Even without LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the USA is still aiming for gold at the Olympic Games

They have won 17 consecutive games at the Olympics dating back to the 2004 bronze medal game at the 2004 Athens Olympics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 1:53pm

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo wanted to focus on who will play for the US men’s team at the Rio Olympic Games rather than those players who will not.

Fair enough. Colangelo has earned that. It speaks volumes that Colangelo put together a team devoid of NBA stars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul and still has a team who are favourites to win a third consecutive gold medal.

Colangelo has selected; Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins.

“First of all, you have 12 dedicated guys who have committed to be part of this and represent their country and that in itself is a big statement,” Colangelo told USA TODAY Sports. “Some just came off a championship series. We’re appreciative of that commitment.

“Number two, this is a very strong team. There’s been a lot said about those who are not participating, and it should be more about who is participating and what they bring to the table. It’s a deep roster. We have a number of guys who could play 2-3 positions, and it gives Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) several options of how we can play.”

The hallmark of Colangelo’s tenure with USA Basketball has been his ability to replenish the talent pool so that it never becomes stale. The US remains relevant on the international stage with a combination of older and younger players.

“It all goes back to what we’re doing with our youth. Our young players – 16, 17 and 18 year olds – are all defending gold medallists playing for USA Basketball,” Colangelo said. “They’re all part of the pipeline. This year in Vegas, we’re going to have 25 US select players – the next wave of players – who will be candidates in 2019 and 2020.

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“We have had turnover. That’s a healthy situation because it gives young players hope and optimism that they will potentially have a shot to make the team. I think the system is good one, and it’s operating at full throttle.”

Anthony and Durant are the only ones with gold medals, and Anthony is going for his third. Irving, Thompson, DeRozan and Cousins won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

If there’s a drawback, it’s a lack of international experience, but the talent will compensate for that.

“This is a new group coming together, and that takes a little bit of time,” Colangelo said, stressing the importance of the team camps in Las Vegas, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston before the Olympics.

The US team has size, shooters, length and quickness – a versatility that allows the US to play big or small and put lock-down defenders and first-rate scorers on the court.

How’s this for potent offensive line-up: Irving, Thompson, Durant, Anthony and Cousins. How’s this for defensive unit: Lowry, Butler, George, Green and Jordan.

Mix up either of those line-ups with Barnes and DeRozan. How about an All-NBA 2016 play-offs line-up of Irving, Thompson, DeRozan, Durant and Green.

There are just two point guards – Irving and Lowry – but there are plenty of other players who can bring the ball up the court. Irving is coming off an outstanding Finals and was the MVP of the 2014 World Cup.

If you’re looking for three-point shooters, the US has them, especially with the international line closer than the NBA line. Irving had his three-ball going in the play-offs and made 6-of-6 in the World Cup final against Serbia. Thompson brings a considerable threat from that distance, along the George.

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Durant shot 52.3% at the 2012 London Olympics and made at least four three-pointers in six games, including eight against Argentina. Anthony shot 50 per cent from three in London and made 10-of-12 against Nigeria.

“That’s one of our big strengths is our ability to shoot the ball. We think we’re well covered in that sense,” Colangelo said.

With Cousins and Jordan at centre, the US has a strong low-post presence. Cousins can score from a variety of spots on the floor and is a physical defender, and Jordan is a great pick-and-roll player on offence and a rim protector on defence.

The US has won 45 consecutive games since losing to Greece at the 2006 world championship and has won 17 consecutive Olympics games dating to the 2004 bronze medal game at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Without some of those aforementioned All-NBA players, it might look like this year’s team is susceptible to an upset and perhaps an Olympics without a gold medal. Sure, it’s possible.

But this team has seven 2015-16 All-NBA first, second or third team players. DeRozan, Butler and Anthony were honourable mention, and Irving may have been an All-NBA selection if he were healthy all season. His play-offs performance proved that.

It’s a different team for sure. But no less capable of winning gold again in Rio.