Team USA director Jerry Colangelo described New York Knicks forward Julius Randle as a candidate who was “right there” when asked about his roster construction in June. He ultimately decided to give the last forward spot on the roster to Cleveland Cavaliers veteran Kevin Love because of his prior experience in international competition and skill as a 3-point shooter, but a recurring calf injury ultimately forced Love to withdraw.
Yet when Team USA announced replacements for Love and guard Bradley Beal, Randle was nowhere to be found. Team USA went with San Antonio Spurs youngster Keldon Johnson, who was already thriving as a member of the Select Team, and Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee.
Randle, according to The New York Post’s Marc Berman, did not receive an offer. The explanation for that, according to Berman, was Team USA’s desire to add more role players. Of the initial 12 players named to the roster, only Jerami Grant had never played in an All-Star Game before. Such overwhelming talent is typical of an American roster, but Team USA’s exhibition losses to Australia and Nigeria highlighted the need for a variety of different skill sets on the back end of the roster as well.
Randle fits the physical profile of Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo, the two other big men on the roster. Both are undersized as centers, forcing Team USA to switch defensively when they are in the game. That strategy led to a lot of mismatches near the basket in those exhibition games, so in McGee, Team USA hopes to have added a more traditional drop-coverage defender with all of the requisite size and length to challenge drivers at the basket.
“We decided that was the most logical and appropriate choice,” Team USA coach Gregg Popovich said of McGee on Sunday night. “Given the choices we had, he fit the best.”
Still, it’s not hard to imagine how Randle’s significantly improved skill set would have fit with Team USA. If Colangelo had wanted another shooting big man to replace McGee, it should be noted that Randle hit more than 41 percent of his 3-pointers last season. That number is something of an outlier in his career history, but he also improved significantly as a passer by averaging six assists per game, and he served as one of the defensive anchors for Tom Thibodeau’s fourth-ranked unit.
But that wasn’t enough to convince Team USA to take the Knicks forward. If he wants to wear the Red, White and Blue in the Olympics, he’ll have three years to make his case before the 2024 Games.