Tired of the clichés yet?
After watching Team USA’s big, happy family roll over opponents for two weeks, I am too. But hey, they deserved each one. Getting a group of superstars to agree to a 12-way split of the spotlight is tough, and Mike Krzyzewski managed these personalities masterfully.
Still, Team USA’s gold medal run was not without its individual heroics: Carmelo Anthony’s 37 points against Nigeria, shattering Starbury’s U.S. Olympic scoring record, come to mind. So do LeBron James’ triple double against Australia and Kevin Durant’s 30 in the Olympic final versus the Spaniards.
So with medals handed out to the three best teams, Sheridan Hoops would like to reward the five finest individual efforts of these 2012 Olympics. And in a tournament where LeBron led Team USA in assists from the power forward slot, I decided to keep the positional rigidity at a minimum.
Manu Ginobili, G, Argentina
19.4 PPG | 5.4 RPG | 4.1 APG
Argentina came to London with hopes of squeezing one more Olympic medal into their satchel (gold in ’04, bronze in ’08), but reality struck early on as Pablo Prigioni missed some time with kidney stones and Andres Nocioni struggled to find himself. This team was old, and in desperate need of some youthful energy off of their bench outside of the fleet footed, junk jabbing Facundo Campazzo. Because Argentina couldn’t simply spawn talent and fresher legs, Ginobili demanded more out of himself. More as a ball handler, where Manu regularly initiated the team’s offense and thrice handed out six or more assists; more on the glass, where he pulled down 10 boards in a crucial opening win against Lithuania; and more from the free throw line, where he attempted 34 and made 34. We’ve likely seen Manu Ginobili in Argentina’s blue and white for the final time, but the 35-year-old made damn sure he wouldn’t be fast forgotten.
Kevin Durant, F, United States
19.5 | 5.8 RPG | 2.6 APG
Two summers ago at the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, Kevin Durant routinely split and shot over double teams on his way to a gold medal for Team USA. Durant led the team in scoring and was the easy choice for tourney MVP, but what did we expect? No Kobe, no LeBron, no Carmelo. This time, they were all in USA jerseys. Kobe was the established veteran, LeBron was the alpha male and ‘Melo offered some of the prettiest scoring spurts we’ve seen in international history. But even with the veterans in attendance, the 23-year-old Durant’s 19.5 points led Team USA in scoring. With a gold medal on the line against Spain, it was Durant who poured home 30 points. And with the best players in the world all gathered in London, it was Durant who proved again why he’s the best scorer in the universe.
LeBron James, F, United States
13.2 PPG | 5.6 RPG | 5.6 APG
I remember a time when LeBron James would pass the ball late in a game and we would treat it like a white flag. He should have taken it himself. He’s afraid of the moment. Jordan never would have passed it. But with an NBA Championship ring on the way and a bouquet of talent around him, the pressure seemed to dissipate long enough for LeBron to relax into his do-it-all role and put on show after show. When he wanted to score—like in the fourth quarter of Team USA’s 99-94 win over Lithuania—he scored. Since Team USA was thin up front, Coach K asked him to defend power forwards and help out on the boards. And when he wanted to show us a little bit of everything, he turned in the first triple double in U.S. basketball history against Australia: 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. The best player in the world is even better than we thought.
Andrei Kirilenko, F, Russia
17.5 PPG | 7.5 RPG | 1.9 SPG
Look at the guys on this team with Andrei: Durant, Pau, Manu, LeBron. Four guys that can flat out make a play with the ball when you need one. Durant’s likely to shoot, Pau likely to post, Manu likely to attack and LeBron—well, we know he’ll do something impressive. But what makes Andrei a strange fit with this group is what makes him a perfect fit for Russia: he does his best work with the ball in someone else’s hands. As charming as that trait can be when Shved and Co. are hitting around him, AK’s reluctance to isolate and attack has drawn criticism from folks who want to see the Russian forward take games over. Would Russia like him to be more of a one-on-one threat? I’m sure they would, but that’s just not what Kirilenko does. What he does is exist seamlessly in an offense that requires its forwards to pass like guards, rebound likes centers and slash like wings. Instead of worrying about the very little Kirilenko doesn’t do, David Blatt is perfectly happy sculpting this Russian program around all of the brilliant things he does do.
Pau Gasol, PF, Spain
19.1 PPG | 7.6 RPG | 2.9 APG
When analyzing the gold medal rosters, it’s pretty difficult to point your finger at anyone on Team USA and call their London campaign “disappointing.” Everyone showed up ready to run fast and play a role and for the majority of these Olympics, each American did his job. But it’s a different story when you look at Spain’s roster. Jose Calderon dribbled the line between situationally aware and overly cautious, Juan Carlos Navarro gave us only one half of La Bomba (19 points in the first half against the U.S.), Rudy Fernandez’s 2012 will surely be remembered more for his histrionics than his high scoring, and Serge Ibaka’s play was up and down like the minutes he received. And then there’s Pau Gasol, who crept dangerously close to a triple double with his 24 point, 8 rebound, 7 assist performance in the gold medal game, and who led Spain in all three statistical categories for the tournament. Pau’s supporting cast can be mercurial at times, but the one thing that never falters is their undying trust in his ability to keep them in every game. With performances like these, it’s easy to see why.
Second Team: Patrick Mills (Australia), Alexey Shved (Russia), Nicolas Batum, (France), Luis Scola (Argentina), Marc Gasol (Spain)