Is this the second coming of the Dream Team?

Dream Team JordanPretending that this team is as good as the “Dream Team” from 1992 is probably pushing it. However, if you can march out a starting lineup that consists of Chris Paul, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who are you going to lose to? Even if those guys need a rest, you can roll out a lineup of Steph Curry, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarcus Cousins. Even that lineup isn’t getting beat by anyone else in the world.

This is the most talent in a US camp that we’ve seen in quite some time. We just watch Team USA lose to Canada in the Pan-American games. And it wasn’t even in the finals. That team consisted on many college players, led by Ron Baker and Melo Trimble. The players who were already pros on that squad were Anthony Randolph and Ryan Hollins from the NBA and a few others hailing from overseas leagues. It has been some time since we’ve seen a top flight USA team.

LeBron_James_Even in 2014, when the USA won the FIBA World Cup yet again, some of the top end talent was not there. James, Durant and Paul were all watching from home. That’s three fifths of a potential starting lineup. Like I said, the US still dominated the competition. They won their five group play games by an average of 33.2 points per game. Every other team in their group finished with a negative point differential as well due to the massive losses at the hands of the US. In bracket play, the US’ closest game came in the quarterfinals against Mexico, and the US won by 23. It was a landslide the whole way.

Chris PaulIt begs the question of does the US need to send an even more stacked team to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil next summer? Obviously, any team can lose on any day but sending in even more reinforcements seems like overkill. We all saw what can happen to stars trying to play at the international level when Paul George careened into the barrier and destroyed his knee. That could very well happen to any of the other superstars walking out on the court. They could suffer a serious injury in a game that really could be won without them.

Stephen_Curry2Now if everyone left it would be an issue but for guys like Durant and George who are coming off major injuries that prevented them from participating in most of the previous NBA season, is this worth the risk? Both of them are in camp with the team, which doesn’t guarantee they will be playing in Rio but the possibility is there. I’m sure Oklahoma City and Indiana would both prefer if their two star players rested up and trained on their own, preparing to be on the court in the NBA this season. (Side note: George has since left camp.)

Anthony_DavisI know I sound critical of the best players participating on Team USA. The truth is that not all of that star power is needed to win an Olympic Gold for the US. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a ton of fun to watch these guys play together. It will almost be like the NBA All Star game but this time the outcome has some consequence. It should be an offensive barrage as well making the game just that much more entertaining. Those five guys, Paul, Harden, Durant, James and Davis scored a combined 118 points per night in the NBA this season. They obviously all can’t hit those numbers now as their usage ratings combine to reach 144 percent.

Harden_DurantIt may be a risk but it is one that we as fans of basketball should hope they continue to take. There have been some new precautions taken to avoid repeats of George’s gruesome injury. And if we get to see the best US players on the court together dominating it will be a sight to behold, even if games are blowouts. It probably couldn’t touch the “Dream Team” from ’92 but there is a good chance this will be the most talented team Team USA assembles since that point. That final 12-man roster is going to be stacked.

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NBA All Star snubs

The NBA All Star rosters took another step towards being finalized yesterday. The coaches decided on who the reserve players for each team should be. The East roster now features Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Kyrie Irving and Dwayne Wade. The West includes Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson. At least two players, Wade and Bryant, will likely not be participating due to injury. There are some notable names missing from this list and I am going to break down who among them should have made it.

The first name to jump out at me absolutely has to be Derrick Rose. The Bulls’ point guard has had an injury-ridden season but when he has played, he has looked like one of the best players in the league. He has struggled though, especially shooting the ball. However, he is still scoring at a great rate and he is tied for 16th in points per 48 minutes played. He is also scoring more than Teague or Wall, who made the team over him. Rose is averaging fewer assists and shooting at a much worse rate per game though so I can understand why he was not picked. That being said, I think he is the next logical add if it turns out that Wade cannot go.

The other thing that bothers me in the East is leaving out the Pistons’ frontcourt. Both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are in the top ten for rebounding this season with Drummond ranking second and Monroe tying for ninth. Drummond is averaging almost thirteen points per game as well with Monroe accounting for more than 15 per night. Drummond also has the most board per 48 minutes played and is an excellent shot blocker ranking ninth in the league. The issue for these two guys is that it is hard to argue whose spot they should take. I think Millsap and Horford were deserving of their selections. Both of these Pistons’ big men have played well though this season and certainly should have been considered.

