Last week I produced an in-depth exploration of racial and ethnic perceptions in the NBA (note: italics are my sarcasm font for this sentence), so I think it’s time to shift my focus elsewhere.  Today we’re going to examine the geopolitical dimensions of the NBA’s global infrastructure, and maybe use applied macroeconomic models as an interpretative framework to…

Actually, I’m not exactly sure what the word “geopolitical” means and I’m too lazy to google it right now.  However, we are going to do some mind-bending stuff here.  You are used to basketbawful being the place to read about “the very best of the worst” of professional basketball.  Today, we are flipping things upside down.  Today, we are going to look at the “worst of the best” of U.S. Olympic basketball.

Make no mistake, ever since the Dream Team’s 1992 obesity-promotion campaign, we’ve seen some questionable talent don the American jersey.  But really, the main reason we laugh at the thought of players like Christian Laettner getting included on the U.S. Olympic team is because the talent around Laettner was so good, it made him look bad.  Laettner wasn’t a god-awful player in his NBA career (yes, that’s a compliment).  But he definitely doesn’t belong on a team with the NBA’s elite.  Keep that in mind as we go through this list…all of these players were quality players for at least a few years.  It’s not like the USA was ever suiting up the likes of Tyronn Lue (presumably because our coaches never felt the need to add a player with the role of “guy-who-gets-stepped-over-after-a-jumper-is-splashed-right-in-his-mug.”)

With that said, here is my starting five of the “worst” U.S. Olympians.  I’ve based my decisions almost entirely on their NBA careers, with only minor consideration given to their actual Olympic performance.  As always, your comments and corrections are welcome.


Point Guard = Stephon Marbury (Member of 2004 bronze medal winning team)
marbury usa
Yo…are those the new Starburys??!!

Which was the more misinformed decision during the Bush presidency: to invade Iraq because of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, or to include and start both Marbury AND Allen Iverson on the 2004 U.S. team?  To Marbury’s credit, he did shoot a full five percentage points higher than Iverson in Athens (42% compared to 37%). However, with utterly no regard for defense (or practice), the Marbury-Iverson pair was a match made in advanced-metrics hell.

Marbury may have been an exciting player but he was not a winning player. He was traded three times (four if you count draft night), he had a career 43.3 FG%, his career offensive production per 100 possessions was lower (108) than his defensive points allowed (110), and (not counting his bench-riding role on the Celtics) he never made it to the second round of the playoffs.  His 35.5 FG% during the playoffs may have had something to do with that. 


Shooting Guard = Allan Houston (Member of 2000 gold medal winning team)
houston usa
This is the only evidence in existence that Houston ever attempted a shot inside 10 feet. 


Allan Houston was a glorified Kyle Korver.  He had one elite skill (shooting, in case you were wondering), and he translated that into two all-star appearances and earnings of nearly $120 million.  Aside from shooting, Houston was merely an average player and weak defender.  He was the only Olympian to have a career Player Efficiency Rating (14.9) below the league average of 15. In win shares per 48 minutes, another advanced statistic, Houston had a career average (.094) below the league average (.100).

It’s only fitting that two overrated offensively-oriented players like Houston and Marbury got to spend two years together with Isaiah Thomas’ Knicks, and make tens of millions of dollars doing it (technically, they only played together for a small part of those two years…but just let me have this for the sake of symmetry.)


Small Forward = Tayshaun Prince (Member of 2008 gold medal winning team)
Tayshaun Prince
Hard to tell from this angle, but there are only 2.3 inches of space 
between those two defenders.

Prince is a good defender (although he’s declined recently in that arena) and is decent  in almost every other component of the game.  He was actually a perfect fit for the 2008 team. With Wade, Lebron, Kobe, and the rest of the superstars needing plenty of shots, Prince could be the guy who knew his place, stood in the corner, and shot only when passed to. 

Still, Prince is as ever-so-slightly-above-average as you can get in a player who has made it to the highest level of competitive basketball.  His career Player Efficiency Rating, right at the league average of 15, is a testament to that fact.  Plus, he’s the only NBA player who I could take down to the low block.  My shot would get swatted once I got to the block, but the point is, I would make it there. 

