The Olympics are less than a month away, which means we’re also less than a month away from another USA Basketball beatdown on the rest of the world. It’s not a fair contest, given that a) we have all the best players in the world and b) the rest of the world doesn’t play basketball nearly as much as the U.S does.
But while watching the Euro 2012 soccer/futbol tournament, I noticed that the United Kingdom countries (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) fielded separate teams. This was quite odd, given that they compete in the Olympics together as Great Britain.
This led me to another thought: what if we did the same for basketball, and broke the United States team down into 50 teams based on state? Which state would win then?
Curious, I started looking up where the top 200 current NBA players went to high school, and found the state in which the high school was located (college isn’t a great option, since a) we have the NCAA tournament for that b) players can choose to leave their home state c) not all players went to college). Luckily we have Wikipedia and Basketball Reference, so the process was straightforward.
In a few edge cases, I deviated from Basketball Reference. For example, players like Kevin Garnett played at multiple high schools. But instead of choosing the final high school they played at, I chose the high school that I felt most represented where they grew up. Since Garnett spent three years at South Carolina high school and only one in Chicago, I placed him in South Carolina.
I also completely disregarded Oak Hill Academy, since that high school alone could field an all-star team.
A few of these teams ended up hilariously imbalanced with regard to position. Some teams have 4 point guards, some have 4 undersized power forwards, and one team has about 77 small forwards (or at least it feels like it).
In the end, I assembled 20 teams from 20 states that could field at least a 5-man team. But in deference to the American tradition of a 16-team playoff, I cut four teams. These teams weren’t bad, they just didn’t have enough players to fill a bench beyond their starting five.
Last Four Out
Starters: Eric Bledsoe, Jamario Moon, Gerald Wallace, DeMarcus Cousins, Ben Wallace
Starters: Derek Fisher, Joe Johnson, Ronnie Brewer, Jeremy Evans, James Anderson
Starters: Devin Harris, Wes Matthews, Caron Butler, Steve Novak, Greg Stiemsma
Starters: Kelenna Azubuike, Xavier Henry, Blake Griffin, Ekpe Udoh, Shelden Williams
Alabama has a well-balanced starting five, and would probably compete with any of the 16 chosen teams. Arkansas and Oklahoma are essentially one-man teams, with Joe Johnson and Blake Griffin shouldering most of the scoring load. Wisconsin is a collection of quality role players, but unfortunately wouldn’t match up well with the rest of the teams.
Teams in the 16-team tournament
Let’s now look at the teams that did make it into the tournament, listed in alphabetical order:
||Starters: Russell Westbrook, Arron Afflalo, Paul Pierce, James Harden, Tyson Chandler
Bench: Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holliday, Tayshaun Prince, Jeremy Lin, Jason Kidd, Brook Lopez, Paul George, Trevor Ariza, Nick Young, and 11 other players (!)
The first state on the list also happens to be the state with the most active NBA players. I counted 25 candidates for the California team, and I’m pretty sure I still missed some players. The next most populous team had 14 players, meaning California could field two full teams while the other states struggle to fill one 12-man team, let alone fill a starting five.
What’s funny is that the vast majority of these players are small forwards. California wingmen apparently come in two flavors: long, athletic wingmen that can get to the rim (DeMar DeRozan, Trevor Ariza, Paul George, Amir Johnson) or big time three point shooters (Jared Dudley, Klay Thompson, Dorell Wright, Ryan Anderson, Nick Young).
