Team USA Player Pool: Picking the 2024 USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team

Team USA Player Pool: Picking the 2024 USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team article feature image

Via Getty Images/Action Network Design. Pictured (left to right): Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Steph Curry, LeBron James & Grant Hill.

USA Basketball announced the 41 players who will try out for the 12 slots on the next Olympic team, and there is therefore no better time to dive into who should be on the team. Here is the complete list:

The Paris Player Pool 🫡


— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) January 23, 2024

Grant Hill has a hard decision on his hands to put team USA in the best spot to win, and I figure I should help him figure it out. In overly general terms, here is what USA Basketball should (and should not) be looking for:

  1. Two big men to play 40 total minutes. They should be able to defend, protect the paint and rebound.
  2. A third big man to back up the other two, just in case of injury.
  3. A LOT of players who can shoot and defend. At almost no point should Team USA have more than one non-shooter on the floor or one negative defender, which means there are limited spots for players who aren't good at both of ends.
  4. At least two point guards. This means guys that can bring up the ball and also set up teammates.
  5. Almost half the team should be under 30. Of the players invited, 15 of them will be 30+ by the time of the Olympics, while 26 will not. It's important to try and set up some continuity for the future.
  6. Players who have not already shown a propensity for struggling at the international level or adapting to the international game. With so many viable candidates, there is no need to bring someone who we already know won't succeed.
  7. They should give some preference to players who showed up last year. No one wanted to play, and those who did had a real sacrifice to do so, especially on a team that was almost doomed from the start.
  8. Not everyone can play half the game. We need at least two players who are okay playing a few minutes a game but can be called on when needed.

Over the summer, I dove into the age question for USA Basketball as well. Here are some age-related observations for the past four Olympic teams:

  • Only three players over the age of 32 played on an Olympic team over that span: 35-year-old Jason Kidd in 2008, 33-year-old Kobe Bryant in 2012 and 33-year-old JaVale McGee in 2020.
  • In total, nine players 30 or older have played on those four teams. Five of them were on the 2020 team, which won gold (Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard and McGee).
  • 32 of the 48 players were between 23 and 28 years old, which is also when most players are in their prime.
  • The average age on these teams was 26, 25.8, 26.7 and 27.7.

Team USA Player Pool for 2024 Men's Olympic Basketball Team

Player NamePlayer NamePlayer Name
Bam AdebayoAnthony EdwardsLeBron James
Jarrett AllenJoel EmbiidCam Johnson
Paolo BancheroDe'Aaron FoxWalker Kessler
Desmond BanePaul GeorgeKawhi Leonard
Scottie BarnesAaron GordonDamian Lillard
Devin BookerTyrese HaliburtonDonovan Mitchell
Mikal BridgesJames HardenChris Paul
Jaylen BrownJosh HartBobby Portis
Jalen BrunsonTyler HerroAustin Reaves
Jimmy ButlerJrue HolidayDuncan Robinson
Alex CarusoChet HolmgrenJayson Tatum
Stephen CurryBrandon IngramDerrick White
Anthony DavisKyrie IrvingTrae Young
Kevin DurantJaren Jackson Jr.

Immediately Eliminated

Let's get to it.

For starters, I want to eliminate nine players right off the bat:

  • Too old – Chris Paul: He's just too old at this point, too easily injured and not a shooting plus or a defensive plus. It's time for a new generation.
  • Poor fit –Jaren Jackson, Trae Young, Paolo Banchero: Jackson Jr. couldn't rebound at this level, and he wasn't able to make a defensive impact. Young, on the other hand, is really good but is a defensive liability and actually isn't as good of a 3-point shooter as the rest of the point guards. Banchero isn't a defensive center, isn't a great shooter and makes his living at the free throw line. If there were fewer guys, he would be a fun wildcard, but in this situation and after not being great last summer, he doesn't make the cut.
  • Not good enough – Walker Kessler, Jarret Allen, Bobby Portis, Tyler Herro, Josh Hart & Cam Johnson: Kessler, Allen and Portis suffer because there are a ton of big men to choose from, and they just don't provide enough. Allen and Kessler aren't good enough shooters, and Portis isn't a good enough defender. Herro just doesn't provide enough defense or shooting as the other guys. Josh Hart and Cam Johnson are the weakest wings left, and Hart can't really shoot in the NBA, while Johnson shot 24% in the World Championships.
  • No way do I want you on Team USA – James Harden, Kyrie Irving: These players are supposed to represent the best of America. Irving has a lot of issues that we don't need to go into here, and Harden has now pouted his way off of multiple teams. We can pick the best, and we don't need to bring these two.

