Jacob Eisenberg explains why it is unfair to exclude Anthony Davis from Team USA consideration.
In 1992, Duke’s golden boy, Christian Laettner, was selected to join team USA’s Dream Team. The move was a controversial one. Laettner, an amateur, joined a roster of eleven NBA all-stars including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird by beating out several established NBA stars with years of experience on him such as Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Johnson, and Isiah Thomas. The choice irked many around the league as the selection of an unproven kid over consistent NBA all-stars seemed offensive.
Still, the move paid off as Laettner’s team-first attitude and willingness to ride the bench helped fill a niche for a USA team stacked with eleven future Hall-of-Famers.
Twenty years later, as USA looks to fill up some holes in their roster, it is appears as though it may again be time to select an amateur to join a team filled with NBA stars. In Bill Simmons’ Mailbag from April 20th, The Sports Guy made an interesting plea for Anthony Davis to join the national team:
“It’s the no-brainer of no-brainers! Anthony Davis just won an NCAA title. He protects the rim like nobody we’ve seen since a young Dikembe Mutombo. He’s the ultimate teammate, someone who can affect basketball games without taking a single shot. Unlike Bynum, we won’t have to worry about him screwing up team chemistry. He’ll be the ultimate happy-to-be-there young guy. He’ll even happily settle into that always-enjoyable role as the whipping boy rookie who has to carry everyone else’s bags and stuff. And by the way? We might actually need him! What am I missing? GIVE US THE ‘BROW! USA! USA! USA! USA!”
Beyond Simmons’ brief explanation, the idea of Davis joining Team USA makes sense for many other reasons. Think about it: Dwight Howard is injured, Andrew Bynum is immature, Roy Hibbert is slow, and Demarcus Cousins is a troublemaker. There is literally not a healthy NBA center who is better than Davis right now other than Tyson Chandler.
Going up against Spain, the only country with enough talent to compete with America, USA will need more than just Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love protecting the paint to compete. Sure, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant have all had success at power forward in their NBA careers. Regardless, it is unfair to expect any of those natural small forwards to capably defend Pau Gasol in the post. Asking one of the three to do so would also marginalize their defensive versatilities.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying Anthony Davis is the third best big man in America. I am also not saying he is a better player at this point in his career than Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire or Zach Randolph. What I am saying, however, is that Davis’ skill sets fit exactly what team USA is lacking – making him a better fit for the team than any of those four. Without Dwight Howard down low, Tyson Chandler will have to move from the bench to Howard’s role as defensive enforcer in the starting lineup. Without Chandler on the bench, USA has a significant lack of defensive big men in reserve.
Ordinarily, I would say proven NBA stars like Griffin and Bosh deserve Olympic spots before unproven rookies. However, this USA team’s holes are more defined this year making this team extremely vulnerable. Furthermore, injuries to Howard, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Al Horford leave USA with minimal choices at the center position.
Bosh and Griffin have both failed to show anything considerable enough on the defensive end in their years in the NBA to make Coach K believe they will be able to shut down the likes of Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki in international play. Furthermore, with Spain’s addition of Serge Ibaka last summer, it will important for the USA to counter Spain’s length with some length of their own. Although Davis is only 6’10″, his 7’4″ wingspan makes him one of the longest and most intimidating defenders in the world. In his freshman year at Kentucky, the 2011-2012 NCAA Player of the Year tallied 183 blocks. (More blocks than the entire teams of Duke, Michigan State, Georgetown and 300 other Division 1 schools.)
It is clear that Davis is already further advanced on the defensive end than nearly every center in the NBA. Furthermore, it is also clear that Davis – a consummate winning teammate – has the unique skill set to be integral to USA’s success.
Sure, omitting Blake Griffin from the national team will be a commercial disaster for the USA. However, wasn’t the USA’s downfall in 2004 their decision to pick bigger names over better fits? (Cough… Stephon Marbury…) The USA is already guaranteed to be the most athletic team in the tournament. Adding Griffin to the equation will do very little to give the team a further edge in that department.
Meanwhile, in Bosh’s case, it is hard for USA to have confidence in a player who disappears for the Heat on occasion because he doesn’t touch the ball enough. If Bosh can’t get enough touches for an NBA team to be consistently effective, what makes anyone think he will get enough touches for a super-USA team to be consistently effective? Most likely, Bosh’s role would be reduced to occasional 18-foot jumpers and defense – two things Anthony Davis has mastered.
People who say Davis is too young to be effective in the international game have to remember that Davis today is the same age James and Anthony were in 2004 when they made their fist appearances for Team USA. It is not Davis’ fault that the NBA changed its rules to exclude him from gaining NBA experience. Regardless of not playing in the NBA, Davis is just as physically developed at 19 as James and Anthony were at 19-years-old in 2004. James and Anthony were both able to contribute in limited time in 2004. If Davis’s role is limited and his expectations are kept low, he, too, will have a great opportunity to contribute significant minutes.
When LeBron James told Fox Sports in January that this 2012 USA team could stack up with the 1992 Dream Team, he said it under the hope that a dominant shot-blocking center would be healthy and playing. Thanks to Anthony Davis’ emergence, James’ hope may still be alive.
Jacob Eisenberg writes for The Fan Manifesto. He can be followed on Twitter @Eisenberg43. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Published on TheFanManifesto.com on 04/25/12