Pool play is over, done with, caput! Now comes the knockout round, and if Team USA can pull off three more victories, the United States will continue their domination of the basketball world. However, before we look forward, perhaps we should take a look back at what was an unbalanced first round of games, and particularly, which members of Team USA have been most impressive so far.
12) James Harden – The man with the beard has played fine in his garbage time minutes, but has not done much to distinguish himself, he has proved himself to be an underrated dunker though.
11) Kobe Bryant – His offensive game has lacked the usual flow and rhythm expected from a player of his caliber. Kobe hasn’t necessarily been detrimental to the team, but he has definitely been a disappointment considering he was viewed as one of this team’s leaders coming into the games. Personally, I still have full confidence that a point and time will come when Kobe is needed to take over, and then consequently does.
10) Tyson Chandler – Similar to Mr. Bryant, Chandler hasn’t necessarily underperformed, but he hasn’t done anything to prove himself as the best big man on the roster. As a matter of fact, I believe team USA is better suited with Love, Davis, or LeBron playing center. Chandler just doesn’t have the offensive repertoire or the athleticism to fit in with this fast-paced style of play.
9) Andre Iguodala – He has been a pleasant surprise as a sparkplug off the bench. AI knows his role as a defender and energy guy, and plays to his strengths.
8) Kevin Love – He is better suited as the center for this team for a number of reasons. He is arguably as good of a rebounder as Chandler, he can shoot the three, and his outlet pass is a great fast-break starter. He has been impressive so far.
7) The Unibrow – Love has been good, but not as impressive as The Brow! While it is possible that his teammates have made a concerted effort to get him the ball while he’s on the court, the sheer number of alley-oops per minute remains staggering. I knew all about The Brow’s defensive skills, but I have been thoroughly impressed by his offensive game to this point.
6) Deron Williams – This is where it gets nitpicky. I love Deron Williams, and he’s played great, but I can’t put him above CP3 or Westbrook, who have been more than great. Anyway, I have been very happy with D-Will’s abilities as a floor general, which is something I did not expect to be impressed by, especially considering that one of the greatest floor generals of all-time is a teammate of Williams.
5) Chris Paul – I am of course talking about CP3. And I do not make that “all-time” declaration lightly. In all my years of watching basketball, no one has the command of the floor and the knowledge of what his team needs more than Chris Paul. His play so far has proved that.
4) Russell Westbrook – I only place Westbrook above Williams and CP3 because I did not know what to expect of him coming into these games. In a previous article, I wrote that he was this team’s wild card. I got half of that right, he sure is wild. Westbrook has become an integral part of the rotation, normally playing off the ball which is much more suited to his skills. His skills include jumping out of the gym and ruining the replay button on remotes nationwide. I mean did you see that posterization against Argentina?! Furthermore, he has played excellent defense and stuck to the offensive game plan, which were the two main worries I had about him coming into the Olympics.
3) LeBron James – The Summer of LeBron continues. Like Doug Collins has said, LeBron has been the Swiss-army knife of Team USA. When they need a distributor, he finds the open man. When they need a lockdown defender, he plays lockdown defense. When they need a center, he dominates the key. And when they need scoring, he does that too. It’s getting harder and harder to continue hating this guy, I swear.
1) Tied: Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant – KD and Anthony have both been remarkable to this point. Carmelo is built for the international game, as he can seemingly score at will from inside or outside. Durant has been ridiculous from three-point land. In the third quarter against Argentina, he went bonkers, including an in-rhythm thirty-footer that didn’t even touch the rim and literally had me jump out of my seat. Durant, Carmelo, and LeBon are the crux of Team USA.
First up in the knockout round comes Australia, then likely a rematch versus Argentina and the inevitable Gold Medal clash against Spain. Team USA’s defense has been on and off. At times, they play with intensity and earn fast-break after fast-break (see, Nigeria). Other times, they have seemed lackadaisical on defense and have allowed easy buckets (see, Lithuania). Defense is going to decide whether or not Team USA brings home another Gold. Previously, I wrote that the finishing lineup should include CP3, Kobe, LeBron, Durant, and Anthony. Today, I feel like Russell Westbrook should take Kobe’s spot in that lineup. He simply brings more things to the table than the modern-day Bryant who is now primarily a jumpshooter. And if you haven’t seen Russell Westbrook’s dunk worthy of a defamation lawsuit, then you should get on that. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!