Olympic Basketball as an Under-23 Affair: Who Are the Top Candidates for 2016?

Posted by EJacoby on June 22nd, 2012

In the 20th anniversary year of the original 1992 ‘Dream Team,’ USA Basketball is once again sending a team of elite NBA players in search of the 2012 gold medal. But could this become the final time we see such a collection of professional stars? Rumblings over the past few weeks from all corners of college, pro, and international basketball suggest that Team USA will instead send younger players to the Olympics, perhaps through the old school method of all amateurs or rather in a new combination of college and young pros. The most likely scenario includes an all Under-23 squad, resembling the way the USA selects for its Olympic soccer teams. CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, among others, has highlighted what Team USA would look like this year if it was an Under-23 team. But any new method would not take place until the next Summer Olympics in 2016, so what would that team potentially look like? In order to qualify for the Under-23 team four years from now, only players who are 19 or younger right now could be under consideration. Today we take a look at some of the best candidates, considering both current accomplishments and potential future growth.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would qualify for the 2016 Olympics if Team USA goes with an Under 23 approach (AP Photo)

A quick 15-man list of the top 19-or-younger players goes as follows:

  1. Anthony Davis
  2. Tony Wroten
  3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  4. Bradley Beal
  5. Andre Drummond
  6. Quincy Miller
  7. Nerlens Noel
  8. Shabazz Muhammad
  9. Cody Zeller
  10. James Michael McAdoo
  11. Kyle Anderson
  12. Jabari Parker
  13. Julius Randle
  14. Andrew Harrison
  15. Andrew Wiggins

Obviously, this exercise is futile until we learn how players develop over the next four years. The best current high school recruits don’t necessarily become the top college players or pro prospects. Just look at the 2011 NBA Draft’s top two picks  — neither Kyrie Irving nor Derrick Williams were elite recruits when they were juniors in high school. Nonetheless, our list contains several players who have already established themselves in college and look like locks to contribute at a high level in the pros over the next few years. Between Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, and Drummond, we have four of the likely top five 2012 NBA Draft picks on the roster, with a nice balance of versatility as those four guys play four different primary positions.

The names on the list that fans may not know — Wiggins, Harrison, Randle — join Parker as the top prospects in high school basketball right now. Randle just recently led the U-18 Team USA to gold at the FIBA Americas and is the top power forward in the 2013 class. Harrison is 2013’s top point guard, while Parker, who we profiled earlier this week, is the best small forward and overall prospect in the class. Wiggins is even younger and part of the 2014 high school class, but the #1-ranked small forward is already gaining much buzz as a future star.

Taking a look at the specific roster breakdown, the Under-23 Americans are loaded with forwards and centers. Noel and Davis have similar skill sets as game-changing shotblockers while Parker, Muhammad, and Wiggins all specialize as versatile small forwards. Zeller, Drummond, and McAdoo are beasts in the post, but the roster is severely lacking in guard play. In fact, Harrison and Wroten are the only point guards on our list, and neither is a true lead guard. Wroten may not even get drafted in the first round in June 28’s draft, yet he’s one of the top American point prospects in this age group at this point. The past two classes of high school point guards have not been very strong, so we hope 2013 and 2014 produce some future stars at the position, starting with Harrison. Overall, there are plenty of familiar names already on this list, and there’s no reason to worry about a lack of star power in an Under-23 scenario. Players are peaking at younger and younger ages in this era, and the NBA is already loaded with stars in their early 20s. Should Team USA choose to go younger next time around, there’s plenty of intrigue with a team that should still be one of the favorites to win gold.

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanJacoby.

EJacoby (198 Posts)

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