Finally, it's the conclusion of the 12 part Olympics preview series. Make sure to check out the preceding 11, alternately posted here and at Green Bandwagon: China, Greece, Russia, Argentina, Australia, Iran, Lithuania, Angola, Croatia, Germany, and Spain. Today, it's Team USA's turn to take center stage. I decided to deviate from the normal preview format a little bit since 99% of you know the roster pretty well.
Instead of offering player bios, I'll break down the individual international matchup I'd like to see most for each Team USA player. Some of them, because of grouping, might not actually happen. I'll take into consideration starting and bench lineups for the purposes of this exercise (so don't come screaming when you don't find a " Ricky Rubio will torch Jason Kidd" prediction).
Jason Kidd vs. Steffen Hamann (Germany)
Hamann is one of the few point guards in the world that can match J-Kidd's height (6'5" to 6'4") and weight (200 to 205). The two are similar in ways beyond height and weight as well. Hamann, like Kidd, has struggled with turnover issues throughout his international career. Both players recently left teams they'd spent a good deal of time with (Hamann departed the Brose Baskets while Kidd left the Nets). I want to see how Kidd reacts when one of his main strengths- rebounding- is potentially taken away from him as well as how well he defends post-ups by the bigger Hamann. As the icing on the cake, both Hamann and JKidd will be dishing to the same seven foot power forward this year- Dirk Nowitzki.
Kobe Bryant vs. Dimitris Diamantidis (Greece)
Hailed by many as the premier perimeter defender in all of Europe, Diamantidis will surely draw the assignment on #24. Could Dimitris claim the much desired title of "Kobe stopper" that various others have bestowed upon themselves (Ruben Patterson comes to mind)? That will be among the many intriguing stories in the U.S.-Greece matchup that many anticipate will be Team America's second toughest challenge. I feel bad posting this, but watch this block on Chris Paul. Then watch this block on Tim Duncan. Defense not your thing? How about Diamantidis drilling a triple in Lebron James' grill? At 6'5", he doesn't seem like the perfect fit to guard Kobe, but his huge wingspan makes up for his height. I'm frothing at the mouth about this matchup already. Dimitris, meet 2008 MVP Kobe Bryant. Kobe, meet 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 Euroleague Defensive Player of the Year Dimitris Diamantidis.
Lebron James vs. Mark Worthington (Australia)
In the 5 pre-Olympics games, I felt like LBJ showed the most competitive emotion (well, other than Dwyane Wade, who was channeling KG). For my money, if Team USA gets involved in a fight, James will be right smack in the middle of it. So that's why I'm looking forward to James matching up with Worthington, who many Australian fans have called a cheap shot artist. Worthington has been noted for throwing intentional elbows at an opponent's neck and face in the past. He's no stranger to being at the center of a confrontation. Not that I'd ever condone a fight, but, you know, if it were to happen and I got to pick the two players...
Carmelo Anthony vs. Luis Scola (Argentina)
Numerous writers and analysts, and most annoyingly, Fran Fraschilla, have repeatedly called Anthony the "best international power forward in the world." Don't get me wrong, I love 'Melo and all, but I'm not buying this. Sure, he's an all world talent offensively. He can drill the long ball, and bang down low. He can bull his way to the bucket or beat you with quickness. But his defense is extremely suspect against NBA small forwards. How exactly is he going to guard the best power forwards in the world? Here's his chance to show us. Scola emerged nicely with the Houston Rockets, but if Argentinian fans are to be believed, we got merely a small glimpse at his true ability. The 250 pound power forward will challenge Anthony tremendously on the boards and test his defensive ability.
Dwight Howard vs. Yao Ming (China)
I was considering going with Iran's Hamed Haddadi, but it doesn't get any better than the Superman-Yao matchup at center. /Bad Joke Begin/ In the 2008 season, Yao was the starting center for the West while Dwight started for the East; in Beijing, their roles will be reversed as Yao represents the East and Dwight the West. /Bad Joke End/. Obviously, Yao has the huge height advantage, but Howard is far stronger and more athletic. I'm sure Chinese fans are hoping this doesn't happen again in Beijing.
Chris Bosh vs. Robertas Javtokas (Lithuania)
Both are 6'11". Both have weights in the 240 pound range. But one has a 33" vertical while the other has a 42" vertical. Javtokas is the owner of the madder hops and has quickly emerged as one of the must-watch players in Beijing. The winner of a 12 foot rim dunk contest, Javtokas returned to basketball from a freak motorcycle injury in 2002. Like Bosh, Robertas can also step out and hit the midrange J when needed. I'm really looking forward to these two guys D'ing up on one another, but more importantly, trying to dunk in each other's faces.
