Team USA Olympics snubs: Jalen Brunson, Kawhi Leonard miss out, though one roster spot is reportedly open

Technically speaking, Team USA hasn’t finalized its roster for the 2024 Olympics. Yes, multiple outlets have now reported that USA Basketball has settled on 11 players to bring to Paris, but remember, Olympic rosters go 12-deep. There is still one roster spot on the table. Should injuries in the NBA playoffs knock any of the 11 chosen players out, more spots could follow.

Still, the selection process for the top 11 was a tad unorthodox. USA Basketball didn’t settle on a roster until June 28 for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The NBA playoffs haven’t even started yet, and we already know most of the roster. Team USA will reportedly include LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Tyrese Haliburton, Devin Booker, Anthony Edwards, Jrue Holiday, Bam Adebayo and Jayson Tatum. There seemingly will not be competition at training camp to determine who makes the cut. The team has, at least mostly, been chosen in advance.

So yes, one more player will eventually make the cut. But there are far more players that are seemingly worthy, and even the last choice will stand out as having been more of a last-minute decision than an essential element of the team. So with only one spot remaining, let’s go through the best players who missed the cut and figure out who got snubbed from the Olympic roster.

As a reminder, Team USA previously set a 41-player pool of potential roster candidates. A total of 30 remain off of the team after 11 were chosen. Those players are: Jarrett Allen, Paolo Banchero, Desmond Bane, Scottie Barnes, Mikal Bridges, Jaylen Brown, Jalen Brunson, Jimmy Butler, Alex Caruso, De’Aaron Fox, Paul George, Aaron Gordon, James Harden, Josh Hart, Tyler Herro, Chet Holmgren, Brandon Ingram Kyrie Irving, Jaren Jackson Jr., Cam Johnson, Walker Kessler, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Bobby Portis, Austin Reaves, Duncan Robinson, Derrick White and Trae Young. In the end, though, four players stand out as snubs:

Jalen Brunson

Brunson, Haliburton and Edwards were the three primary ball-handlers for Team USA at the 2023 World Cup. Edwards was the best of the three and led the team in several statistics, but all three performed well on the world stage. Before the tournament began, Team USA head coach Steve Kerr raved about Brunson’s fit on the team. “I think Jalen is such a natural leader,” Kerr said. “Because he’s a point guard, he immediately comes to mind. He’s the one who’s leading the ‘1, 2, 3 USA’ chant. Some guys just, it just comes naturally to them.”

In the end, Haliburton and Edwards made the cut. In a normal Olympic cycle, Brunson probably would have as well. Instead, he’s crowded out by a field that includes multiple former Olympians (Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday) and an all-time legend (Stephen Curry) in the back-court. 

But it’s worth asking exactly why Haliburton got the nod and Brunson didn’t. The easy answer is that Haliburton’s ability to generate pace was an important wrinkle compared to Brunson, who operates more as a half-court shot-creator. Both are defensive liabilities, but Brunson’s toughness and low center of gravity make him slightly more viable on that end of the floor. Brunson’s NBA season has been better. In the end, Kerr got a close look at both during the World Cup. He seems to have settled on Haliburton for that final back-court spot. The roster is now so crowded with guards that Brunson probably isn’t one of the top choices for that 12th roster spot, so not even a potential First-Team All-NBA season was enough to get him onto the Olympic roster.

Kawhi Leonard

Here’s one theory on why Team USA has elected to leave one roster spot open: the best remaining American player has health concerns. Based purely on merit, Leonard is the best player left in the player pool. He also fills a position of need, as Team USA is only carrying three true forwards at the moment in James, Durant and Tatum. 

In a perfect world, they’d likely choose to add a defensive-minded wing with forward size to round out that group. That’s Leonard to a tee. But at the moment, he’s not even a sure thing to start Game 1 of the first round for his Clippers. It’s entirely possible that he wants to wait and see whether or not he is physically capable of playing before making a commitment.

Still, a player of Leonard’s stature probably should make the initial roster. If he’s not healthy enough to play, Team USA could always replace him later. Bradley Beal and Kevin Love couldn’t play in the 2021 Olympics, and they were swiftly replaced with JaVale McGee and Keldon Johnson. There are plenty of reasons why Team USA might have been cautious, and they might not even view him as a roster lock anyway. But Leonard is the best American player not on the roster, and that makes him a snub in our eyes. 

Paul George

Let’s say one Clippers wing is out of the running due to health or disinterest. Well, if you still need a two-way forward, why not just move down the depth chart? George isn’t quite Leonard’s equal, but he can fill the same basic niche and has a 2016 Olympic gold medal to his name already. He has had similar long-term health issues to Leonard, but right now, he is not only healthy, but playing his best basketball of a season in which he appeared in 74 games. George is in top shape.

But George is also a free agent in 2024. By all accounts, he would prefer to re-sign with the Clippers, but if they’d made him a max offer, he likely would have taken it by now. Given that reality, it’s possible he is choosing to focus on his impending free agency this summer over another possible run at a gold medal. Considering the brutal injury he suffered at the 2014 World Cup, that’s an entirely defensible position.

Herb Jones

Yes, we’re going entirely off of the board here. Jones isn’t even in the player pool. Who cares? He’s American and he’s exactly the sort of player Team USA needs. Every American gold medal-winning roster since the Redeem Team has had a glue guy or two. Tayshaun Prince, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Jerami Grant all checked similar boxes. None were NBA stars. All four offered shooting, defense, positional versatility and professionalism in the locker room. Some stars would rather sit the Olympics out than be the last man off of the bench. That’s where role players come in.

Jones’ defense at basically every position would be a valuable secret weapon in certain matchups. He’s improved enough as a shooter not to get left alone from deep. He’s young, healthy and under contract, so concerns about an Olympic run impacting his future would be minimal. He’s the ideal 12th man for an Olympic roster, and Team USA has not only left him off of the roster, but outside of the player pool entirely.

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