Steph Curry and John Wall Won’t Be In Rio But What About Damian Lillard?

Steph Curry’s iffy knee that may or may not need surgery this summer will keep him out of the 2016 Olympics in Rio. This was to be Curry’s first Olympic Games and his absence is a blow to the U.S. team. Curry’s ability to hit perimeter shots from just about everywhere changes defenses and is a U.S. advantage. But Curry has withdrawn his name.

“Due to several factors- including recent ankle and knee injuries- I believe this is the best decision for me at this stage of my career.”

Curry is just the latest NBA star point guard to pull out. Chris Paul reluctantly pulled out and John Wall had surgery on both knees. Wall desperately wanted to be on the team but he needed to get 100% healthy to avoid another dismal Wizards season.

So who is left to organize the offense?

Pencil in Russell Westbrook as the starting point guard for the U.S. Team. Who are the possible backups? Kyrie Irving moves up one step and is likely an Olympian.  Mike Conley is in the mix.

But Damian Lillard, who was not included in the pool of finalists, should be considered for the third spot.  It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t part of the original group that made the final cut. Lillard is a nice Curry substitute. Injuries have made it mandatory that a player with Lillard’s talent is on the team.

Lillard is a different player than Curry but he adds the same kind of floor spacing. Lillard had a 25.1 point season with 6.8 assists. He shot 37.5% from three.  As far as his on-court impact, Lillard was ranked 16th among point guards, as measured by Real Plus-Minus. It was estimated that he added 15 wins by himself to the Blazers 2015-16 season (Earned Wins Estimate). The only players who added more wins for their perspective teams was Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry.

In 2015-16, Damian Lillard played 75 games. 24 times he scored 30 points or more. Twice he scored 50+ points, against the Warriors and Raptors, a stunning accomplishment considering his counterparts were Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry.

Lillard had 14 games of 10+ assists. His offensive rating was 113. His defensive rating was 111, and his plus minus was +1.4.

The Zika virus that is lingering throughout Brazil has created anxiety with many athletes who otherwise would compete. The issue is larger than the athletes themselves but who they may infect once they return to their home countries; the virus has an incubation period.

No one on record has pulled out because of the virus but several high profile NBA athletes are concerned and won’t have a definitive answer of yes or no until once the Finals are over. But no Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and John Wall means an opportunity for someone else to win a gold medal.

USA Basketball made a mistake by keeping Damian Lillard out of the pool of finalists. They can rectify that mistake right now by asking him back in. It’s not shameful to say- oops, my bad. Especially when a gold medal is in the balance.

 

photo via llananba