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Eleven guys who came out of London Olympics big winners

Aug 13, 2012, 1:06 PM EDT

US gold medalists LeBron James (R) and C Getty Images

The USA is the big winner in London — in our “winner take all” society they won the gold medal, they get the spoils. And no doubt they were the best team in the games.

But a number of players came out of London as winners in the reputation game. Eric Freeman nailed a great look at what the gold means to the members of Team USA over at Ball Don’t Lie, but I want to broaden the list — a number of players from around the globe leave London big winners.

Here are my 11 players who came out on top individually from London.

LeBron James. You don’t have to like him, but you have to admit he has cemented his place as the most dominant player in the game today. For most people the fact he is NBA MVP, NBA champ and Olympic gold medalist at the same time helps move the needle on his perception and legacy. Him saying after the gold medal game that this was all about the USA just helps reinforce a perceived change.

Four years ago in Beijing, when things got tight against Spain in the fourth quarter, it was Kobe Bryant who took over. That was his team. This time, there was no mistake throughout the London tournament that this was LeBron James’ team — he was the guy that took over games, he was the guy setting players up, he was making big buckets (the three over Marc Gasol in the Gold Medal game was the last of many). Doug Collins had a good line about all this on the NBC broadcasts — LeBron’s fingerprints were all over these games. He had the first ever Olympic triple-double to prove it.

Pau Gasol. Shortsighted Lakers fans (and some basketball fans in general) like to rip the guy as a soft Euro (forgetting how he stood up to Dwight Howard in the NBA finals, for one of many examples). That has always been shortsighted. Gasol is a finesse player who can use power in the right situation, but that is different than soft. He remains the most skilled scorer in the low post in the game today. Mike Brown hurt Gasol last year, trying to take advantage of his variety of skills (passing, mid-range shooting) and moved him out of the post most of the time. It was a mistake. Hopefully with a more fleet-footed Dwight Howard at the other big Brown can start to get Gasol the post touches he deserves.

Chris Paul. Simply put, the best pure point guard, the best floor general in the game and the Olympics showed it. Deron Williams is good. Derrick Rose is explosive and good. But nobody controls the tempo and flow of a game like Chris Paul. Nobody. I’ve already written an ode to him, so I move on.

Manu Ginobili. If LeBron James was the single best player in this tournament, Ginobili was second. He scored 19.4 points per game, shot 44 percent from three and more than that really controlled the flow of the offense for Argentina. He helped set up Luis Scola (18 points a game). Manu looked young in transition and deadly in the half court. At 35 the Spur has a few years left.

Kevin Durant. In case there was still any lingering doubt, he is the best pure scorer walking the face of the earth. If you want points, he’s the guy who can get them with threes, off the drive, in transition, cutting, whatever you want. The LeBron/Durant two-man game the USA ran (LeBron with the ball handing off or not to Durant coming off his screen) was simply the USA’s best and most unstoppable play.

It feels even more and more like he will get his soon.

Andrei Kirilenko/Alexey Shved. Minnesota Timberwolves fans had to love these Olympics. Over the summer it seemed GM David Kahn overpaid for Kirilenko (well, he did), but in the Olympics he was the best player on the bronze medal winning Russian team, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The question with AK-47 has always been consistency of effort, but he looked good in London. Shved and his shaggy hair were a hit in the games as he averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 assists per game. He looked like the perfect backup point guard to Ricky Rubio.

Andre Iguodala. He played a key role with Team USA as a defensive stopper on the wing and a guy asked to score in transition and with space in the half court. In the middle of the Olympics he gets traded to Denver where he will be asked to do what he did for Team USA (just on a slightly expanded scale). Let me put it this way, I would move Iggy way up your fantasy boards.

Juan Carlos Navarro. He had one unhappy season in Memphis and was back to Spain. We NBA fans lose out because of it, that guy can flat out play.

Anthony Davis. The question with the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Hornets is not does he have the talent but can he develop said talent. Starting out your NBA career by getting to hang out with and watch the work ethic of Kobe, LeBron, CP3 — really everyone on this team — gives him a huge head start on the learning curve. Plus, he gets a gold medal.

Linas Kleiza. He can fall out of pubic consciousness up in Toronto, but consider this a reminder the Lithuanian forward can play — 13.8 points per game as the leader of Lithuanian team.

  1. southpaw77 - Aug 13, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    -Kevin Love- After having his head filled with CP3, Melo and LBJ, he’ll be bolting to a warm city or big city when his contract is up. The current NBA (superteams) is fantastic! *sarcasm*

    • findthetruth90 - Aug 13, 2012 at 2:22 PM

      Just signed a 5 year extension last year he’ll be there for awhile.

