By winning Gold in Rio, the US Men's Basketball Team continued in its long and proud tradition of international butt-kicking on the hard wood. With the notable exception of the 2004 Olympics where the US "only" won Bronze, the team, composed of NBA stars, usually goes in each tournament the favorites and emerges at the end with the big prize achieved. As we move ahead now to the 2020 Olympics (It'll be here before we know it), it's time for the far too early predictions of who will make up that team's roster.
A few quick caveats on how this roster was formed:
Though the teams aren't always built as such, ample thought was put in to making this team diverse in terms of roles and skills each player has. That way it's not just a group of superstars but instead includes players who play hard nosed defense, rebound and distribute as well as shoot the lights out. Though the US did win Gold, it wasn't total domination the whole time, which speaks to the belief that the rest of the world may be catching up. A fully realized, well rounded team is the best way to stay atop the mountain. That or clone a bunch of LeBrons. Not sure how the IOC feels about that though.
Secondly, just for the sake of argument, no Cavs or Dubs players will be on this roster since it's looking pretty likely most of those players will be playing PLENTY of extra games the next few years. Barring injury, both of those squads will be chase rings each and every year between now and the next Olympics. That's not to say that other teams won't surprise or an injury won't shake up the balance of things in the NBA, but for now, your Irvings and Currys and Durants will be taking the late summer of 2020 off.
So, without further adieu, let's meet the 202o team!
15 Anthony Davis
Already establishing himself as one of the best players in the league, by 2020 Davis should be in the absolute prime of his career. Injuries were the only thing keeping him off of the 2016 team and with those behind him moving forward, his inclusion on this team is a no-brainer. In fact, injuries might be the only thing that keeps him from becoming the MVP of the league soon, so hopefully he finds a way to stay healthy.
Davis brings to the table the sort of skills that make a scout's job easy: He's good, get him on your team, end of story. With a versatility to score and defend which is becoming an increasingly lost art in the NBA, Davis is a big man for the next generation. Able to play both power forward and center, he gives the 2020 squad the foundation it needs to live up to the standards each "Dream Team" before it set.
14 Karl-Anthony Towns
We already have one ex-Kentucky Wildcat big man on the squad, why not make it 2? For that matter, why not add possibly the only player who could give Davis a run for his money in the untapped potential category? Towns, fresh off his rookie year, looks set to establish himself and the T-Wolves as a force to be reckoned with in the NBA for the next decade.
Much like Davis, Towns possesses two way ability that make him a mismatch no matter the opponent. Having both of these insanely skilled big men line up next to each other harkens back to the old NBA days of Duncan and Robinson, or further back Hakeem and Sampson. Both can defend the rim in the half court and are agile enough to fly down the wing in transition. The future of the NBA and the US's supremacy seems very secure with these big men involved.
13 Kawhi Leonard
Leonard's spot is as much a lock as any player, thanks partially to who will be coaching the 2020 team: Mr. Happy himself, Gregg Popovich. With Tim Duncan's retirement, Popovich's Spurs are now Leonard's team to lead and it only makes sense that they'd tackle the 2020 Olympics together.
That's not to say Leonard's spot is in any way unearned. Leonard will bring a tough-nosed defense mindset to the squad in addition to a still somehow under the radar offensive game. As you may notice from the first three players selected, defense will be an important factor on this team and a lot of that will stem from Pop's belief in strong fundamentals. Having Leonard ensures that the team will compete at a high level at all times.
12 Damian Lillard
In order to win at the Olympics, NBA or just playing on the playground, you need scorers. Without including the Splash Brothers, it's time to bring in some of the other playmakers who can get the job done. Lillard has established himself as one of the top offensive players in the league in fairly quick fashion. He built upon a great regular season in 2016 by taking an unheralded Trail Blazers squad to the 2nd Round of the playoffs and has shown a real flair for making big, dramatic shots. By 2020, he will be well in his prime and ready to make his brand an international one by helping win Gold in Tokyo.
If Team USA needs a game winning shot, Lillard is already proven and has no problem taking it. He has also proven to be an able distributor, which will help greatly with the amount of talent he'll be playing alongside.
11 Russell Westbrook
When this man takes flight, get your phones ready. You're about to see something. Westbrook might be the most athletically gifted player in the NBA and with Durant leaving for more Golden pastures, he can finally assume full alpha status. A human triple-double, Westbrook's only real drawback in being predicted for the 2020 squad is that he might have exhausted himself trying to lead the Thunder to a title.
Also, it's very tempting to break one of the caveats and include Durant on the squad just for the sheer potential drama that could unfold from having the former friends and now rivals play together but for this prediction, Popovich is spared any chemistry headache. Instead, his biggest challenge will be having Russell play within himself and quite possibly share the load, though if there's one coach the entire NBA will listen to, it's Pop.
10 John Wall
Lightning in a bottle, John Wall represents another pure scorer/distributor for the 2020 team. Though he too was slowed by injuries early in his career, Wall has them now firmly in the rear view mirror and along with Lillard will be the player tasked with feeding all the hungry mouths of this team.
For Wall, the only red flag is the recent report that he and his Wizards back-court mate Bradley Beal have a combustable relationship on the court as they struggle to figure out the power dynamic. 2020 gives him a few more years to mature and with time, Wall will no doubt realize that the best way to succeed is not to always go it alone but to let others help. Noticing a trend among the guards so far?
