Team USA basketball: LeBron James to play point forward at Olympics, with Stephen Curry off ball, per report

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Team USA plans to start LeBron James at the Paris Olympics and use him as a point forward, with Stephen Curry playing primarily off the ball, The Athletic’s Joe Vardon reported Friday, citing two sources with USA Basketball. The coaching staff will get its first look at this in Las Vegas, where training camp will begin on Saturday and Team USA will face Canada in an exhibition game next Wednesday.

One of the many virtues of Team USA’s stacked roster is that everybody can create offense. After stops, coach Steve Kerr will surely empower the team to push the ball and look for easy scoring opportunities, rather than looking for a traditional “point guard” to set things up. The implication here, though, is that, at least with the starting group, James will more often than not be the one who brings the ball up in the halfcourt.

Which, sure! I mean, does it really matter who initiates the offense? Another one of this team’s virtues is that everybody — James included, thanks to his enormously improved spot-up shooting — can also play off the ball. Kerr is the guy who unleashed Curry as the most dangerous off-ball player in the history of the sport, so it’s not surprising that he wants to use Curry this way. 

It’s not surprising, either, that Kerr wants to take advantage of James’ ability to read the game, put people in the right places and target mismatches. A word of caution, though: Don’t take this to mean that Curry is not going to run any pick-and-rolls.

“I’ve talked to both of them about this idea of being together after going against one another with such high stakes over the years,” Kerr told reporters during a press conference on Zoom last week. “They obviously fit really well together. I think the idea of Steph playing off the ball and LeBron pushing it in transition, that’s pretty intriguing. And obviously Steph will play on the ball as well and LeBron has become such a good shooter, but they’re both so good at so many different areas of the game. I think they’re really excited to compete together for the first time and to find, over the course of practices and the friendlies, to find some of the nuances that they can really exploit and explore, too, just to see where they can have an impact for each other.”

Kerr and his coaching staff — Mark Few, Tyronn Lue, and Erik Spoelstra — met in Chicago for what he called a “mini-retreat” leading up to these coming weeks of training and team-building before the real games begin on July 28 (when the United States will play Serbia at the Olympics). The coaches have discussed potential starting lineups and rotations, but now, in scrimmages and exhibition games, they will finally get to try things out.

“My staff and I have talked about it quite a bit,” Kerr told reporters. “It’s a good problem to have, but I think I’m guessing that all 12 players on this roster will be in the Hall of Fame someday, so how do you pick five out of 12? The idea is you find combinations that click and you find two-way lineups that can be effective on both ends, so our big job in Las Vegas is to find five-man combinations that fit and to just ask all 12 guys to fully commit to the goal of winning a gold medal, no matter what it looks like, no matter who’s playing.”

One interesting thing about making James the default initiator on offense: It would allow Team USA to start an absolutely gigantic lineup, if Kerr so chooses. A starting five featuring James, Curry, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and either Kawhi Leonard or Jayson Tatum seems perfectly plausible if James is effectively running point.

This is not to say that Team USA is definitely going to get weird. A more conventional starting lineup, with Curry in the backcourt next to Anthony Edwards, Devin Booker or Jrue Holiday, would work just fine regardless of who is nominally playing point. This roster’s collective talent rivals that of the 1992 Dream Team, so Kerr has all sorts of good options.

Following the exhibition game against Canada at T-Mobile Arena, Team USA will have tune-up games in Abu Dhabi (against Australia on July 15 and Serbia on July 17) and London (against South Sudan on July 20 and Germany on July 22).

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