Two losses this week in World Cup competition offered another reminder that USA Basketball isn’t as far ahead of the rest of the world as it used to be.
The Americans couldn’t overcome a huge early deficit on Sunday against Lithuania as bigger and stronger opponents continue to cause problems for the U.S. team. After blowing out Italy on Tuesday in the start of the elimination round, the same issues emerged on Friday against Germany, which held on for a two-point victory that sent Team USA into the bronze-medal game.
It might be easy to dismiss the losses as a result of not having its best players participating, but that’s true for a lot of nations with the Olympics looming in 2024. Only two All-NBA players took part in the World Cup — Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — and neither represented the U.S.
The stakes will be much higher in Paris next summer, as Olympic gold medals are considered the greatest prize in international basketball. Few of the 12 players who made up the World Cup team may get Olympic invitations, as the USA will have its traditional collection of All-Stars to pick from. But with opening ceremonies only about 10 months away, it’s not too early to think about who should be there.
With Steve Kerr serving as head coach, Warriors star Stephen Curry will be an obvious target. Curry hasn’t played in an international tournament since the FIBA World Championship in 2010, but the NBA’s best-ever three-point shooter would be a perfect weapon in the international game.
Kerr may also push for Klay Thompson, who’s also a deadly shooter but hasn’t been as effective since missing two full seasons with injuries. Draymond Green, who was part of the gold medal winners in the last Olympics, provides versatility and aggressive defense in the frontcourt, but he’ll turn 34 next year.
Age is an issue for several traditional USA Basketball standouts. LeBron James will turn 39 in December, and although he still plays at a high level, it may be tough for him to commit to an Olympic schedule if the Lakers make another long playoff run. The same goes for Kevin Durant, the leading scorer for the 2021 gold medalists, who will celebrate his 35th birthday this month.
Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard and Bam Adebayo are the most obvious candidates to return from the last Olympic team, and Zach LaVine and Jrue Holiday should get consideration as well. That provides plenty of wing scoring, but leaves the U.S. at risk of being undersized.
Joel Embiid would solve the center problem if he commits to the U.S., but he also has French citizenship and France may be aggressive in its pursuit after failing to advance past pool play at the World Cup. Anthony Davis might be the best option if the U.S. can’t land Embiid.
Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves have all impressed in World Cup play and may be asked back for the Olympics. Jimmy Butler, Jaylen Brown, Donovan Mitchell, Julius Randle, Paul George and Ja Morant are current All-Stars who might receive consideration, along with anyone who has a breakout performance in the upcoming season.
We want to get your opinion. If you were putting together USA Basketball’s Olympic roster for 2024, who would make up the core of your team? Please leave your answer in the space below.