Team USA: Under 22 Edition
Jeff Goodman at ESPN recently put up his ‘Amateur’ version of Team USA if we still used the amateur-only rule for international competitions. As he points out, both him and Jay Bilas agree that we should and probably will never go back to that. With the level of International competition rising as basketball becomes more popular around the globe, there’s no way American amateurs can dominate in the way we have come to expect.
There doesn’t have to be an either or though…what about middle ground? How about an age restriction as opposed to professional/amateur restriction? Team USA is trending this way naturally already as more and more established stars opt against International competitions for variety of reasons: risk of injury, fatigue, current injury, been-there-done-that, etc. This is especially so for the less heralded FIBA World Cup.
So for this, we placed the age restriction at 22 years old. This model allows young budding NBA Stars that left college early, and also opens the door for rookies, collegiate, and perhaps even a prep player to contribute.
It was difficult leaving out 23 year olds. There is a lot of talent in Damien Lillard, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Greg Monroe, etc. Though still not our overall best players, there is enough talent in this age group to compete with anybody on the International stage and even win.
So here it goes:
PG – Kyrie Irving (Cavs)
Irving is almost a lock for Team USA currently and is more than capable of handling the PG role against any level of competition. With three years of NBA experience at only 21 years old Kyrie would be the perfect veteran lead guard.
SG – Bradley Beal (Wizards)
Beal got much needed experience at the Team USA Training Camp this summer and although he was cut, will be a player in Team USA events in the future. Beal’s calling card is his sweet outside stroke, which would be crucial, but is also an underrated defender.
SF – Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)
Playing for the Spurs and often being the 3rd or 4th option on offense makes Leonard perfectly suited for Team USA. His elite level defense, outside shot, and ability to impact the game without having the offense run through him is crucial when there is this much talent on a team.
PF – Jabari Parker (Bucks)
Parker would be a lock for this team regardless of whether he would start or come off the bench. He has the versatility to slide to the three, but would have a major advantage at the PF in International play a la Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.
C – Anthony Davis (Pelicans)
This is the easiest pick of the group. Davis is only 21 years old and was already going to start on the current roster. He would be a major focal point on offense with his mid-range jump shot and through the pick and roll. He would also be counted on to be the defensive anchor down low.
G – Marcus Smart (Celtics)
Smart already has loads of experience in Team USA competitions and the coaches love him. He is a perfect back up PG and has the size and ability defensively to defend both guard spots.
G – Victor Oladipo (Magic)
Can you imagine a defensive backcourt of Smart and Oladipo? Oladipo has had to carry a ton of weight for the Magic, and sometimes tries to do too much. Here he would be asked upon to bring energy and be a lock down defender- similar to what Russell Westbrook is asked to do.
F – Sam Dekker (Wisconsin)
Dekker has been one of the key storylines so far this offseason in college basketball. He apparently dominated at the LeBron James Skills Academy and he caught a late growth spurt inching up to 6’9”. Dekker is a versatile combo forward who brings a little bit of everything to the table.
F – Julius Randle (Lakers)
Randle became so hyped he became overrated. Everyone caught on and jumped ship to the point now he’s probably underrated. Randle has the girth and skillset to matchup with grown men on both sides of the court.
F – Justise Winslow (Duke)
The hardest pick to make and could go several different routes. The nod goes to Winslow here because he has an NBA ready body, rebounds at a high level, and can defend 1-4. Not to mention he has multiple Team USA Gold Medals already and is highly regarded in the organization.
C – Andre Drummond
Drummond is an obvious fit for this team. In fact, he could even start, while moving Davis to the PF slot. Drummond is burgeoning right now and has all the tools you look for. He’s someone you would be able to count on for 15-20 minutes a game against International bigs.
C – Jahlil Okafor
Had this event been last year, Okafor still might have made. Long has he been seen as the most skilled big man in the country, he has the size and offensive ability to contribute immediately. He would be the third Center so wouldn’t see a ton of time, but would be a luxury to have.
Training Camp Invites (20 spots total)
G – Michael Carter-Williams (76ers)
G – Elfrid Payton (Magic)
G – Stanley Johnson (Arizona)
G – Tyus Jones (Duke)
F – Aaron Gordon (Magic)
F – Doug McDermott (Bulls)
C – Cliff Alexander (Kansas)
C – Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)