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Can James Harden and Dwight Howard make 2016 Olympic U.S. Team?

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 14, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) and guard James Harden (13) talk against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) and guard James Harden (13) talk against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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James Harden and Dwight Howard among 30 finalists for 2016 U.S.A. Olympic Team

USA Basketball announced their short list for the 2016 Olympic Team today (January 18th). Included among those 30 players are the two Houston Rockets leaders James Harden and Dwight Howard.

The final decision won’t be made for months with several factors will be no doubt analyzed and dissecting over the coming months by USA Basketball Chairman: Jerry Colangelo and Team U.S.A. head coach: Mike Krzyzewski.  See below for more on what types of things the powers that be will use to cut this initial 30 member list  down by more than half to 12 members.

As per our earlier post the full list of players (by position) making the initial cut are:

Point Guards: (6)

Shooting Guards: (5)

Small Forwards: (9)

Power Forwards: (5)

Centers: (5)

*Note all of these players are capable of playing power forward or center

The list of 30 has to be narrowed down to 12 and based on how the short list of 30 break downs by position the area USA Basketball is focused on is their wings.

2012 Olympic Roster: 

From the 2012 Olympic roster there are 9 players on the short list: Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis. The 3 players not part of the 30 member short list are Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant and Tyson Chandler.

FIBA Championship Roster:

From the 2014 FIBA Gold medal World Basketball winning squad: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gay, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried. The only player not making the list from this squad was Miles Plumlee (and for good reason if you want my two cents).

Logistics for selecting players:

In addition the way the 2012 Olympic team broke down by position for these past two teams was 3 point guards, 2 shooting guards, 4 small forwards, 1 power forward (though they listed LeBron James as a PF along with his current teammate Love) 2 centers.

That’s not to say USA Basketball will automatically put the 9 returnees on the squad or that they will replicate the postional break down. Much will depend on who the US Team deems to be their greatest competition. During the World Championships it was felt Spain would end up facing them in the gold medal match, so Team USA added more front court players with emphasis on bigs specifically which may be why a couple of eyebrows raised over the addition of Plumlee and Faried being added to Drummond, Cousins and Davis. It’s doubtful they’ll bring 5 bigs to Rio especially these 5. In fact I’d be shocked if Faried, Jordan or Drummond makes the cut.

Factors Colangelo and  Krzyzewski will likely consider:

There are a couple of things the US Team has put a premium on since Jerry Colangelo took the reigns.

  • Player commitment to program:  players dedicating their time even in non-Olympic years have been historically rewarded.
  • 2-way player or multiple skill sets: in 2012 it was thought Iguodala, Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis were put on the team specifically because of their 2-way ability with an emphasis on defense. For this squad players that favors are Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Anthony Davis
  • Chemistry: players from the same team are familiar with each other so expect to see multiple players from the same team. The Golden State Warriors will have 5 players in camp: Curry, Green, Thompson, Barners, Iguodala, Cleveland Cavaliers will have 3: Jamers, Irving, Love and other teams like the Thunder have 2 in Westbrook and Durant who it’s hard to imagine not making the squad. Then of course there is H-Town’s own James Harden and Dwight Howard.
  • 2015-16 Regular and Post Season Performance: For the Rockets stars that might be a bit scary unless they start to rise up that ladder and perform well in the second half of the season.
  • Who has the pull? It’s said the Dream Team left Isaiah Thomas off it’s roster because Michael Jordan requested it. If this is true then we’ll see who exactly has the pull in the NBA. If for example it’s still LeBron James will he insist on his teammates Irving and Love, and further will he want his buddies Anthony and Paul. Or will the organization recognize Curry, Davis, Durant and Harden as their rising stars who’ll likely be the vets on the 2020 team and look to give one of them more say. In this case we could see Curry making a solid argument why there should be a minimum of 3 Warriors (himself, Thompson and Green).

Best Guess:

Though there is still plenty of time for decisions to be made as well as second half/post season performances to consider if I had to pick today here’s who I think the 12 would be:

PG: Westbrook, Curry, Paul (Irving/Wall on the bubble)

SG: Thompson, Harden (on the bubble: DeRozan and Butler)

SF: James, Durant, Leonard (on the bubble: Iguodala, George, Anthony)

PF: Green, Love (on the bubble: Aldridge)

C: Davis, Cousins (on the bubble: Drummond)

Why?

Well there are the reasons I noted above, but here’s a bit more insight:

  • Of the 9 returning gold medalists I think Carmelo Anthony, Iguodala and Love will be the guys in question. Though I’d say it’s time to put the ball in Curry, Westbrook and Walls hands I have a feeling Paul (if healthy) can’t be usurped this round. As for Love his lack of defense (depending on how worried the powers that be are over teams like Spain will dictate his inclusion.
  • Westbrook came off the bench in 2012 and if Thompson makes the team there will be consideration given to starting the Warriors backcourt together. Although I’d give the combo of Steph and Russ a try out at the very least. The main PG question is Irving even more so than Wall because as great of a scorer as he is, he isn’t a major assist guy and hasn’t proven his prowess defensively. You can’t leave the MVP who is a 3-point master and assist guy off the squad, Westbrook can do it all and Paul is your vet. It may come down to Irving vs Paul with LeBron having to decide behind closed doors and my money is on Paul (his friend).
  • Because the program rewards commitment Thompson and Harden make the cut, but the question is do they give DeRozan the next spot for the same reason or go with Butler because he’s a 2-way player. I think if they want an extra SG it’s Butler who wins out.

As much as James and Durant’s passports are already stamped it makes sense Kawhi Leonard should automatically be the third even over Carmelo, Iggy and George who famously broke his leg playing for his country.

More from Space City Scoop

  • The other passport that should be stamped is Draymond Green just because of all the intangibles he brings to the court. Love was a strong presence in 2012, but much of that was tied to the lack of bigs which is why I wonder if he makes the team this year. He was the last player I added to the positive side. One thing that could make that choice much easier is if the Spurs were to win the title with Leonard and Aldridge figuring prominently. Green has already shown why he should be on the team. The other factor is if the powers that be see Leonard becoming a long range partner in the program they may bring Aldridge for his sake. Hey it’s not a bad choice and obviously he can play defense as he is currently manning the court for the best defensive squad in the Association.
  • Finally, I know many will question my addition of Cousins, but here is the TRUTH:
    • Jordan is offensively limited and can’t hit free throws
    • Howard while a solid option and Harden partner also is limited offensively, is getting older and like Jordan has his free throw issues
    • Drummond though a beast on the boards has yet to prove much versatility in his offense outside the pick and roll play, is also a sieve at the line and hasn’t demonstrated a true command on the defensive end (yet)
    • Cousins in my opinion (even more than Davis) is the best all around center and is capable of doing it all. If you recall during the FIBA World Championship it was also Boogie who picked the team up in a rather chippy affair. While some suspected he may be a negative factor and not be able to control his emotions, it was his toughness the team relied on to rally in the match.

For the Houston Rockets if they fail to make the post season or are dispensed of early there is even a possibility neither star could make the squad which is something sure to fuel Harden and Howard in the second half.  It’s difficult to imagine Harden not making the team, but the fact he’s trailing Curry, Westbrook, Paul and Thompson in the All-Star votes for guards does also speak to how he’s viewed worldwide. Sure Team USA will want the best players, but it’s also an opportunity to market the game.. hence why Jordan nixed the Thomas addition in 1980!

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