Though California has the most players to choose from, they don’t have a very balanced team, having very few big men to choose from.
||Starters: Brandon Knight, Steve Blake, Vince Carter, Udonis Haslem, Amare Stoudemire
Bench: Raja Bell, Chandler Parsons, Larry Sanders, Marreese Speights, James Jones, Reggie Evans
Florida has a well-rounded team, but unfortunately doesn’t have any superstar players in the prime. Stoudemire and Carter are past their primes, and we’re still not sure what Brandon Knight will become once he reaches his prime. The Floridians do have a quality, diverse bench that can do anything on the basketball floor, just not at an elite level.
||Starters: Marshon Brooks, Louis Williams, Jodie Meeks, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard
Bench: Kwame Brown, Derrick Favors, JJ Hickson
A team with a lot of beef and talent up front, Georgia will cause lots of problems for many teams. Josh Smith and Dwight Howard are as formidable a 4-5 combo around, and they’re backed by three big men that might have more potential than skill at this point in their career. Unfortunately, they don’t have a point guard to organize and distribute touches, which could lead to chemistry problems when you have Lou Williams, Howard, and Josh Smith on the floor sharing the scoring load.
||Starters: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala, Corey Maggette, Tony Allen
Bench: Iman Shumpert, Evan Turner, Anthony Parker, Shannon Brown, Nazr Mohammed
Unquestionably, Illinois has the best backcourt in the tournament. Seriously, Rose and Wade in the same backcourt, with Iguodala on the wing? Teams will probably play zone, or at least have a tendency to collapse down toward the rim, forcing their teammates to shoot threes. In that case, Evan Turner and Shannon Brown can play effective roles. Nazr Mohammend might have to start for size, even though Maggette and Tony Allen might be more effective players. Similar to the current US Olympic team, this team will have to outgun opponents to make up for their lack of size.
||Starters: Eric Gordon, Mike Conley, Gordon Hayward, Carl Landry, Zach Randolph
Bench: Jeff Teague, Courtney Lee, George Hill, Josh McRoberts, Greg Oden, Jared Jeffries
Indiana might have one of the more fun teams to watch, with dynamic guards Gordon and Conley causing havoc on the perimeter, Landry and Randolph grinding down low, and Gordon Hayward filling in the gaps as he does in Utah. The Hoosier state also has quality depth on the bench, with great energy guys, and a former #1 draft pick that could be a game changer if he could stay healthy.
||Starters: Chris Duhon, Marcus Thornton, Danny Granger, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe
Bench: Glen Davis, Brandon Bass, Tyrus Thomas, D.J. Augustin
Something must be in the water in Louisiana, because for some reason, this state produces a disproportionate number of undersized big men. If Carl Landry grew up in Louisiana, it would be perfect. Regardless, you can’t help but love Millsap, Big Baby, and Brandon Bass all being on the same team. The Pelicans have a nice inside-outside combo with Granger and Monroe, but might lack the depth in the backcourt to make some noise.
||Starters: Ty Lawson, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Roy Hibbert
Bench: Delonte West, Jeff Green, Gary Neal, Greivis Vasquez
If Illinois has the best backcourt in the tournament, Maryland definitely has the best collection of wing players. Defenses will be spread very thin with Durant, Melo, and Rudy all on the floor together, with Hibbert mixing it up in the paint. With Ty Lawson pushing the pace, this could be a very dangerous team. Maryland has quality on the bench, but no big men, meaning they would have to rely heavily on Hibbert.
||Starters: Jordan Crawford, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Al Horford, Chris Kaman
Bench: Wilson Chandler, Javale McGee, Willie Green
This has to be my favorite state flag. Michigan has a nice balanced starting five, and a quality 4-5 combo in Horford and Kaman. Javale McGee and Wilson Chandler are ideal sparks off the bench. Michigan also doesn’t have a true point guard, so bringing the ball up court could be an adventure.
||Starters: Kyrie Irving, Randy Foye, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Andrew Bynum
Bench: Al Harrington, J.R. Smith, Jason Thompson, Samuel Dalembert, Troy Murphy, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Kenneth Faried
Of all the teams, New Jersey might have the most well-balanced and talented starting five in the tournament. Besides Foye, you could argue that the starting five could be seen playing together in an All-Star game. New Jersey also has a great mix of offensive and defensive skills, with Noah’s hustle complementing Bynum’s post skills, and Foye’s shooting complementing Irving’s penetration skills and Deng’s wing game.
New Jersey’s bench will cause teams big problems, and by big, I mean lots of tall, effective role players. The bench also has great energy guys like Faried and J.R. Smith that could change the pace of a game in the second and fourth quarters.