Before we dive into the positional spectrum, there is one other elephant in the room.

The Centerpiece

Joel Embiid (31):

Team USA has never had a player like Embiid before.

Embiid is a center who dominates the ball. Shaquille O'Neal played for team USA, but his Usage Rate topped out at 32.86%. Embiid has been over 37% for three straight NBA seasons. He shoots from everywhere, he can score from anywhere, and he can defend the paint as a strong defender and rebounder.

Since the Redeem Team in 2008, most USA teams have been built in the same way: with two big men who play as cogs in the machine but aren't called upon to be volume scorers. Embiid would change all of this and change the tenor of the team.

Not only that, Embiid is also in his prime MVP form. The other players are in a different tier from Embiid right now, so the first question Grant Hill (and Team USA) has to answer is if he wants to build a team around Embiid or build one without him.

There are valid points to both sides, but the emotional component makes this decision. Embiid had a choice about which country to play for, and he emotionally picked the USA. There isn't an option to not take him, which means he takes the first spot, and we build the rest of the team around him.

Team USA 1: Joel Embiid

The Rest of the Big Men

Team USA has three other true big men auditioning for the team after cutting out the five above:

  • Anthony Davis (31)
  • Bam Adebayo (26)
  • Chet Holmgren (21)

I eliminated the other five because this bunch is so clearly superior to the rest. Let's compare them (and Embiid) in a few key categories:

  • Defense: This bunch is really good defensively. Adebayo is probably the best coordinator of a defense and jack of all trades, but he is the worst rim protector of the bunch. AD is a proven elite defensive player and is probably the best one come the playoffs in the NBA. Embiid is probably the worst overall defender of the bunch. Holmgren's defense has been great this season. Rank, from best to worst: AD, Adebayo, Holmgren, Embiid
  • Shooting: Holmgren is a really, really good shooter. He is hitting 39% of his threes this year (best of the bunch) and 54% on short midrange shots (and 50% overall). He is the best guy to expect to make open shots. Embiid is also a phenomenal shooter (he did have 70+ points the other night), and he is shooting 53% on long midrange shots this year, which is sort of insane. AD is streaky, and Bam isn't really an outside shooter. Rank: Embiid, Holmgren, AD, Adebayo
  • Rebounding: AD is a rebounding threat on both ends and is one of the best rebounders in the NBA. Embiid is a solid rebounder as well, just behind AD in per-minute stats. Adebayo is at the same level on the defensive glass but isn't as much of an offensive threat, and Holmgren hasn't yet proven to be a great rebounder yet (and it shows in OKC). Rank: AD, Embiid, Adebayo, Holmgren
  • Overall Offense: I'm creating this category because team USA hasn't had a player like Embiid on the team, a primary-option big-man scorer, since 1996 (when Barkley and David Robinson led the team in scoring). Embiid is an offensive hub, unlike the other three, who are complementary.

We are already bringing Embiid, who is going to soak up the majority of the minutes. I want to bring two other centers — one who can maybe play with Embiid, and one who can definitely take up the rest of the minutes when he is off the floor.

Holmgren is the first addition. He can potentially play the four next to Embiid with his shooting and would be fine not playing. He is a great guy to get onto the team now to grow for the future.

AD vs. Adebayo is a tough one. Davis is a better rim protector, a better outside shooter and a better rebounder. Adebayo, though, is better under a variety of defensive schemes and is a better passer and dribbler. AD is a solid switch defender but is great in drop. However, Adebayo is four years younger and in his prime. Adebayo is a great switch defender and quarterback of the defense, and he provides different defensive strengths than Embiid.

In the 2028 Olympics, we are going to need Adebayo, Mobley, Holmgren and/or Jackson Jr. to step up and deal with Jokic/Wemby, and I'd rather have two of them on this team. Adebayo also played in the 2020 Olympics, while AD has missed every year since 2014. I want to reward recent loyalty, and I'd go with Adebayo by a hair and have AD as my first alternate.

Team USA 2, 3: Bam Adebayo, Chet Holmgren

Point Guards

Team USA has five point guards left:

  • Jalen Brunson (27)
  • Stephen Curry (36)
  • Tyrese Haliburton (24)
  • De'Aaron Fox (26)
  • Damian Lillard (33)

All of these players have strengths and weaknesses. None is a great defender, but we still need two point guards on this team, which means the rest of the players on this team need to be strong defensively.

Since shooting is a clear priority, the first addition is Curry. Even with Lillard, he is in a class of his own and will help open up the floor. He is also maybe the second-best defender of this bunch as he gets his hands in passing lanes and has clearly shown an ability to win at all levels.

