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Who Are the Biggest Surprises on the Team USA Olympic Basketball Team?

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics is right around the corner. And USA Basketball hopes to avenge its major loss at the 2019 FIBA World Cup with another gold medal. They recently announced the first 44 finalists for the roster. While we expected some of these names, several stand out as interesting choices. Let’s look at the biggest surprises on the initial Team USA Olympic roster.

The triumph of the 2016 Olympic USA Basketball team

In the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, USA Basketball prevailed for the third straight Summer Games. They netted their sixth gold medal since NBA players began participating in the competition in 1992. Leading scorers included

  • Kevin Durant: 19.4 points per game
  • Carmelo Anthony: 12.1 points per game
  • Paul George: 11.3 points per game
  • Klay Thompson: 9.9 points per game

Team USA finished 8-0 in the tournament, crushing Serbia 96-66 in the finals. The always-competitive Spanish national team won the bronze medal game eking out a one-point victory over Australia. 

USA Basketball’s disappointing 2019 FIBA World Cup performance

If 2016 represented the pinnacle for Team USA in the current era of basketball, the team’s performance at the 2019 FIBA World Cup represented the opposite. Led by Spurs legendary leader Gregg Popovich but largely devoid of star power, Team USA limped its way to a seventh-place finish. They finished 6-2 overall, defeating Poland in the seventh/eighth place game. France ousted them in the quarterfinals of tournament play, 89-79. 

The FIBA World Cup may not be the Olympics, and the team may not have had the usual stars on the roster. But the fact of the matter is that Team USA’s last international experience was an embarrassment they want to redeem come August. 

The biggest surprises on Team USA Olympic Basketball’s final 44

Kyle Kuzma talks to the media following the 2019 USA Men's National Team World Cup training camp
Kyle Kuzma talks to the media | Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

USA Basketball has narrowed its candidates for the 2020 Olympic squad down to 44 candidates, reports Team USA. Some names are unsurprising: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, and Bradley Beal all made the cut. But we saw some surprises, too. Here are some of the most head-scratching choices: 

  • Dwight Howard: He’s still in great shape and having a wonderful year with Los Angeles. Howard would likely be added to the team as a rim protector, but the way the game is evolving, teams typically have less need for traditional big men. Howard’s spotty injury record also makes him unlikely to qualify.
  • Kevin Love: At first glance, this is a confusing pick. This season, Love has pouted his way through a bad year. But any fans of international basketball competition will know why his name is here. Big men with an outside shot typically fare well under FIBA rules. Love may not make the team, but his inclusion wouldn’t be a shock. 
  • Kevin Durant: Of course, he will play if healthy. Durant was one of the league’s elites — probably one of the top three in the NBA. But he’d have to be 100% healthy. It’d be surprising if he ended up competing in the 2020 Olympics as he’ll likely be finalizing his return from injury to NBA competition for the 2020-21 season. 
  • Kyle Kuzma: He’s by no means a bad player, but Kuzma hasn’t developed into the star the Lakers hoped for. Consider him a long shot to make Team USA. 
  • Joe Harris: The Nets’ guard/forward has evolved into a nice complimentary player. But the Olympics squad is typically made up of the best of the best. Although Harris makes solid contributions at the NBA level, he likely won’t come close to sniffing this final cut. He’s a holdover from the World Cup nightmare — and the less that team is remembered, the better.