Let's Make This Perfectly Clear
In a blog post on Monday, Bill Simmons rekindled the warm-and-fuzzy idea that the U.S. should send an Under-22 team to the Olympics:
- Speaking of Durant, it's not too late for the USA Basketball Committee to switch gears and send an under-22 squad to represent us in the 2008 Olympics. Would you rather root for NBA stars stuck in an impossible "if we win, we're supposed to win, and if we lose, we screwed up" situation ... or an underdog team of college kids/NBA rookies featuring a starting five of Durant, Greg Oden, Julian Wright, Jon Scheyer and Darren Collison, with Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes, Chase Budinger, Daequan Cook, Chris Lofton and D.J. Augustin or Mike Conley Jr. (we could only have one of the two) coming off the bench? Seriously, is there one basketball fan on the planet who wouldn't rather root for the kids next summer?
Either way, one thing's for sure: Durant needs to be on that team. I'm pretty sure we can find a place for a 6-foot-9 forward with 27-foot range in the 2008 Olympics.
We've said it before, and now we'll say it again: this idea is all well and good, as long as you're prepared for the following:
1. This team would likely finish dead last out of 12 teams at the Olympics. Anyone who saw the entertaining Angolan team play in last year's World Championship knows that even that team would crush these under-22's.
It is professional men against college boys. That worked back in the day, but the world is much, much better now.
2. I have doubts that this team would even qualify for the Olympics. Only two teams from the Americas get automatic qualifiers - Argentina and Brazil, and probably Puerto Rico, too, would all be better than this under-22 team.
The 3rd-5th place teams in the Americas go to a qualifying tournament which includes the following:
-Africa (2): 2nd/3rd place teams
-Americas (3): 3rd-5th place teams
-Asia (2): 3rd/4th place teams
-Europe (4): 4th-7th place teams
-Oceania (1): 2nd place team
The top three teams out of this 12 advance to the Olympics. I have a hard time believing that the college team could beat any of the European teams in this tourney (we're talking the likes of Lithuania, Italy, Serbia, Turkey) and they'd struggle to get past Puerto Rico and New Zealand, too.
But say, the U.S. were to make it to Beijing - here's a potential lineup of 12 teams for the Games:
Based on what I saw at the World Championships last summer, Lebanon is the only team that this college team would have a chance of beating out.
So, if you're willing to accept that such a college team would finish in 11th place at best, and would struggle to even qualify, then go ahead. But somehow, I don't think it would be acceptable to U.S. fans.
I liked the idea from Blazers Edge to consider using recently retired players, but my thought as an alternative to NBA players is to consider using Americans who play in the EuroLeague.
As I wrote in September:
- I find it really amusing that people often suggest that we should send some form of college players – a clear loser – instead of pros, when there’s a logical alternative: send Americans who play in the EuroLeague. Players like Anthony Parker, Maceo Baston, Trajan Langdon, Drew Nicholas, Scoonie Penn, Tyus Edney and many recognizable ex-NCAA names have been vital contributors on the EuroLeague scene in the past few years.
These guys have some big advantages:
1) They are thoroughly familiar with the international game, in terms of the rules and such;
2) They are familiar with, and respectful of, the skills of the best international players (a major problem in the Greece loss);
3) They are simply much better players, much more experienced in general, than kids in college.
I’m in favor of continuing to send NBA players, but if we’re going to send a team of non-NBA players, it should be these guys. And I really do believe that we should reserve at least one roster spot for one of these guys, just to have on the bench to say, “Hey, Papaloukas can’t shoot, but he loves to drive left and he’s always looking to dish – go under the screen against him, for god’s sake!”
Certainly, things have changed a little with the increase in the NBA's age limit - college players like Oden, Durant and Wright *are* better than some of the EuroStars above (I know Parker and Baston are in the league - I wrote this in Sept.), but I doubt they'd be nearly as well-prepared to step into the international game as the guys with extensive European experience.
I love Durant as much as anyone, but remember, the U.S. team lost because they couldn't stop Greece (101-95 in a 40-minute game), not because they couldn't put it in the hole. Would I rather have Durant - a subpar defender who would have no idea who he was guarding or what their strengths/weaknesses were - or Parker - a solid defender who'd have a thorough knowledge or every player he went up against? Starting an NBA franchise, I'd obviously take Durant. But considering Team USA's needs, I'd take Parker.
Considering I've already linked back to myself twice (the Internet equivalent of referring to oneself in the third person?), why not keep it going: I'll also point back to what I think has been an underrated factor in U.S. underachievement: roster turnover. Argentina and Spain, for example, have kept much more of their rosters intact from year to year, while the U.S. has overhauled. I think the U.S. is headed on the right path with the current three-year commitment.
One other completely random response to that Simmons blog, in regards to his thoughts on where to place Spencer Hawes within the storied continuum of white centers: the guy looks like a poor man's Rik Smits to me.
Exceptionally skilled offensive player in the low blocks, but not much of a presence on the boards or defense. Smits was probably a better shooter, but not so ambidextrous. Of course, Smits was a few inches taller and also had better hands - below-average hands are what concern me about Hawes the most.