Recently, USA Basketball released the final roster for their USA Select Team, which is essentially the practice squad to help the Olympic squad prepare for the upcoming Olympic tournament.
In terms of frontcourt players for the Select Team, USA Basketball officials selected center DeMarcus Cousins (Kings) and forwards Derrick Favors (Jazz), DeJuan Blair (Spurs), Taj Gibson (Bulls), and Ryan Anderson (Magic) with the rationale that each of them fit “certain skill sets geared toward the international style of play,” as put by spokesman Craig Miller.
All of the players picked are quality big men, but I have to question how Pistons center Greg Monroe was left off the roster.
In just his second season, he improved his points and rebounds totals (15.4 and 9.6 in 2011-12, 9.4 and 7.5 in 2010-11) while showing off the ability to carry Detroit for stretches of games. His efficiency rating of 20.1 was third best for all sophomores in the NBA last season, behind only Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins. He has become the cornerstone of the rebuilding process set forth by Joe Dumars and company.
Being picked one slot behind Cousins will probably forever link the two as they progress in the NBA. In fact, if the 2010 draft was redone today, Monroe and Cousins would probably vie for the second overall pick after Washington’s John Wall. For that reason, I have no problem with Cousins’ inclusion on the Select team, as he has shown a natural ability to dominate on the low block.
Unfortunately, he has also shown a propensity to stop caring about the game once something doesn’t go his way. His “hothead” problems have followed him throughout his career; is that something we want blowing up in Olympic competition? Professionalism can go a long way in sports.
Blair is nearly the complete opposite of Cousins in that aspect, however. Coming from the Spurs, he’s got the professionalism and athletic ability, as he posted two 20-20 games (points-rebounds) in his rookie season of 2009. His lack of height (he’s only 6’7”) may cause problems in the international games, but his ability to stay put down on the block at 270 pounds could counteract that. He’s another roster pick that I’m okay with.
However, I do question the other three players selected- Favors, Anderson, and Gibson.
Despite being picked third overall by New Jersey in the 2010 draft, he has never started more than 23 games thus far. In fact, since being traded to Utah after just 11 months as a Net, he has yet to start in more than nine starts. Not only did he average less points and rebounds than Monroe (8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds in 2011-12), but his shooting percentages are noticeably worse. How does that translate to success in the Olympics? International basketball focuses much more on fundamentals, not jumping ability and highlight-reel dunks.
Anderson finally developed into a quality offensive threat this past season, exploding onto the scene with a barrage of three-pointers. His 166 made and 422 attempted shots from beyond the arc were far and away the most by any player in the Association this season.
While that skill set (perimeter scoring) is surely needed in Olympic games, the Select team has that covered with Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Klay Thompson, and Jeremy Lin already on the roster.
On the national team, perimeter scoring is even more heavily featured with Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Love. Anderson’s inclusion may have come about because his team made it to the playoffs, while the Pistons waded in mediocrity this season.
Adding Gibson to the Select team is perhaps the strangest choice. In addition to scoring and rebounding less than Monroe, he’s also a much poorer shooter (both free throws and field goals) than the Pistons big man. He doesn’t really do anything particularly spectacular, despite being one of only three viable frontcourt options for the Bulls. With that much opportunity, one would think that Gibson would be producing more.
True, it’s just the “practice squad” that Monroe was snubbed by. He could still get a call about joining the team in the future, as injuries happen or teams don’t want their players engaging in non-NBA activities. He has outperformed his above-mentioned peers, however, and done so while epitomizing what the USA Basketball team values – a professional, a quality athlete, and someone that will represent the country in a positive manner. Hopefully he gets a chance to show that in future Olympic competitions.