I'm also leaving Lillard off the team. He is a great shooter, but his skill set is ultimately redundant with Curry's, he's just not as good off the ball, and he's a worse defender. Lillard was on the 2020 team, shot terribly and never had an impact. I don't think he is a player for the international stage.

The other three are all young point guards whom Americans would want to grow with the team. Haliburton and Brunson were both on the 2023 team, and Haliburton shot better. He also has taken this Indiana offense to incredible heights, would be a huge addition to this team and would be a great fit running the pick and roll with Embiid.

Brunson is a decent defender, while Fox hasn't shown that propensity. I think Fox is ultimately a better player, and he will help push it in transition like Haliburton will. Brunson wasn't that great on the 2023 team, and I'd like to bring in fresh blood over him, if possible. Ultimately, I'm not taking Fox now, as I think we will have more playmaking at the other positions (with Embiid), but he would be my first point-guard alternate.

Team USA 4, 5: Stephen Curry, Tyrese Haliburton

Combo Guards

Team USA has nine remaining combo guards.

There are four elite playmakers:

  • Devin Booker (27)
  • Donovan Mitchell (27)
  • Anthony Edwards (22)
  • Desmond Bane (25)

There are three elite defenders:

  • Derrick White (29)
  • Jrue Holiday (33)
  • Alex Caruso (30)

Then there are Austin Reaves (played hard last time) and Duncan Robinson (the second-best 3-point shooter at camp).

Team USA has invited three players who are in their prime as top-10 NBA player: Embiid, Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker. Booker is the best shooter and best passer of the bunch, and last year in the playoffs he showed that he can defend at a near-elite level. He can also play on and off the ball. I mentioned this over the summer, but if he wants to be on the team, then he is the next guy I'm definitely bringing.

Team USA 6: Devin Booker

I think team USA should bring an elite guard defender. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be there, and I want to be sure I have someone whom I can put on him and be another quarterback of the defense. Since we are playing Embiid a lot of minutes, then I want another elite defender I can put out there in crunch time.

If I were adding just based on this season, I'd add Derrick White, who has been the best of the bunch this season. The Celtics defense is even better when White is out there (seven points better per 100 possessions), and that's consistent with last year as well. Now that he and Jrue Holiday are on the same team, he looks like the better defender right now, and Holiday is older and could always be slower.

However, I would pick Caruso. Every year of his career, defenses are much better when he is out there, even the Bulls now. He was picked all defense over White last year, and he makes every play. He is used to having a low Usage Rate on offense, and he has never been on Team USA.

It may be a little personal, but I'd bring him over White for some fresh blood (and championship experience). He is also fine if he doesn't play, which is important on a team with stars throughout the roster.

Team USA 7: Alex Caruso

Ultimately, I'm not bringing another combo guard. Mitchell is a worse version of Booker, and I don't really need Edwards' or Bane's skill set. Robinson is an incredible shooter but a lackluster defender, and Hill can't take those sorts of players.

If I could, I would bring Reaves. He plays his ass off all the time and is willing to play in any sort of spot. However, I want as many big wings as I can get, and I'd rather fill out the remaining five spots with forwards.

Wings and Forwards

There are nine wings and forwards left, and they essentially divide into three categories:

Old Legends: Players who have been All-Stars and All-NBA:

  • Jimmy Butler (34)
  • Kevin Durant (35)
  • Paul George (34)
  • LeBron James (39)
  • Kawhi Leonard (32)

Young(er) sub-All-Star players (or end of bench All-Stars)

  • Scottie Barnes (22)
  • Mikal Bridges (27)
  • Jaylen Brown (27)
  • Brandon Ingram (26)
  • Aaron Gordon (28)

Team USA 8: Jayson Tatum: Tatum (26) is in his own category because he is the only one on this list who is in his prime, is an elite defender and an elite shooter. He fit in seamlessly on the 2020 team and is the easiest addition from this category.

For the old legends, how does Hill choose? Is team USA really going to say no to any of those five? None of the younger players are as good as Tatum or are good enough to warrant guaranteed inclusion. We currently have four players under 30, which makes me think we should bring one of the four younger wings.

However, three of them aren't good enough.

Scottie Barnes is young, but the Raptors just dealt Siakam because Barnes wasn't good enough the ball. On a team where he will never be the primary option, it doesn't make sense to have him.

Jaylen Brown has the most experience playing off the ball, but it's unclear how good his defense is outside of the Boston system. In 2019, he went to the World Championships and wasn't that impactful.