Their biggest Achilles heel will be their lack of a backup point guard, which will force them to rely on Irving for large stretches of the game. But considering that some teams don’t even have a point guard, this is a minor quibble.
||Starters: Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, Danny Green, Metta World Peace, Elton Brand
Bench: Jimmer Fredette, Jonny Flynn, Lance Stephenson, Sebastian Telfair
A small starting backcourt, with a small backup backcourt and an aging front court will likely result in a first-round exit for New York. This would be a disappointing result for the so-called basketball mecca of the world.
||Starters: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Antawn Jamison, David West
Bench: Anthony Morrow, Tracy McGrady, Brendan Haywood, Eric Maynor, Jordan Hill
They grow a lot of point guards in North Carolina. Unfortunately for Stephen Curry, he can’t get away from playing in an undersized backcourt. But looking past the height issues of this team, having Chris Paul, Curry, and John Wall on the floor could be an effective mix of skills, with Paul’s passing skills, Curry’s shooting, and Wall’s penetration all complementing each other. Unfortunately, you can’t overlook the size deficiencies, which plague this team both in the backcourt and in the front court.
||Starters: Norris Cole, Kevin Martin, Daequan Cook, Lebron James, Kosta Koufos
Bench: Michael Redd, Bill Walker, Byron Mullens
I initially excluded Ohio from the tournament, but let’s be real, you can’t have a tournament without Lebron. Without King James, this team is only slightly better than the 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats. But with Lebron and a bunch of competent shooters around him, you never know what Ohio could accomplish.
||Starters: Kyle Lowry, Tyreke Evans, Richard Hamilton, Kobe Bryant, DeJuan Blair
Bench: Gerald Henderson, Jameer Nelson, John Salmons, Rasual Butler, Matt Carroll
The Pennsylvania team probably won’t have trouble scoring, but they will have problems defending big men. You always have a chance with Kobe on your team, and Tyreke Evans and Kyle Lowry will contribute from the backcourt, but DeJuan Blair is their only big man, and let’s not forget, he has no ACLs.
||Starters: Raymond Felton, Ramon Sessions, Ray Allen, Trevor Booker, Kevin Garnett
The only 5-man unit in the tournament, I had to keep this team in, just to see Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett on the same team again. Ray Felton and Ramon Sessions are quality backcourt mates, and Trevor Booker would do well playing off Garnett. But the lack of a bench is an obvious problem.
||Starters: Deron Williams, Stephen Jackson, Rashard Lewis, Chris Bosh, Lamarcus Aldridge
Bench: Emeka Okafor, DeAndre Jordan, Kendrick Perkins, Daniel Gibson, Gerald Green, Damion Jones, Cartier Martin
I like to call this team “Team Underappreciated”. The players on this team don’t get the hype that other superstars get, but make no mistake, Texas has a quality Big Three. Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the NBA, and the 4-5 combo of Bosh and Aldridge are a great fit with Bosh’s midrange game and Aldridge’s post game. Texas also has a lot of length on the wings and a lot of size on the bench. This could be a very good defensive team, and could be a darkhorse candidate to win it all.
||Starters: Rodney Stuckey, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes
Bench: Luke Ridnour, Isaiah Thomas, Martell Webster, Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Brian Scalabrine, Aaron Brooks, Jon Brockman
Our last team on the list might not have any All-Star caliber players, but they do have a whole lot of depth. Unfortunately, half the team plays point guard, and all of those point guards are undersized. If only Washington and Louisiana could trade point guards for power forwards. Nevertheless, Washington has a lot of players that can fill the basket, but like a few other teams, size is a big issue. Athleticism could be another major issue, with no dominant wingmen on the team (sorry, Brandon Roy). You could argue that the five-man Alabama team is better, but Washington’s depth and scoring punch makes them a more interesting team in my eyes. Plus, someone has to give Washington love after losing the Sonics.
Who’s the best team?
Of these 16 teams, which state would have the best team? Let me know what you think below.