Carlos Boozer vs. Sofoklis Schortsanitis (Greece)
I kind of feel sorry for Carlos; he figures to split time with Chris Bosh in guarding the 6'10", 350 pound Big Sofo (yep, not a typo). At 6'8", 266, Boozer is no stranger to pounding and banging down low, but tackling Sofoklis a.k.a. Baby Shaq a.k.a. The Incredible Hulk will be quite an experience. He's remarkably quick for his size and can get up pretty high as well. This video should give you some idea of just how big "big" is. Time will tell whether Sofo is merely an Eddy Curry type talent, or something more. As far as the Boozer-Sofo matchup, I figure Boozer would do best to draw Sofo out to guard his midrange jumper. Carlos definitely wins the quickness battle here, and it'll be interesting to see if he can use that to outsmart the Hulk on the boards.
Tayshaun Prince vs. Joaquim Gomes (Angola)
This one's a stretch (no pun intended) match-up wise. For one, Gomes is among Angola's starting five while Prince figures to be the twelfth man for the US. Second, at 6'8", Gomes is the tallest player on Angola, so he figures to get more minutes at power forward and center than at small forward. But with Angola's limited depth, it is possible that we see their best player also back up the small forward position. The reason I'd like to see this is because it'd expand Tayshuan's boundaries. We all know he can guard athletic wings and forwards (T-Mac, Kobe, etc). With Rasheed Wallace on his team, we haven't seen him guard opposing power forwards or bigger small forwards that much. We'd get insight into how effective those long arms can truly be as well as some knowledge of how one of Angola's best players matches up against one of the world's most versatile defenders.
Michael Redd vs. Juan Carlos Navarro (Spain)
Even though Navarro will start for the Spanish, we're still pretty likely to see this matchup given how many minutes Navarro should log. In Redd-Navarro, we get a match-up of two of the best pure shooters in the world. Watching either of these guys gun from long range can be absolutely hypnotizing. I could watch JC make it rain all day (sorry, you'll have to endure a few Chris Paul/Tyson Chandler/David West highlights in that clip... totally unintentional, I swear!). Michael Redd's long range stroke is a little uglier, but the results are just as sweet. We can only hope that one or both of these players gets molten lava hot from downtown at some point in Spain-USA.
Dwyane Wade vs. Demond Greene (Germany)
Oh man. With the way Wade played in those opening five games, it's hard to imagine anybody in the world stopping him. But if there's anybody I want to see try, it's Germany's Demond Greene. Greene brings show-stopping athleticism to the table but has been noted for using it defensively more than offensively. He's a great leaper and can also hit the trifecta. Interestingly, Greene originally hails from Fort Hood, Texas. Over the years, he's made a series of highlight reel blocks on elite players from across the world. It's only fitting that his pre-eminent swat is one of D-Wade himself.
Deron Williams vs. Amir Amini (Iran)
From one D.W. to the next. It's almost stunning how similar Deron Williams and Amir Amini are. Amir was born June 10th, 1984, followed sixteen days later by Mr. Williams. They are both listed at 6'3" and 200 pounds. Amini is considered among the purest, most pass-first point guards in all of Europe while DWill ranks among the purest in the NBA. I would be absolutely shocked if these two back up points didn't check one another if Iran were to play the U.S. For Williams, it's a chance to show his rare skills that extend beyond gifted height and athleticism. For Amini, it's a chance to play against someone of his very mold and to understand what it'll take to reach that caliber. And by the way, I didn't put DWill against the 6'4" Ricky Rubio because Rubio plays a quick PG, not Deron Williams' powerful style.
Chris Paul vs. Ricky Rubio (Spain)
Well, you knew I was saving the best for last, right? Obviously, as a Hornets fan, I am drooling over this matchup. My keyboard is so full of saliva, I'm going to have to go buy a new one right after this. The best point guard in the best league in the world gets to take on a 17 year old challenger to his throne. There is wide speculation that Rubio will declare for next year's draft, and some say he should be the number one overall pick. He's brilliant in the open court, a great shooter, and of course, a terrific passer. I read one writer who called Rubio the "greatest teenager he's ever seen." My initial reaction was to scoff; LBJ anyone? Then I saw this on Rubio's Wikipedia page: "In [a] 110-106 double overtime finale victory over Russia, Rubio scored 51 points (including a three-point, buzzer-beating shot from mid-court, to force the first overtime), grabbed 24 rebounds, made 12 assists, and stole the ball seven times, a performance unprecedented in [Under-16] history. Rubio also was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament after leading it in points, rebounds, assists and steals." Ummm. What? 51, 24, 12, and 7? US fans irked at Kidd over Paul and Spanish fans bummed about Calderon over Rubio... cheer up. It's CP3 versus Ricky Business.