2008 USA basketball representatives edges out 2012 squad in simulation
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It was a simple statement, a comment deriving from a hoops hypothetical. As the final touches were completed to the construction of the 2012 United States Basketball roster, a collective question emerged: how does this latest edition of American aptitude compare to 2008's gold medal-winning "Redeem Team?"
"I think it has the potential to be that if we learn to use our versatility," coach Mike Krzyzewski said to reporters in Las Vegas after training camp concluded. "It's a more versatile team than 2008. Now does that translate into being better? Although we don't have the center, that team didn't have (Kevin) Durant or (Russell) Westbrook. So it's a different team and we'll see if it becomes better, but it can be. It could be."
On the surface, this observation hardly qualifies as controversial, especially advocated by a hardwood patriarch such as Coach K. This sentiment is seconded by FOXSports.com Olympic basketball analyst and 1992 Dream Team member Christian Laettner.
USA Basketball: 2012 vs. 2008
|Matchup||Win%||Avg PPG||WIS Interactive|
|2012 USA Basketball||45.8||110.3||Simulate Matchup|
|2008 Redeem Team||54.2||111.1||Build your own Dream Team|
"The 2008 team did bring home the gold medal," Laettner said. "Golly, this team that they have this year is just unbelievable around the perimeter. I just don't know if any team is going to be able to stick with this team. They can really put the ball in the hole."
Yet in the middle of Krzyzewski's avowal is an allusion to a predicament, serving as doubt to this testimony. "The center" referenced in this account is none other than Dwight Howard, universally acknowledged as the best big man in the game. While his ongoing petitions for Orlando exile are certainly suspect, there's little question in the 26-year-old's on-the-court credentials, as the six-time NBA All-Star has averaged 20.6 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks over the past five seasons. This frontcourt domination was on display in the 2008 Beijing Games, as Howard chipped in 10.9 points and 5.8 boards in eight contests. However, due to a herniated disk in his back, Howard will be watching London's spectacle from the States.
Superman isn't the only superstar on the sidelines for the Yankees. Dwyane Wade, fresh off his second NBA title and Team USA's leading scorer four years ago, will miss the tournament after undergoing knee surgery. Wade's fellow Heatle and 2008 Olympian, Chris Bosh, is also M.I.A. dealing with a lingering abdominal injury. We'd be remiss in failing to mention the absence of Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP and pivotal component of the 2010 FIBA Championship squad. That's a lot of talent not suiting up for Uncle Sam.
Not to say the new faces are lacking swag. Durant, the scoring titleholder the past three seasons in the Association and leader of the aforementioned 2010 FIBA crew, reinforces the offensive assault for the Americans, as his downtown dexterity adds a much-needed asset in the open-floor play that is promoted in international competition. Helping Durant in this basket bombardment are Thunder teammates Westbrook, who finished fifth in scoring with a 23.6 average, and James Harden, who picked up Sixth Man of the Year honors thanks to pouring in 16.8 points off the bench. Laettner thinks this background will be instrumental for the team's gold-medal prospects.
"You always need scoring coming off the bench," Laettner said. "(Harden's) playing with two of his teammates. So, he should feel right at home in terms of coming off the bench when Coach K puts him in there and trying to affect the game and put some points on the board."
Kevin Love, whose penchant for cleaning glass is essential given the vacancy down low, is also known for his shooting prowess. Other newcomers Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala will be looked upon for their defensive contributions, while Blake Griffin is out to prove there's more to his game than highlight-reel throw-downs. It's this abundance of faculty that could prove the catalyst for the Americans once play begins.
"I think depth is the biggest factor," Laettner said. "When you look at the 10th, 11th and 12th man on every other country's team, there's absolutely no way they are going to be as deep as our 10th, 11th or 12th man. We are just so strong all the way through."
"This team that they have this year is just unbelievable around the perimeter. I just don't know if any team is going to be able to stick with this team." - Christian Laettner
The returning members of the Redeem Team are no slouches themselves. Carmelo Anthony, while somewhat out of shape during the condensed 2011-12 NBA season, has historically excelled in the international environment. Though both can fill the point column, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are distributors of the highest degree, facilitating the rock amidst a plethora of triggers. Speaking of shooters, Kobe Bryant catches his fair share of guff for his gunning tendencies, but it was the Black Mamba who came through in the fourth quarter of the championship game against Spain in '08. And with the weight of the world off his shoulders, the conceivable carnage that LeBron James is capable of inflicting almost makes one sympathize for his adversaries. Almost.
But despite their depth, flexibility and agility, is this year's version of USA Basketball better than their 2008 brethren? Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and was a vital cog in the Dallas Mavericks' championship run in 2011, but Howard's strength and force is matched by no man. As quickly as Harden has developed into a prime-time performer, not sure anyone is willing to place the bearded assassin in the same merit as D-Wade. Bryant may be on both squads and has put forth a commendable battle against Father Time; alas, confident in saying most would prefer the 2008 model of the Lakers shooting guard that harbors less mileage on the odometer.
So let's settle the debate: who comes out on top in this clash of Olympic cagers? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com basketball simulation engine, the Redeem Team squeaks by the current crop of NBA stars 54.2 percent of the time by an average margin of 111-110. The perceived flaw of the 2012 frontcourt manifested its' ugly head as Howard (14.4 points, 11.5 rebounds in the simulation run) and Bosh (14.8 points, 7.5 boards) had their way in the post. Also as expected, the production from the 2008 two-guard spot was more proficient (24.8 points from Bryant-Wade-Redd vs. 22.5 points via Bryant-Harden-Iguodala) and efficient (46.6 percent shooting against 43.3 percent). LeBron paced the 2012 company with 18.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.8 dimes, though his 2008 prototype wasn't too shabby either with 16.6 points, 6.1 boards and 5.7 assists.
"(The what-ifs) are really interesting questions, really fun things to contemplate and wrestle with, but who knows?" said Laettner. Well, thanks to the simulation engine, we have an answer to that inquiry. The London mockup of Team USA is envisioned to be a formidable force, but in the What-If world, they fall just short of the band that conquered Beijing.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.