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Clippings: How much could Paul George have helped Team USA?

Maybe it’s not a lack of talent that’s dooming the United States.

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2018 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Minicamp Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Team USA has had a rough go of it in the tune-up games for the Olympics. Contests that were supposed to be exhibitions for the USA’s wealth of talent have instead turned into harbingers of pending doom. The Americans have lost both of their games in Las Vegas thus far, and that’s led to questions about everything from the roster construction to the state of the NBA game.

To me, the problems have mostly been on the defensive end. For starters, there are number of miscommunications that have led to a series of back cuts behind the USA defense. The team is also lacking a strong defender at the point of attack. Dame Lillard has been brutalized by Caleb Agada and Patty Mills in consecutive games, and the USA’s switching allows opponents to hunt that matchup. Players who are normally defensive liabilities in the NBA like Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine have played better than expected defensively, but that hasn’t been enough to get everyone on the same page. And to think, three of the 12 players won’t even arrive until the conclusion of the NBA Finals.

The Americans really could use a defensive guard, and that’s where Paul George comes into play. George has been a part of USA Basketball since 2012. His first attempt at playing in a major international tournament was delayed by a broken leg in 2014, but he was on the Olympic squad in 2016, one that brought home a gold medal. Brian Windhorst reported that George had an open invitation to return this year; the Clipper star evidently decided to prioritize his rest this offseason rather than chase another international crown.

George would have fit seamlessly into this roster. He can shut down lead guards, particularly when he’s not being tasked as the lead offensive initiator on the other end. He can also do a lot of damage with a low free-throw rate, which is something the other Americans seem to be struggling with. He’s also a pure shooter with the size to switch. When people talk about the talent advantage Team USA possesses over other nations, they’re referring to wings like George. They don’t make players like him elsewhere.

Maybe the USA’s problems will be solved when Jrue Holiday arrives, or they’ll figure out how to address their defensive shortcomings in the next few days of camp. But the past two games have been a reminder that there’s a difference between superstars and stars. George would have been the second-best player on this Team USA behind Kevin Durant. They may have talent without him, but not of the same caliber.

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