Sunday, July 14, 2024

Replacing Kawhi Leonard with Derrick White is a mistake: Why USA Basketball made wrong decision for 2024 Olympics | Sporting News

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Derrick White is one of the best 30 players in the NBA. While he’s never made an All-Star game, he drew serious consideration last season.

The Celtics would not have won a title without White fulfilling the role of overqualified glue guy on their team. 

On the surface, that would make him a terrific replacement for Kawhi Leonard, who pulled out of Team USA on Wednesday afternoon. But delve deeper, one thing becomes clear: White was the wrong choice.

MORE: Why Kawhi Leonard is withdrawing from Team USA for the Olympics

Why Derrick White is the wrong Kawhi Leonard replacement for Team USA

Derrick White’s defense won’t be as impactful in international play

White has made a living fitting into any situation, but this is unlike his previous stops for a couple of different reasons. 

White’s defense is not going to be as useful in this type of international setting. While he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA and has made two consecutive All-Defensive teams, the international game is much different from the NBA. Team USA has underachieved in previous international tournaments because they have not adjusted for the increased importance of size.

Offensive rebounding is a much larger part of FIBA rules for a couple of different reasons, including no offensive goaltending and a smaller court where play is more congested. Team USA finished fourth in last summer’s World Cup because of that inability to match up with bigger teams. 

White is a good rebounder, but he does get targeted on defense by bigger players. At just 6-4 and 190 pounds, he doesn’t have the strength to guard up in position. 

Compounding this problem for Team USA is that Stephen Curry is likely going to start and play a lot of minutes. Curry is also undersized and has issues defending bigger guards. 

If Team USA was going to bring another guard on the roster, they should have gone with one that is more switchable. Alex Caruso is a similar player to White, for example, but Caruso regularly guards power forwards in the NBA. 

MORE: Here’s the answer to Team USA’s toughest question

Derrick White Boston Celtics

Team USA has too many guards

White is redundant on this team, through no fault of his own, because the USA will now have half of the roster filled with guards. He will be the sixth one added to a squad that can take only 12 players to France.

The only forwards on the team are LeBron James, Kevin Durant (who is battling a minor injury) and Jayson Tatum. There are three centers as well — Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo and Anthony Davis. 

International play features only five fouls before players foul out of a game, instead of the six in the NBA. Team USA will not only be short on big men but there will be less margin for error if any of them gets into foul trouble. 

That is going to be even more important because many of Team USA’s opponents have some very big frontcourts, Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama on France chief among them.

Leonard should have been replaced by another forward instead of leaning into an even smaller team. Future No. 1 pick Cooper Flagg would have been an interesting addition. Aaron Gordon could fill White’s glue guy role, but add much more rebounding and size. Paul George would have given Team USA size, shooting and defense.

There was no shortage of better candidates. 

MORE: Ranking all 12 players on USA Olympics basketball roster

The Celtics need rest

Putting White on Team USA isn’t totally fair to the Celtics, as the Olympics roster already features Tatum and Jrue Holiday. Boston played the longest of any team into the postseason, and now it will put even more miles on their bodies before having a chance to defend the title.

The Celtics face even more challenges because they will be holding an early training camp and play in Abu Dhabi. There will be some tired Celtics when the playoffs roll around next year. 

Ultimately, it was White’s choice to agree to accept the invitation. He’s earned that due to his fantastic play over the past few seasons. The selection committee should have taken that decision out of his hands, though, both for his benefit as well as the team’s. 

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