In a matter of days, Russell Westbrook went from on the bubble for a roster spot on Team USA to a guaranteed place as one of 12 members that will represent the United States in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, which begins Saturday.
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo on Tuesday became the final player to leave the team, citing family reasons according to the official release by USA Basketball. His unexpected departure assured that the Thunder will be the only team with two players, Westbrook and Kevin Durant, on this summer's roster.
We've known since the beginning that Durant would be a lock for the team. But here are five things that put Westbrook over the top.
Defense: Westbrook's ability to be a pest both on the ball and in the passing lanes is expected to bring great value to the team. Westbrook also can pressure the ball the entire length of the court, and with his long arms and athleticism he is a luxury to have in half-court zone sets, which Team USA likely will utilize often. Rondo might be a better defender than Westbrook today, but Westbrook isn't far behind, and he offers a combination of enough other skills to warrant a spot.
Rebounding: With a shortage of big men, Team USA has placed a premium on rebounding from the guard position. And Westbrook is the team's best rebounding guard. Rondo has had incredible rebounding performances during the NBA regular season and postseasons. But Westbrook is a better offensive rebounder. He led all guards with 1.7 offensive rebounds per game last season, and that ability will give Team USA second chances throughout the World Championship.
Shooting: Since the start of training camp last month, the coaching staff made it a point to flood the court with shooters. Of the remaining 13 players, Rondo and Westbrook were the least skilled perimeter shooters at the guard spots. But Westbrook is a better midrange shooter than Rondo, and Westbrook also is a much better free throw shooter. If Team USA ever has to clinch a win at the free throw line, Rondo would have been a liability, whereas Westbrook should be far less of a concern.
Versatility: Another point of emphasis for the coaching staff was to field the most flexible team possible. The way to do that was to take a team to Turkey that was filled with players who could play multiple positions. Westbrook is one of the best dual threats available with his ability to play point guard and shooting guard, while his rebounding and defensive skills allow him to serve as the third guard in some three-guard lineups. Rondo, meanwhile, loses much of his effectiveness without the ball in his hands, and his poor shooting becomes a burden if the ball is swung to him on the wing.
Fit: In Derrick Rose and Chauncey Billups, Team USA has two extremely capable floor generals. Keeping Rondo and Westbrook would have been overkill. But Westbrook's mix of other talents allows him to play off the ball and form a quality guard rotation, with the fourth guard, Stephen Curry or Eric Gordon, being a shooting specialist. Together, the final roster affords coach Mike Krzyzewski a better opportunity to exploit defenses.