9 Jimmy Butler
2016 was the year that Jimmy Butler solidified himself as a star in the NBA. Much like Kawhi Leonard, Butler brings a two-way game that is hard to match as he plays hard-nosed defense while adding so much to the offensive end as well. His star is on the rise that the Bulls had no problem essentially cutting bait with their onetime saviors Rose and Noah and handing the keys of the kingdom to Butler.
Butler was on the 2016 team and having him back in 2020 seems a no-brainer given how much growth he could still have in his game. Popovich can essentially play either Butler or Leonard at all times and know he will have another ball-hound with the all around game that makes the US so hard to stop.
8 DeMarcus Cousins
One day, maybe, just maybe, DeMarcus Cousins will play for an NBA team that has a chance to win something. Until that point, he'll have to be content to dominate on a global stage with his USA teammates as he did in 2016. Cousins has been putting up absolutely insane numbers for an absolutely abysmal franchise and coupled with his famous temper, the relationship probably won't last. By 2020, Cousins will most likely be anywhere but with the Kings. Maybe he too will go to Dubs or Cavs?
Imagining a frontcourt of Cousins, Towns and Davis is fantasy basketball level unfair and coupled with a few other players who will be selected to do the grunt and lunch pail work, this USA team might rival any previous one for sheer amount of skilled big men.
7 Andre Drummond
When team USA needs a rebound, Andre Drummond will have that covered. Much like DeAndre Jordan on the 2016 squad, Drummond will exist to do the dirty work for the team. His offensive game may suffer from a lack of touches but he'll be more than fine to live on all the put-backs and tips that dominating the glass brings with it. Drummond has slowly but surely been building his resume as no- nonsense player that will bring some added grit and physicality to the team. His biggest weakness is he will probably never see the floor during a close game as he may be the worst free throw shooter in the world. For his sake, here's hoping the USA only play blow-outs.
He is essentially a swap out for Jordan as he is younger and plays for a Pistons team that probably won't be taxing him in the summers between now and 2020.
6 Paul George
Paul George's return to the 2016 squad was one of redemption after the terrible injury he suffered about 2 years previous. Initially, many feared he might never play basketball again, to say nothing about representing his country again. George instead has come back possibly better than ever and looks primed to continue that run as he moves forward.
Tall and versatile, George, along with Leonard and Butler, can play 3 positions and guard probably everything except an overpowering center. Luckily for all of them, the overpowering centers will mostly be on their own team, so scrimmages aside, they should be more than able to take on all comers.
5 Devin Booker
The last two spots go to players who by 2020 may have risen to the level of most of their teammates but as of 2016 are still just starting out. Booker came in to the league as a bit of a tweener but has established himself quickly to be a sharpshooter in the making. He could very ably fill the role of Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, the player that floats around the perimeter, looking to rain down fire on anyone that leaves him to double-team the paint. Booker might not expect to play much yet, even in 2020 but he could be a valuable asset, a secret weapon Popovich can deploy and the time spent in the company will only enhance his own game further.
4 Brandon Ingram
A player here purely on speculation but the logic goes like this: If we can't have Kevin Durant on the team, then why not bring the player who might be the closest thing to his clone in terms of raw ability and potential? Ingram, granted, has yet to play a single NBA minute and may have a rough go of it for a few years as the Lakers rebuild, but he possesses a skillset that could easily dominate the NBA as his body grows and he becomes more accustomed to the NBA game. By 2020, he might just be at the beginning of his real prime and like Booker, could be another weapon Popovich has on his bench. Plus, by 2024, Ingram and Booker could be the face of Team USA as they do battle with Ben Simmons and Australia.
3 Popovich's Plan
So how will Popovich rotate this hypothetical squad? It's pretty clear that the roster is full of versatile players who can play multiple positions and move fluidly from one role to another. In essence, it's Golden State's Death Lineup meets Pop's love for grit and deep rotation. A starting five that consists of Davis, Towns, Cousins, Westbrook and Lillard would give him probably as gifted an offensive team as the world will see. Need to play more lockdown defense? Swap in Wall, George, Butler and Leonard as needed, sprinkle in Drummond and away you go with a suffocating defensive squad. Mixing and matching as the games and minutes dictate allow Pop to really get creative as everything unfolds and with each player bringing so much to the table, the only question will be team chemistry, which again with Pop at the helm won't be an issue. 2020 is certainly looking golden again.
Just for fun, perhaps by 2024, other players we don't even know yet will have begun their rise to the top of the basketball world. Though he's not even a teenager yet, there is probably a pool somewhere already taking odds on LeBron James Jr's being one such up and comer. By 2024 he'd be 19 and if he's inherited even 75% of his dad's ability, could be a shoo-in for that squad and beyond. Highlight reels have already started floating around the internet and if they are to be believed, "Bronny" might just have a career ahead of him too.
1 One Last Hurrah?
Hard as it is to believe, by 2024, Lebron and company could be looking at the end of their careers. Who is to say that the whole gang might not want to get together for one final go-round and get the band back together? Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony especially might be hungry for any shot at glory by this point as their current teams still seem just short of championship level and as Carmelo already said, he does value gold medals quite a bit. Perhaps 2024 could be the bookend to one of the best generations of NBA talent ever?
Whether any of these predictions happen or not, what is certainly clear is that USA Basketball has talent to burn and won't be looking to give up the Gold anytime soon. Maybe by 2028?