Yes, the playoffs are still ongoing and there are plenty of story lines to follow over the next few weeks. However, for us Knicks fans, the focus has shifted to the what ifs surrounding Team USA and Coach K’s final go-around on the international circuit.
Injuries have already devastated not just Team USA, but their chief rival, Team Spain. USA has already lost presumed starting center Dwight Howard, presumed starting point guard Derrick Rose, veteran leadership from Chauncey Billups and maybe Kevin Love, who is still dealing with issues surrounding a concussion.
As far as Knicks who will appear on Team USA, there are only two options, and both appear to be locks. The first and most obvious choice becomes Tyson Chandler. Chandler played very well for the 2010 World Championship team alongside the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Rose and Love.
With Howard out, Chandler becomes the starting center on this team without much competition. He’s also the most obvious candidate to clog the middle because he isn’t going to command any offensive possessions away from any of the likely starters (as of today, the starting line-up is likely to be Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant at guard, Kevin Durant and LeBron James at forward and Chandler). So much of the offense is going to flow through the other four that whoever plays center only needs to be on the court to make it hard for the opponents to score. And with the likelihood of going up against the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka for Team Spain (I still have no idea how Ibaka is Spanish…), Chandler’s presence on the team is even more important.
Actually, the most fascinating story line surrounding Team USA is who backs up Chandler? Howard is out, and Chandler was scheduled to be his primary back-up and likely the only other true center on the team. Now, the team is down to just Chandler. I like the team when they run a small second unit with Kevin Love at the 5, but that becomes hard to imagine when its your only option. The one name you need to watch: Anthony Davis. That’s right! We’re calling in The Brow! He’s a logical second unit, defensive stopper to play behind Tyson. Think about it. You want to see it. Just wait…
Joining Chandler on Team USA will be Carmelo Anthony. 2008 seems like a long time ago, and many people forget that on that gold medal team, ‘Melo was the team MVP. He played out of his mind on that squad and really re-established himself as a NBA superstar with his performance. This time around, however, he’s been lapped by both Durant and LeBron in the starting line-up, but he will be the focal point of the second unit.
He’s also added a new wrinkle to Coach K’s potential game-plan. We’ve seen how effective Carmelo plays out of the four position, being much too athletic for traditional power forwards in the low blocks, so I can certainly see a second-unit line-up looking something like Deron Williams and Dwayne Wade at the guards, either James Harden or Andre Iguodala at the 3, Anthony at the 4 and Kevin Love/Anthony Davis at the 5. That’s a very good second unit. And its a second unit that will allow Anthony to be the focus of the offensive attack, which, again, is ‘Melo’s desire.
As for the rest of the Knicks, there is nobody that will sniff the national team. Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t allowed to play on the ’08 team because of his knees and the risk of injury, which clearly hasn’t gone away, so he will never see international action. Iman Shumpert could be a piece for Team USA further down the road, specifically the 2014 World Championships squad as a defensive stopper and force off the bench (think Iguodala). Jeremy Lin has a lot more to do to crack the upper echelon of American point guards, so to even consider him as an international team option moving forward is way premature.
There are always two international events that get me up in the morning. The soccer World Cup and Olympic Basketball. With the team Coach K will have at his disposal, I’m extremely excited to see just how high this team can rise.
And, for Knicks fans, we have reasons to root. Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony will play major roles. Its nice to have relevant players again, isn’t it?