If the U.S. Olympic team is supposed to be the best of the best, Prince doesn’t deserve even a tryout.  But, if the Olympic team needs that one guy about whom every team member can say, “Hey, at least my biceps are bigger than THAT guy’s,” Prince is perfect.  He helps builds camaraderie, knows his place, and will probably spend all night exchanging pleasantries with the ugliest girl at the club when the team goes out. 

*Insert record-scratching/rewinding sound here*


Small Forward = Richard Jefferson (Member of 2004 bronze medal winning team)
jefferson usa
Jefferson just looked at the scoreboard and saw his name 
inserted into the “Worst Olympians” lineup.

As soon as I got done writing that nice little reflection on Prince, I realized I was being an idiot.  Richard Jefferson is worse than Prince.  Jefferson’s PER may be slightly higher, but that’s only because of his years getting inflated stats while running the break with J-Kidd.  I’d much rather have Prince on my real team than Jefferson, which means that I’d much rather have Jefferson on this team.


Power Forward = Christian Laettner (Member of 1992 gold medal winning team)
christian-laettner-team-usa
This is what basketball would look like if Hitler would have won World War II.

The spot for worst power forward was surprisingly competitive.  Vin Baker, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Lamar Odom could all make a claim.  But rightly or wrongly, Laettner has become the poster child for out-of-their-league Olympians. 

His NBA career was up-and-down, riddled with injuries, and mostly devoid of defense.  He ended up with career averages of 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 0.8 blocks, while shooting 48% from the field.  His one all-star appearance (with the Hawks) was followed up the next year with Laettner losing his starting job to Alan Henderson.  Surprisingly, he ended up with a solid PER of 16.9, which is either proof that Laettner wasn’t that bad, or John Hollinger isn’t that good (I’ll opt for the former).

Even if Laettner was the worst Olympic power forward, he did play a vital role on the 1992 squad.  If not for his 45% shooting percentage, Michael Jordan would have had the worst shooting percentage on the team (45.1%).  So there’s that.  Also, based on this recent story regarding mismanaged finances, Laettner was probably a whipping boy in all of the high-stakes cards games that you can be sure Barkley and Jordan took part in.  If you feel bad that the big, bad NBA superstars were taking advantage of the young rookie, just remember: he went to Duke.


Center = Emeka Okafor (Member of 2004 bronze medal winning team)
emeka okafor
I don’t know how nervous Okafor was for this picture, but I can 
guarantee more sweat accumulated in his jersey from this photo 
than from any game action in Athens.

Coming straight outta Connecticut, Okafor took the “Christian Laettner Memorial” spot on the U.S. team (a spot now occupied by Anthony Davis).  He had the honor of joining Club Trillion, posting a rare two-trillion against Australia.  His feat would be more impressive if Amare Stoudemire hadn’t done the same thing against Puerto Rico that year.

Okafor has had a fine NBA career, making his mark as a solid low post defender and very good rebounder.  Unfortunately, his offensive game is about as smooth as Tyler the Creator’s voice.  You can’t fault his self-awareness, though: Okafor’s shot attempts per game declined every single season for his first eight years in the league. 

First off the bench:
Vin Baker
Lamar Odom
Shareef Abdur-Rahim

22 Comments:
Anonymous JJ said...
Wow, I had forgotten what misfitting monstrosities were on 2004 team. Looking back, I'm shocked they even got a bronze.

And “Christian Laettner Memorial spot”. Haha, love it.

Blogger markpope said...
great post!
but I still think Vin Baker should be on the starting team anyway, could have replaced okafor or laettner easily.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I... I love you Paul.