Flipping to the West now, there is no bigger omission than DeMarcus Cousins. The man they call “Boogie” has been a force in Sacramento this season. Cousins has missed some time due to injury this year but he has put on a show out in California. He cleans up the board with 12.3 rebounds a game, good for third in the NBA. That is also two more rebounds per game than Duncan, who did make the team. The Kings’ big man has also made his presence felt defensively, with roughly 1.5 blocks and steals each per matchup. Duncan is logging about 2 blocks but only 1 steal per game. The biggest difference though is the gap in scoring. Duncan is scoring a solid 14.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Cousins is tallying 23.8 per night, which ranks fifth best in the NBA. I understand that Duncan is a great veteran player but I would definitely have selected Cousins over him.

Damian Lillard was another man forgotten in the All Star selection process. He has been a much better scorer than Chris Paul has this season but Paul has registered a lot more assists. The Blazers’ floor general shot much more effectively than Bryant did this season but Kobe, even despite his age, has been the better defender. The reality is that Lillard has played extremely well but it hasn’t been enough to push his name into being an All Star. There is a good chance that had Lillard been playing the East he would have been selected this season. He has outperformed the majority of the guards in the East but that does not matter with voting being conducted by conference.

It is hard to argue with the lineups being assembled to play in New York this season (well, outside of Kobe of course). There were some guys who were probably qualified to make these teams but unfortunately come up short based on how tough it is to make the 12-man roster. Only 24 players are named All Stars meaning that there are plenty of others who are left out. Let me know if you think there were some other players who should have made it.

NBA Cornerstones: Point Guard

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I will have a couple of parameters for this selection though I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think it should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope that you guys agree.

I thought I would start first with the NBA. This is one of the smaller size professional teams as far as American sports go. So without further ado, let’s get going with this one.

The selection: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Honorable mentions: Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook

This took a little bit of thinking. Curry still has probably another five or six years of his prime left in him. The longevity factor is there, which makes Curry a logical choice. Outside of the 2011 lockout year, the former Davidson guard has played in at least 74 games every season. That is not perfect but I will take that over the uncertainty of Rose. Curry also has the potential to still improve a little bit in his career. His potential to improve his passing is there. He has been a good distributor already but he has the potential to grow into a great one. His defensive presence is lacking as well and could definitely use a boost.

Now, Paul is a better passer. He fills the role of pure point guard a bit better than Curry does. However, the Clippers guard does not score anywhere close to as much as Curry does. Curry also finds a way to do it at an efficient level. The 26-year old has shot 47 percent from the field over his 6-year NBA career. That is much better than Westbrook or Lillard, who both sit around 43% for their career. He is also a deadeye from beyond the arc. If the 2015 season ended today, it would be the first time Curry ever finished below 40 percent shooting from 3-point territory. Even still, it would only be at 39.9 percent. He has also been solid from the line over his 6 years as well shooting a shade under 90 percent. Shooting wise, Curry might be the best guard in the NBA (maybe other than Kyle Korver). He is a marksman on the court and efficiently destroys teams.
With his shooting abilities, Golden State’s leading scorer is also eighth in scoring for the league this year. The only other point guard in the top 20 is Lillard, but he ranks eleventh. Westbrook does not qualify yet because he has not played enough games in 2015 due to injury. Since 2012, Curry has scored more than 22 points per game in every season. His career average at this point is now up to over 20 a game.  Curry also has hit the most three pointers of any point guard so far this season, again slightly ahead of Lillard. The man can score and likely will continue to do so at a high rate.

Curry also has proven he can develop into a floor general. He is not as good as Paul is in this respect but well above average. Curry has averaged about 6.8 assists per night throughout his career and he is improving, as that number for each of the last two years was 8.5 and 8.1 respectively. He has some better pieces around him in California now so we should see Curry posting between 8 and 9 assist per night. Those are not eye-popping numbers but they are very good for a player regarded more as a shoot first point guard. The 2015 All Star also has some very talented dribbling abilities. He can break down players in the open court and will occasionally break a player’s ankles. Curry has also averaged just over three turnovers per game for his career, which is a solid number for a player with a usage rating of over 25 percent.

I think overall Curry is probably one of the top three point guards in the NBA. The other two are probably Paul and Westbrook. Paul is a better passer and scores efficiently but he is not a dominant scorer. Westbrook is an athletic playmaker who has an uncanny ability to get to the basket, he also can put up a lot of assists playing for the Thunder but he is a streaky and overall average at best shooter. Curry is a combination of the two. He has the athletic ability to give slower guards some problems and he is an incredible shooter who will make contested baskets. Curry does have some shortcomings with his defensive game needing a little bit of work. It is beginning to improve but overall it is fairly weak. Westbrook, Paul and Rose all play much better defense. He also lacks experience when it comes to playing deep into the playoffs. Only Westbrook and Rose really have that experience. So, while the pick isn’t perfect, I am sticking to it. My first NBA cornerstone player has to be Steph Curry.