      • mnsportsfan - Aug 13, 2012 at 3:11 PM

        Not a 5 year extension. 4 year extension with early player option after 3rd year

    • rooney24 - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:12 AM

      Kevin Love was right, but not because he will bolt in a few years. Whether or not he leaves (and I hope he doesn’t), the talk during the exhibitions was that he was losing playing time and may not even be in the rotation. He has improved his game each season, and the Olympics was a another wake up call that he still has work to do on his game. I think he learned from the experience, as he became one of the key players, including in the gold medal game. He will take that knowledge and just continue to improve.

      If Rubio and Pekovic get healthy (and stay relatively healthy) and a few of the additions (AK47, Shved, Budinger, Stiemsma) can contribute something, the Wolves could make a run at the playoffs. They are not a title contender at this point, but after being horrible for so long, even a playoff team with half a chance to win a series would be a HUGE improvement.

  2. muir6 - Aug 13, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    Thought Love was outstanding and if Kobe had five min with that Australian swimmer he it the true winner of the games.

  3. dr0pkickram0nes - Aug 13, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    • Linas Kleiza. He can fall out of pubic consciousness

  4. redwards29a - Aug 13, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    I think you just called Linas Kleiza a dickhead.

  5. cantonbound13 - Aug 13, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    No love for Melo. What is with your hatred towards the Knicks, Kurt? Melo played hurt & broke the record for most points in a game, in only 14 minutes of action. If LeBron did that we’d have 2 articles a day praising him.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 13, 2012 at 4:01 PM

      RIGHT!

      • jimeejohnson - Aug 13, 2012 at 4:17 PM

        (Rarely) Agree with both of you guys. Carmelo definitely came out of the Olympics with a better public image. He’s a winner, always has been, and it’s not his fault the Knicks cannot get past the Celtics in the playoffs. Knicks need an elite point guard like Walt “Clyde” Frazier was in his day.

    • loungefly74 - Aug 14, 2012 at 9:18 AM

      you’re right…i just think Melo (and the media) has created this huge gorilla on his back where he is pictured as a selfish-only cares about stats-type player. (the Lin situation didnt help his cause). basically…he needs to do what cures all…WIN…just ask Lebron and Kobe.

    • mogogo1 - Aug 15, 2012 at 11:07 AM

      Particularly strange to omit Melo given Kurt went out of his way to praise Durant for his ability to score from anywhere which is also Melo’s strong suit. Durant is the best scorer on the planet…but Melo might be the second best. He also scored some nice PR points by saying they couldn’t compare to the original Dream Team. Without question a darn good Olympics for him.

  6. tommyshih - Aug 13, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    Kurt, you keep saying Schved will be the back up point guard. That’s what Ridnour or Barea are for (1 will probably be traded at some point). Schved was signed by the Timberwolves to play the 2. He can sort of run the point because he has the skill set, as he showed for the Russian team, but he’s really not the greatest decision maker. He’s a pretty deadly shooter from long range though, and having an additional play maker on the wing is always a good thing. Like the Russian national team, the Timberwolves will likely only use Schved at the 1 out of necessity. A little research would go a long way. A proofreader and a robot grammar assistant would go even further.

  7. iknowzeroaboutsports - Aug 13, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    Here are another 11: The 1992 Dream Team (yeah, I’m not counting Laettner).

    • mogogo1 - Aug 15, 2012 at 11:15 AM

      I’d add in that the entire Spanish roster came out looking awfully good after their performance in that gold medal game.

      That presents quite the conundrum for the NBA owners and the rest of the people running international basketball. They finally have gotten to the point where other top countries can compete even against the very best the NBA can offer…but now they’re going to ban anybody over 23 from the Olympics? Winning the gold by 30 would have allowed Stern and Company to spin it as them trying to help with competitive balance. That argument is dead now. They will now just look like they’re messing things up and depriving fans of great basketball. And how does keeping the top players at home help with the great global initiative Stern has been harping about for years?

  8. fanz928 - Aug 13, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    Kleiza always played well in the world league but lacks in the NBA he been given a lot of chances he’s just not good in the NBA

  9. pavelfitzgerald - Aug 13, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    Kurt is like Mike Florio – they don’t believe in spell checking/proof reading hence his dickhead reference

  10. boilerup1869 - Aug 13, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    Even with a gold medal, melo is still a loser in my eyes

  11. freudnumb - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    Yi Jianlian was impressive before the injury.

  12. hammertoe11 - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Take the paid players out. Would team USA still win the gold? Maybe. Sadly the no name players didn’t get much play time because of the paid players. And that policy needs to change. NO MORE PAID PLAYERS.

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