On late Thursday afternoon, a small, yet kinda big news nugget hit the wires, when USA basketball announced that they had officially extended two new invitations to try out for this summer’s Olympic team. The first, James Harden, should surprise no one (well, unless you’re surprised that USA basketball would consider letting someone who looks like a Batman villain represent our country in London this summer). But the second guy? Well, that’s where it gets interesting, as it was announced that along with Harden, Anthony Davis would be trying out for the team as well.
In case you’re wondering, yes, we’re talking about that Anthony Davis. The one who was a no-name high school recruit at this time two years ago. The one who was just learning his first low-post move six months ago, in the same gawky way teenagers first learn to parallel park. The one with the world’s most famous uni-brow. That Anthony Davis.
That guy may be representing our country against the world’s best this summer. And you know what? I absolutely, positively love it.
Now granted, I’m not the first writer to float the idea of Davis and the Olympics out there, nor would I ever claim to be. College basketball writer Mike Decourcy tweeted that Davis should be invited to camp weeks ago, and just days later, ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote about it as well. Of course there’s a big difference between talking about Davis in the Olympics, and Davis actually getting an invite to camp. And now that he’s got one firmly in hand, well, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be in London for this summer’s Opening Ceremonies.
Crazy, I know, and if you’d asked me as recently as three months ago I would’ve told you that I was as likely to get an invite myself as Davis was. Heck, had you asked me a month ago at the Final Four, I would’ve laughed it off, and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, maybe if Dwight Howard has a catastrophic injury or something, then I’d think about it.”
Except here we are a month later, and that catastrophic injury that no one saw coming actually happened. And because of it, guess what? The U.S. Olympic team needs Anthony Davis.
(Quick side note: Now please understand that as much as I enjoyed watching Davis at Kentucky this year, it brings me no great pleasure to type those words above. The truth is that when it comes to the Olympics, I want the 12 best players in my country representing my country whenever possible. More importantly, I wanted the 12 best players in my country representing my country this particular summer because of one very distinct reason: As I tweeted the other night, had everyone been healthy, the 2012 U.S. Olympic team would’ve gone down as the single greatest collection of basketball talent ever.
Call me crazy, but it’s true. As a matter of fact, I’m going to rain on everyone’s parade, and say something here that’s going to get me in a little bit of trouble: The 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team was an incredible collection of talent. They also have become slightly overrated historically.
Think I’m crazy?
Well here’s what you need to remember about that team: Larry Bird had a bad back, and barely played the entire tournament; Magic Johnson hadn’t played competitive basketball the previous season because of his HIV diagnosis; Christian Laettner turned into was such a stiff once he left Duke that when you actually look up the word “stiff” in the Dictionary, his picture is there; Chris Mullin? To quote Cris Carter…. ‘C’Mon, Man!!’ There’s no way he sniffs the roster in 2012; and heck, while we’re here, let’s not forget that the best point guard in the league (Isaiah Thomas) wasn’t even on the U.S. roster because of a beef with Michael Jordan. And by the way, all that doesn’t even factor in that international basketball is about 30 trillion times tougher today than it was 20 years ago.
Point being, I stand by my original statement: The 1992 Dream Team was overrated. And if the 2012 squad was fully healthy (mainly including Derrick Rose and Howard), they would’ve wiped the floor with the 1992 squad.
Rant, now over.)
Anyway, back to Howard, and back to the fact that without him, the U.S. is in trouble in the paint. Even when he was healthy, they really only had two true center options, with him and Chandler. And now without him… yikes. Other than Andrew Bynum, all the other options are either too old or not actually better than Anthony Davis is today.
So with that, I already know what you’re thinking: “So why not take Bynum?”
Now, before Lakers fans get their panties in a bunch, please understand this isn’t about what Bynum can or can’t do. Instead, it’s about how he does it.
Let’s start with the good on Bynum, and let me start by saying a bunch of nice things. The truth is, I like his game a lot. I know he’s improved about 20 million percent since last year, and his 30 rebound game against the Spurs was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It really was. Not to mention that when he was in high school, Bynum also committed to UConn before going straight to the pros. And as everyone knows that if you have any affiliation to UConn, you’re cool in my book.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that right now Bynum is the most dominant low-post player in the professional game (Even more so than Howard). Let him run down court, get position and catch the ball in the post, and it’s over; he’s getting two points every single time he wants. Truth be told, Bynum is an absolutely perfect fit to what the Lakers do. And for the record, if I were trying to win an NBA title today, I’d taking Bynum over Davis in about half a second.
The problem is that when we go to London, nobody is trying to win an NBA title. We’re trying to win a gold medal. And Bynum’s game just doesn’t translate to the way the game is played internationally.
As a matter of fact, taking Bynum out of the equation entirely, it is actually style play which got U.S.A. basketball into so much trouble in the first place up until 2008. Simply put, we were trying to force “our” game on “them.” For lack of a better term.
In international ball, it’s not about having a big, bulky center down low. For that matter it’s not about having a flashy point guard or physically imposing wing either. Instead, it’s all about versatility. You’ve got to have five guys on the court at all times that can run, pass and shoot. You’ve got to space the floor on offense. And that includes the big guys; if they can’t run, pass and step out to hit a 15-footer you’re done. You can’t win. You won’t win. The Gasol’s and Luis Scola’s of the world will eat you alive. If you don’t believe me, just as the 2004 Olympic team how their summer in Athens went. Not well, as you may remember.
And above all, that’s why Bynum should stay home this summer. It isn’t about him, it’s about doing what’s best for us. His game is a square peg in a round hole. It’s oil and water. It’s Rick Pitino and John Calipari sitting next to each other on a cross-country flight. Simply put, it’s just not going to work.
Which is why it wasn’t just a big step to invite Anthony Davis to the Olympic tryouts, but why it’d be foolish not to take him to London in July. That doesn’t mean I consider him to be one the 12 best basketball players in the US right now. What I am saying is that his specific skill-set (and the dearth of others like him) makes him one of the 12 most valuable right now though. If that makes sense.
What’s that skill-set? Well, I already basically mentioned those skills above (not to mention, wrote an entire article on the evolution of Anthony Davis back in February, which I encourage you to read), so I won’t get into too many of them here. Just know the following: Of the traits I mentioned in the above paragraphs, Davis has them all. The guy runs the floor like a 6’3 guard… in large part because he was a 6’3 guard up until two years ago. He’s not a great passer, but is comfortable enough with the ball where he won’t be a liability. And defensively, well, my goodness. You don’t need me to tell you that he’ll change games regardless of where he’s playing.
Of everything, the only real drawback about bringing Davis to the Olympics, would be that I’m not quite sure how well he’d be able to score in international bal--- oh that’s right, WE DON’T NEED HIM TO SCORE!! I totally forgot, we’ve got Kobe, LeBron, Durant and Carmelo to take care of that.
As a matter of fact, that’s maybe the best thing about bringing Davis: Nobody takes less pride in scoring, and more pride in helping out his teammates than he does. You know how I know that? Maybe it’s because in the biggest game of his life (this year’s National Championship), Davis gladly sacrificed points when his shot wasn’t falling, and instead focused on defense, hustle and rebounding. In a related story, Kentucky won the National Championship game going away.
In the end, let me wrap up by saying one thing: I understand that these aren’t totally perfect circumstances. Ideally, Howard would be healthy, and Davis could spend July and August, picking out his white Bentley, and cruising around Charlotte, New Orleans, Washington, or whatever city he’ll be spending his professional career in.
Unfortunately, these aren’t perfect circumstances, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
That desperate measure? Bringing Anthony Davis to London this summer.
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