July 12, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; United States guard Kevin Durant (5) against the Dominican Republic at the Thomas and Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

USA Basketball: Kevin Durant, not LeBron James, is Team USA’s most important player


Team USA will begin pool play in the London Olympics Sunday at 9:30 a.m. EST vs. France. The United States are unsurprisingly considered the heavy favorites to win gold in these Olympics.

The roster envisioned for the United States this year did not end up going as planned. Injuries kept Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh from making the journey to London this summer, leaving the U.S. with a talented but incomplete roster.

The likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant will be on the floor for the United States but this team has a real weakness. They are a small team with only three legit bigs in Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has elected to play a lot of small lineups including ones where LeBron and Durant are at the center position. This will be something that will really put the U.S. at a disadvantage when they play a team like Spain who features the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka.

The United States should still be able to make up for their weakness with superior talent. LeBron is no doubt their leader, coming off another MVP season and winning the first NBA title of his career.

But LeBron is not the most important player for Team USA. That title belongs to Durant.

This is not to say that LeBron isn’t the best player or most talented player on Team USA. It’s just that this team’s ceiling and its potential is only reached with Durant playing at an extremely high level, one in which we’d consider calling him Team USA’s best player.

Durant is simply made for the international game. Shooting the shorter 3-pointer is like a layup for him especially with no country stocked well enough with defenders long enough to bother his feathery jumper. He’s made it look easy in Team USA’s five exhibitions averaging 17.6 points per game and shooting .552 percent from beyond the arc.

Durant will be asked to do some things he is not entirely comfortable with too in playing the four and five positions, banging with physical bigs from Europe and rotating over in the paint to help protect the rim. If he’s able to pull that off well enough and lead the team in scoring at the other end, shooting the kind of percentages he showed in the exhibitions, then he will be considered Team USA’s best player as they most likely bring him the gold.

It will be another example of LeBron’s talents being taken for granted. LeBron does like it this way though. LeBron will get lost in the shuffle in these Olympics to an extent as he too is asked to defend bigger players and do a lot of the dirty work on defense.

On offense, LeBron will comfortably play the distributor role. Teams will throw zone at the U.S. on a nightly basis which will force LeBron into this role, one he will smartly accept and excel at. He just won’t be noticed as much while he’s doing it, especially because Durant will be scoring 20-plus points every night and draining 5-plus threes per game.

When you look at the United States’ roster, they look beatable. When you watch them play in their exhibitions, you see their flaws. A good international team will take advantage of these things and make the United States pay. It would be enough to win if not for Durant.

Every time another country executes their offense to perfection, beating the United States just barely on a backdoor pass and finishing with a layup that breathes that much more hope into their minds for a potential upset, Durant will simply walk into another 24-footer on the other end of the floor, sucking the life and hope right back out of them.

Durant represents the United States’ basketball talent dominance better than any other player in these Olympics including LeBron. Teams can match up with LeBron in some ways under international rules. They can take him out of the game some but Durant, they just have no chance.

Team USA should be standing on the podium a little over two weeks from now and a little higher than any other country. They should win gold and when they do, it will be because of Durant more than any other player.

LeBron has proved he is the best player in the NBA. But the title for best player in the world, Durant may have a case there.

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Tags: 2012 Olympics Kevin Durant Kobe Bryant LeBron James Spain USA Basketball

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