Anonymous nico said...
Bravo, thank you for the great post !
(even though a reference including Marbury and vaseline was necessary)

Blogger kazam92 said...
Enjoyed this post. It's still bizarre to me that 04 team ended up with the 03 trio (Melo-Wade-Bron) after about 20 players declined then proceeded to not use them. Granted they were nowhere near the peak of their powers, but they were fresh legs who could outrun those doughy Euros and South Americans

You know what? I nominate Larry Brown as coach for this list. For that and for starting Marbury & Iverson. Yuck

Blogger Passives Abseits said...
Great read...
by the way: should the New Orleans Hornets be worried if they look at the NBA careers of Okafor and Laettner? They need a franchise player and "not an average at good nights but he got an Olympic Gold Medla before he played in the NBA" player...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
as much as i hate tayshaun for his on-court behaviour during my pistons fall from greatness - putting him in the starting five next to the likes of starbury and leattner is too much.. as noted, he was a great fit on that team (like iggy on this years squad). plus he also hit some big shots in the gold-medal game against spain

Blogger Jason said...
Excellent post Paul. Keep up the good work

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I don't know why there's so little feedback, but I really enjoyed this piece, exactly the kind of writing I come to this blog for.

Anonymous Casey said...
I like paul. The caption below the marbury picture made my day.

Anonymous Aaron said...
Why did we have the lockout again? Just so that the stars can't team up? Just so that small-market teams can keep their best players? Just so that there wouldn't be any more ridiculous contracts? Apparently, the only thing the lockout could eliminate is Basketawful.

Blogger JerryT said...
fcuk lebron and his "decision" and his contract being bigger then lebanons yearly income, HATE THE LAKERS!

Blogger Paul said...
A couple quick responses: 1) Vin Baker's great 5 year run (4 all-stars, 2 All-NBA teams) kept him off the team. I still have nightmares about his performance in Boston, though... 2) I'm in on Larry Brown as coach. He can be accompanied by assistant coach Oliver Purnell (also part of the 2004 disaster!)

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This was both insightful and funny. Will look forward to more posts from you, Paul. Great post

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This and the OJ Mayo post were both highly entertaining reads. This blog is really picking it up again.
Keep at it guys

When did Basketbawful turn into ESPN and started blasting PER stats as a panacea argument.

Yeah, it was really funny watching the 2004 US Olympic team - zero shooters on the team, play agains zone. Jefferson hit the side of the backboard on a jumper the opening came...That bad.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
correct me if I'm wrong, but in that link you gave for Okafor's supposedly rare two trillion against australia, it looks like Melo also got a 2 trillion in the same game!

Blogger Paul said...
Melo ruined the trillion by attempting two shots. He did miss both of them, so he arguably had a worse game than Okafor. It depends on whether or not it's better to be apathetic and not even try, or to try and fail.

Blogger Wormboy said...
@ Paul: is it better to be good and catastrophically fail through idiocy, or to just not be good. Vin Baker squandered reasonable talent by becoming a pathetic drunk. I struggle to forgive that, especially since he did it to my Sonics. Then again, Shawn Kemp wasn't much different. There's something especially horrific about guys who just throw their talent away> There's a lot of guys who work their butts off and can't get there because of genetics. OK, yeah, we mock some of them, but really they are better than the ones who squander their talent, no?

Blogger Paul said...
Well it's certainly more frustrating for the fanbase to see what a player is capable of (i.e. Baker), and then to have them piss it all away. Probably it's worse for Baker's own mental state, too. I didn't take potential v. realized potential into consideration in my rankings, but if I did, then Baker is probably in the starting lineup.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This whole article made me sick to my stomach. Not because of your writing, which was very entertaining, but because of the 2000 and 2004 teams. There was no chemistry, charisma or really any likeability to those guys. Oh, and Tayshaun was a perfect fit, if only because you could argue that they didn't put only household names on the team. He did his part though.

Blogger Wormboy said...
@ Paul: You notice some sour grapes on my part? It's hard to have two immature drunks in a row drag down your favorite franchise! :)

@Anonymous: I'd argue that was the state of the NBA at the time. Many called AI the best player in the league, and many didn't turn against him until the Detroit-Denver Billups-AI trade illustrated how much AI harmed his team. While I respect his individual talents, to me AI epitomized the bad basketball player. Starbury was a close second, but never had AI's explosive scoring ability. Both wired wrong, though. Again, I tend to be more forgiving of guys who just don't have top level athleticism in their DNA than guys who have crazy skills but are team cancers.

Side note: anybody notice how many elite athletes had parents who were elite athletes?



Oh, and we gotta get some bawful pages about Dwight going to LA. Easily the most bawful event in months! And more guaranteed bawful to come!

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