USA Basketball’s men’s team is in crisis. Days before the team is scheduled to fly to Tokyo for the Olympics, the team suddenly has at least two open roster spots, and possibly three.
Bradley Beal is off the team after being placed in Health and Safety protocol. Kevin Love also withdrew as he recovers from a calf injury. Jerami Grant’s status is up in the air, too, after he was placed in Health and Safety protocol this week. (Update: Team USA has added JaVale McGee and Keldon Johnson)
Team USA’s three-game exhibition run exposed some deep problems within the roster. The U.S. lost exhibitions to Nigeria and Australia in Las Vegas before bouncing back to blow out Argentina. The Americans didn’t have three key players in those exhibitions — Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday — because they are currently competing in the NBA Finals. How much each player will have left in the tank after long playoff runs remains up for debate.
Team USA needs reinforcements, and now they’re able to add some. While losing Beal hurts, Love never should have been on the team in the first place. There are two big issues with the 12-man roster the U.S. originally picked: it lacked size inside and a reliable facilitator. Here are nine options who could fill those holes.
9. Onyeka Okongwu
Okongwu played limited minutes off the bench behind Clint Capela as a rookie for the Atlanta Hawks, but he put together a stellar playoff performance that served as a reminder of why he was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The USC product is a bit undersized for a center at 6’9, 235 pounds, but his length, quickness, and sharp instincts help make him a versatile and effective defender.
Team USA could use another center option behind Bam Adebayo, and the pickings are relatively slim for American-born centers. Okongwu could be a nice defensive complement off the bench who could provide multiple pick-and-roll coverage options and some paint protection.
8. Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson is another undersized big man, but he has the length (7’4 wingspan) to contest shots in the paint as a backup center option for Team USA. The former No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Jackson missed most of his third pro season with a torn meniscus, but returned for the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of the year. At his best, he’s a dynamic three-point shooter at 6’11 who would provide Team USA with an additional pick-and-pop option.
Jackson isn’t a strong rebounder and has a history of getting into foul trouble, so his translation to FIBA would be interesting. There’s no denying his talent, though. His length and shooting would help this squad.
7. Richaun Holmes
Holmes enjoyed a breakout season at age-27 for the Sacramento Kings this past year, averaging 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. Holmes was a second round draft pick back in 2015 and has been something of a journeyman throughout the start of his pro career, but he’s arguably the best center option on the free agent market this summer. While it would be risky to play in the Olympics before signing a contract, it’s possible Holmes could really raise his value with an impressive run in the Olympics.
Holmes is at his best as a lob catcher on offense and a rim protector on defense. The 6’10 big man has long arms and nice vertical pop around the basket. He’d give Team USA another paint presence off the bench that it’s lacking behind Adebayo.
6. De’Aaron Fox
Fox had a killer fourth season for the Sacramento Kings, averaging a career-high 25.2 points and 7.2 assists per game. He’s one of the league’s fastest players with the ball in his hands, and would give the Americans a dribble-drive threat who could collapse opposing defenses. Fox is also a good playmaker who could get the U.S. into its offense in the halfcourt where it can swing the ball to star shooters like Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum.
Fox’s teammate in Sacramento, Tyrese Haliburton, was another option because of his advanced shooting and arguably superior passing ability. We’ll give Fox the edge because he’s a better scorer and defender. He’s earned this opportunity after a strong start to his NBA career.
5. LaMelo Ball
Ball enjoyed a tremendous debut season with the Charlotte Hornets on his way to winning Rookie of the Year after being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Still only 19 years old, Ball is a huge 6’8 point guard with gifted playmaking ability. He would fill one of Team USA’s biggest holes as a skilled distributor who could get the ball to the team’s best scorers.
Before you say Ball is too young for this opportunity, remember that Ricky Rubio played for Spain in the 2008 Olympics at 17 years old. Ball’s ability to break down opposing defenses off the dribble and throw every pass in the book would be an awesome addition. He’d be really fun to play with for the other veteran stars on the team, too.
4. Jarrett Allen
If we exclude Brook Lopez because he’s playing in the NBA Finals and Myles Turner because he’s recovering from a toe injury, Allen is probably the best American big man available. At 6’11, 245 pounds, Allen is a monster lob target and paint protector with a massive 7’6 wingspan. He’d block shots, catch alley-oops, and help on the glass for Team USA.
Allen is also an upcoming free agent, and might not want to play because of that. It’s hard to think of a better American-born option for the front court, though.
3. Ja Morant
Morant continued to prove he’s one of the best young players in the NBA during his second season with the Memphis Grizzlies. The 6’3 point guard led his team to a surprising playoff appearance by advancing through the play-in tournament, where he put up 35 points to help upset the Golden State Warriors to punch his team’s ticket to the postseason. Even if his regular season numbers stagnated a bit, he’d be a perfect fit on this team because of his playmaking ability.
Morant (or Ball, or the next name on this list) would immediately be the best passer on the Team USA roster. He’s a dynamic driver off the dribble and can whip passes to open shooters or finishers with either hand. Like Ball, he’d also be a welcome injection of youthful energy for the squad.
2. Trae Young
Young is coming off a phenomenal run in the NBA playoffs that solidified his superstar status. The diminutive point guard led the Atlanta Hawks on a shocking run to the Eastern Conference Finals as an unstoppable scorer and facilitator off the dribble. Young’s ability to pick apart defenses as a live dribble passer would greatly benefit Team USA. The roster currently has no one on his level as a playmaker.
Young is also a skilled scorer who was routinely popping off for 40-point games in the postseason. He should have been on this roster from day one.
1. Zion Williamson
Williamson should have been a top priority for USA Basketball when the roster was originally put together. One of the very best young players in the game, Williamson is an ultra-powerful 6’6 forward who blossomed into one of the best and most efficient scorers alive in his second season. He’s arguably the best young American player alive, and could be the face of USA Basketball for years to come.
In these Olympics, Williamson could be a small ball center option who could be too fast for opposing fives to defend at the international level. It’s a damn shame Zion wasn’t on this team originally, but maybe Team USA can convince him to join days before they fly out to Tokyo.