USA Basketball officially announced its roster for the Rio Olympics on Monday, and there’s no use beating around the bush: this is a B team or, if you’re feeling particularly generous, a B-plus team.
Yes, the Rio roster is led by A-list headliners: Kevin Durant and Paul George, plus a two-time Olympic gold medalist in Carmelo Anthony. But there are just too many big-name no-shows—LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Chris Paul among them—to put this group on the same level as the 2008 Beijing team or the 2012 London squad.
Who, exactly, will be chasing USA Basketball’s third straight Olympic gold medal and fifth straight gold at a major international competition under coach Mike Krzyzewski? Here’s how the final 12-man roster shakes out by position:
PG: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry
SG: Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan
SF: Kevin Durant, Paul George, Harrison Barnes
PF: Carmelo Anthony, Draymond Green
C: DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan
The good news: This group has everything Krzyzewski will need to win gold—perimeter shooting, elite ball-handlers, versatile and high-energy perimeter defenders, and interior size. The roster is made up of nine 2016 All-Stars, the same number as the ‘08 and ‘12 Olympic rosters, and it includes two Olympic gold medalists (Anthony and Durant), four members of the 2014 FIBA World Cup team (Irving, Thompson, DeRozan and Cousins) and four players with NBA championships to their names (Irving, Thompson, Barnes and Green).
The bad news: The Rio roster simply isn’t the best that USA Basketball has to offer. The top-four MVP vote-getters and four of the five All-NBA First Team selections will be resting their bodies this summer, attending to other business and ducking the Zika virus rather than representing their country. The point guard position was hit particularly hard, as Curry, Westbrook and Paul, the NBA’s three best floor generals, will all be missing out. There’s also a letdown here given that James and Curry, who have battled for supremacy in the Finals and the unofficial title of “face of the NBA” over the last two years, are both staying home.
The worst news: The trickle-down effect of so many withdrawals led to some serious scrambling and reaching at the bottom of the roster. Barnes, Golden State’s polarizing small forward, has a bulletproof case as the least deserving player to make an Olympic roster under Krzyzewski. In the just completed 2015-16 season, Barnes posted a 12.3 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which is significantly lower than all of his 2016 teammates (the 11 other selections all have PERs above 18) and lower than every other Olympic participant in ‘08 and ‘12. The previous low belonged to Tayshaun Prince, who posted a 15.6 PER in ‘07-08 leading into Beijing. What’s more, Barnes compiled a PER worse than every player selected for the ‘06, ‘10 and ‘14 world championship/World Cup teams with one exception: ‘14 Derrick Rose, who posted a PER of 9.7 while playing just 10 games in the 2013-14 season due to injury. Even in a watered-down field Barnes is out of his depth.
Comparing The Teams
Honestly, USA Basketball has spoiled its supporters in recent tournaments. The 2008 “Redeem Team” Olympic roster was absolutely loaded with James, Paul, Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Ditto in ‘12, when James, Bryant, Paul and Anthony were joined by Durant, Westbrook and James Harden to form a squad so stacked that Bryant openly asserted it could have beaten the famous 1992 Dream Team.
The 2016 roster just doesn’t quite stack up. The following chart shows the average pre-tournament PERs of all 12 players on every team coached by Krzyzewski over the last decade. Note that the red bars represent Olympic teams while the blue bars represent world championship/World Cup teams. Note that the ‘16 roster’s average PER of 20.7 is lower than ‘08 (22.1) and ‘12 (23). From a PER standpoint, this ‘16 roster is more comparable to the ‘06 world championship team (which took bronze) and the ‘14 World Cup team (which won gold).
The same basic conclusion holds when the 2016 roster is measured by Win Shares. The following charts show the average pre-tournament Win Shares for each roster dating back to ‘06. Again, the red bars represent Olympic teams and the blue bars represent world championship/World Cup teams. The ‘16 roster ranks last among Krzyzewski’s Olympic rosters in average Win Shares and fourth overall among his six teams, besting only the ‘10 world championship team (which won gold) and the ‘14 World Cup team (which won gold). Note that the ‘12 roster’s Win Shares were adjusted to account for the lockout-shortened ‘11-12 NBA season.
What Could Have Been ...
To be clear, the diminished quality of the 2016 Rio roster is not cause for any panic when it comes to the medal stand. USA Basketball will still enter the Olympics as the overwhelming favorite to win gold. Any other result, frankly, would qualify as a shocking disaster.
The scary thing for the rest of the world, however, is that USA Basketball is leaving more talent at home than it’s bringing to Brazil. Check out this “roster” of players that are skipping the Games:
PG: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, John Wall
SG: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard
SF: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard
PF: Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond
While this group is a little overloaded with point guards and a little short-staffed at the two, one can still easily argue that it’s a better roster top to bottom than the actual Rio roster.
For comparison’s sake, here’s how this hypothetical “All-Summer Off” roster compares to the Rio, London and Beijing rosters:
Let’s imagine that USA Basketball was able to secure commitments from a real “Dream Team” of 2016 talent. If we merge the best players from the Rio roster with the top players who withdrew from consideration, the results are completely insane. Check out SI.com’s hypothetical 2016 Dream Team:
PG: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving
SG: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson
SF: LeBron James, Paul George
PF: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard
C: Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins
This group, which includes six Rio players and six no-shows, boasts an average PER of 24.6 and an average Win Shares of 11.6, which both would have represented high-water marks for the Krzyzewski era. What’s more, it includes 12 players with All-Star selections, 12 players with All-NBA credentials, five Olympic Golden Medal winners, nine players with USA Basketball experience and three NBA MVPs. And consider this: James would be the oldest player on the roster at 31.
Put simply: In an ideal world with 100 percent participation, USA Basketball had a chance to field a roster for the ages, one that would have rightfully drawn comparisons to 1992 and ‘96. Instead, Durant and George will lead a patched-together group that should still win gold in Rio, but one that will leave many wondering about what could have been.