He’s dealt with quite a few injuries over the past year, so the minicamp might be a good opportunity for him to test the waters. If everything appears to be in order, then we can hopefully look forward to seeing him on the team.

It’s true that his stats have been dropping off pretty steadily since 2011. Last season, he posted the lowest rebounds and assists per game since his rookie season in 2004. He posted the lowest steals of his career, and the second-lowest points per game (tying with his second season in the NBA). This might have some nervous about whether or not he should represent the United States in the 2016 Olympic Basketball team. To be honest, our desire to see him there is based more on fandom than anything else. He might spend a bit more time on the bench than would generally befit a seasoned pro. But we’ve got two other players on our mock roster who are capable of filling his shoes, so it wouldn’t ultimately be much of a loss.

12. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors

This one is pretty much a no-brainer, and you probably could have guessed that he would make our list the second you saw Klay Thompson’s name up above. Curry has become a household name over the past couple of years. Not only was he pivotal in Golden State’s championship victory last season, but he came close to offering the same legendary performance that Thompson delivered in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. America’s victory against Mexico particularly showcased his talents, during which Curry shot 6 three-pointers our of 9 attempts.

That’s not an isolated incident. Anyone who’s familiar with Curry is already aware that he’s one of the best deep shooters around right now. In fact, many are already wondering when he’s going to break the record for career three-pointers. He already broke the record for most in a single postseason this past year, with a whopping 98 three-pointers during the 2015 NBA Playoffs and Finals. Having a deep shooter like Curry on the 2016 Olympic Basketball team would help to round out a roster that boasts skills in virtually every aspect of the game. Having him and Thompson on the team together would be even better. We’re pretty confident that Curry will make the team.

Brief Notes on the Other Candidates

Chris Paul is one of many players who has committed to the Team USA minicamp, making him eligible to replace a player from our mock roster if Colangelo deems him fit. (EPA)

Chris Paul is one of many players who has committed to the Team USA minicamp, making him eligible to replace a player from our mock roster if Colangelo deems him fit. (EPA)

There are a few other names worth mentioning. Chris Paul was one of our Olympians in 2012, and has already stated intent to attend the minicamp. We wouldn’t mind seeing him on the team if one of our other point guards fails to make the cut. The same is true of Damian Lillard, although we definitely won’t be seeing him; he has refused his invite.

In terms of forwards, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard are two of the better names on the list. They’ve both withdrawn from Team USA camps in the past, but Leonard is definitely attending. Aldridge, on the other hand, is much less certain. As of right now, he’s not on the roster of expected attendees.

Granted, the list is far from final. Derrick Rose still doesn’t know if he’ll be showing up, and John Wall is undecided as well. As far as former Olympians Tyson Chandler, Andre Iguodala, and Deron Williams are concerned, we’ve been unable to find any information regarding whether they’ll be in attendance or not. But DeMarcus Cousins will reportedly be there, and he’s most definitely one of the other names we wouldn’t mind seeing sub in for any players on our list that don’t make the cut.

Other names on the roster of expected attendees include Rudy Gay, Mason Plumlee, Bradley Beal, Gordon Hayward, and Andre Drummond. No word on Kenneth Faried, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, or David Lee. Names on the expected attendance list that are not listed on the official 2014-2016 roster include DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Michael Carter-Williams. There is no word on what we can expect regarding other recent invites such as Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Trey Burke.