Brandon Ingram was on the team in 2023, and he was bad. He isn't an elite shooter or player off of the ball, and he's also not an elite defender.

Aaron Gordon is really good and has proven to be amazing with Nikola Jokic. He is a perfect fit in Denver, but I think there is a better fit for Team USA.

This leaves us with Mikal Bridges. In 2023, Bridges played okay for the team but was asked to do too much. We have seen Bridges as a complementary piece, and he can defend and shoot. He fits into almost any situation and is never hurt. In 2023, he shot 63% from the field and 56% from 2 while committing few turnovers. As a complementary piece, he is perfect.

Team USA 9: Mikal Bridges

What About the Greatest American Players Who Are Now Old?

I don't envy Grant Hill's job, especially dealing with this last part.

As a reminder, we have three spots left, and here are the five candidates for those spots:

  • LeBron James, 39 years old: He is a top-two player of all time, won four NBA Finals MVPs, four regular season MVPs and is still an elite player who said he wants to go to the Olympics.
  • Kevin Durant, 35 years old: He has won two NBA Finals MVPs, one regular season MVP, is one of the greatest shooters ever and is a top-20 all time player.
  • Kawhi Leonard, 33 years old: He has two NBA Finals MVPs, two Defensive Player of the Year Awards, is one of the greatest playoff players ever currently playing at one of his best levels ever. He's also currently shooting 45% from 3 and 80% at the rim and has never played for team USA.
  • Paul George, 34 years old: He's a six-time All-NBA, four-time All-Defense, one of the three best defensive wings of the last 15 seasons and an elite 3-point shooter. Before the 2014 FIBA Championship, Paul George fractured his leg and has never played for team USA.
  • Jimmy Butler, 34 years old: He has taken Miami to two NBA finals and a conference finals and is incredible in the playoffs year after year. He's not a great 3-point shooter during the regular season but is during the playoffs. He is an elite defender and has never played for team USA.

How could any person pick between these five?

If I were Hill, my first goal would be to try to convince James to let the next generation have this one. James would be six years older than the oldest previous Olympics player — it's time to pass the torch.

I am also definitely bringing Paul George. For those who don't remember, Paul George planned on playing with the team in 2014 before suffering a gruesome leg injury. If he wants to play, they owe him a real shot now.

Team USA 10: Paul George

Between the other three, Butler is the best defender still but the worst shooter, Leonard is great at both but is getting older, and Durant has shown time and time again an ability to fit in seamlessly with other great players.

Butler is the guy who most people will drop and ultimately whom I think Grant Hill would choose to leave behind if he could. However, one thing that I want on this team is guys who will compete hard all the time and who always want to win, and that's Butler.

He is part of the story of the NBA over the last four seasons, and I know he will be a defensive monster with Embiid (also I like the symmetry after the conclusion of their time in Philadelphia). Butler is also the best American playoff player over the last four seasons, and I want to bring guys who have proven an ability to win at the highest levels.

Team USA 11: Jimmy Butler

Between Durant and Leonard, I would be surprised if both were healthy by the time the Olympics come around. Leonard is the youngest on this list, and I like bringing in fresh blood. I have some concerns about Durant, and if the situation calls for a high-level defender, Leonard will give me more in that spot. It'll be hard to see what Hill does, but if I'm the one, I'm asking Durant to do the same as James, and I try to leave this for the next generation.

Team USA 12: Kawhi Leonard

Full Roster

  1. Joel Embiid (30)
  2. Bam Adebayo (26)
  3. Chet Holmgren (21)
  4. Stephen Curry (36)
  5. Tyrese Haliburton (24)
  6. Devin Booker (27)
  7. Alex Caruso (30)
  8. Jayson Tatum (26)
  9. Mikal Bridges (27)
  10. Paul George (34)
  11. Jimmy Butler (34)
  12. Kawhi Leonard (32)

Top Alternates

  • Big: Anthony Davis
  • Wing/Forward: Kevin Durant
  • Combo: Donovan Mitchell (playmaking), Derrick White (defense), Austin Reaves (toughness)
  • Point Guard: De'Aaron Fox

The average age is about 29 years, and half of the team is under 30. This seems to be the best mix of young talent and veteran players.

We have three big men, five forwards and four guards, which is the exact composition of the 2020 team. If we want to win gold, these are hard decisions, but to my eye, this is the best roster that gives Team USA a chance to win now but also isn't too old and has a lot of shooting and defense.

Grant Hill, I'm more than happy to have made these decisions for you so that you can make your life a little easier.

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