This year’s USA Basketball World Cup team hasn’t been especially successful so far. They faced a comical series of withdrawals and lost in a scrimmage to a Jeff Van Gundy-coached mishmash of fringe NBA players. With NBA talent leading other national teams, including Giannis Antetokounmpo with Greece, the USA could have a tough time winning gold.
It would still be surprising if they fall short, given the star power remaining on the team (including Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, and Khris Middleton) and the depth of starting-level NBA players. But the team is noticeably weak. With the 2020 Olympics a year away, USA Basketball will hope some superstars commit to playing.
Here’s an interesting hypothetical for next year: If every eligible American basketball player is healthy and willing to play in Tokyo, what does the ideal roster look like? There are plenty of fascinating lineup combinations and ways to go about choosing a 12-man group. (It’s also August and there’s not much happening in the NBA.)
So, let’s make a 2020 version of the Dream Team. There is one crucial difference between now and 1992: Some of the league’s best players now aren’t from the United States, so we have no Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, or Joel Embiid to choose from, among other players. I’m still confident this team would beat the ‘92 team handedly, because that’s the way things go. Here’s the team:
Point guards: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving
I’m carrying three point guards because I couldn’t bring myself to leave any of these guys off. Steph will start for this team, and both Lillard and Kyrie will get minutes off the bench because a Curry-Harden backcourt is weak defensively.
Walker and Russell Westbrook are the two notable snubs here, but I don’t feel too bad about leaving them off because it’s clear that Curry, Lillard, and Irving are the class of the position. Maybe Trae Young will break out with an All-NBA season and throw a wrench into this discussion.
Shooting guards: James Harden, Klay Thompson
It is far from a guarantee that Thompson will make an appearance in Tokyo. He may want to avoid putting too much strain on his torn ACL after a possible late-season return to the Warriors, and he already has a gold medal in his trophy case.
But in an ideal world, Klay is here because he is the perfect shooter and low-key personality to have around on a team like this. Harden can also shoot, obviously, and is probably the best scorer in the world now that Kevin Durant is rehabbing a long-term injury. There is no way that Harden is not the starting shooting guard on this 2020 team.
If I had to replace one of these two, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Devin Booker, Middleton, CJ McCollum, and Mitchell would be in the conversation.
Small forwards: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
This is a fun and versatile group. If we wanted, we could play these guys all over the place, even all together at the same time. Imagine facing a team with all three of LeBron, Kawhi, and George. You’re not scoring, and you’re not going to have enough defenders to keep up with them.
The starting lineup will have to be configured so that LeBron and Kawhi can both start. But as with the original Dream Team, the starting lineup (and lineups in general, really) don’t matter too much. They’re just fun thought exercises.
Power forwards: Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green
An important caveat: I’m going to want AD to play center a good bit, because we already have 11 players and thus can only afford one more. Davis at the 5 unlocks a number of combinations that include Durant (who in this universe has returned fully from injury) as well as one or two of the above trio. Draymond can play the five too, in smaller lineups, so we have some nice versatility.
I imagine Draymond as the Charles Barkley of this team: an undersized, outgoing power forward who commands attention. Draymond will score less than Sir Charles but make a huge impact on the defensive end.
Among the forwards, Jimmy Butler was the toughest omission. He was close, and would’ve made it as another forward if we didn’t have three point guards that I didn’t want to leave off. I could have included Al Horford and Blake Griffin, too, and you never know if Zion Williamson forces his way here.
Center: Karl-Anthony Towns
I had room for only one true center, and I had to go with KAT. The American center pool is fairly shallow, so Clint Capela and Andre Drummond were my other options.
Towns can shoot from the outside. He’ll fit right in.
My starting lineup: Curry, Harden, Kawhi, LeBron, Davis. We’ll get some Splash Bros minutes, and after a year of chemistry in LA, it’ll be hard not play Kawhi and George together. There are plenty of other combos you could think up with this team. Here’s hoping we get something like next summer, although I’m not counting on it.