Mason Plumlee isn’t exactly the sort of rock-solid NBA superstar we’ve come to expect from a U.S. National basketball team, but it’s hard to quantify where he falls among the least impressive “Dream Teamers” ever. It’s hard to call anybody worthy of representing his country “bad,” but there absolutely have been years in which a player or two snuck onto a roster unexpectedly.
Here’s a look at the players who were added to a Team USA roster, either for the Olympics or the World Championships, yet never quite did live up to their superstar teammates:
#5 – Antonio Davis (2002 World Championships) – There’s no questioning that Antonio Davis was always a hard-nosed, aggressive post presence in the NBA, but his career averages of 10 points and 7.5 rebounds gives the impression that he was never really more than an above-average player. He no doubt was added to the WC roster to provide some muscle and size for the frontline (not unlike Plumlee), but compared to players like Reggie Miller, Shawn Marion, Paul Pierce, Jermaine O’Neal and several others from that same roster, he just wasn’t quite in the same class.
#4 – Kirk Hinrich (2006 World Championships) – Even back in 2006, when Kirk Hinrich was starting for a burgeoning Bulls team, he wasn’t much more than a middle-class starter that could have just as easily been a backup on a lot of other teams. He barely snuck onto this roster back in 2006, undoubtedly because of his ability to defend so many different high-quality guards, but he was rarely used after the exhibitions ended and hasn’t done much in the eight years since to justify his selection.
#3 – Raef LaFrentz (2002 World Championships) – When LaFrentz was drafted third overall back in 1998, the expectations for his career were pretty lofty, and truth be told there were flashes of brilliance. However, he spent a lot of his career overpaid and injured and had a hard time sticking with any single NBA team. Toward the end of his career he became known as Raef LaFrentz’s Expiring Contract, proving that his lifetime 10.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg weren’t quite what was expected of him earlier on. In 2002, however, he was at the peak of his career and was able to crack a WC roster for which he wasn’t a major cog.
#2 – Christian Laettner (1992 Summer Olympics) – Laettner isn’t necessarily the worst player on this list; he definitely had a better career than LaFrentz, for example, but just like an ugly person looks even uglier next to 11 really attractive friends, Laettner looked that much worse compared to Jordan, Bird, Magic, Malone, Stockton, Drexler, Robinson, Ewing, Barkley, Pippen and Mullin. He’s a Duke legend, and he had a respectable career, but as a Dream Teamer he really just didn’t bring a whole lot to the table. Isiah Thomas must have loved seeing that guy get a gold medal.
#1 – The Entire 1998 World’s Championship Roster – The problem with 1998 was that the NBA was in a lockout, so the usual pros couldn’t play any sort of basketball, let alone extracurricular international basketball. In the place of the usual Dream Team, a crew of collegiate players was assembled to try and hang with the rest of the planet in that year’s World Championships. Of the twelve guys on that roster, only Brad Miller, Michael Hawkins, David Wood and Mateen Cleaves played more than three years in the NBA, and only Miller ever made an All-Star roster. Jimmy Oliver, Wendell Alexis and Jason Sasser were the team’s three leading scorers, if that’s any indication as to the level of talent on the roster. Still, even though hardly anyone from that group had a successful NBA career, they still managed to win the bronze medal, which is commendable.
Honorable Mention: Derrick Coleman (1994 World Championships), Vin Baker (2000 Summer Olympics), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (2000 Summer Olympics) and Emeka Okafor (2004 Summer Olympics).
There have been other players that have underperformed in Olympic and other international play over the years, but these guys are the ones that had the most disappointing pro careers and seemed most out of place among so many other more elite teammates.
Plumlee is young enough and talented enough to make his appointment to the team look at least reasonable in the eyes of those with 20/20 hindsight, but there’s also the potential for him to join the gentlemen on this list, particularly since he was kept over stars like John Wall and Damian Lillard.
All of them were good enough to make a national team, but looking back it’s hard to believe there weren’t better options. Either way, Team USA basketball continues on with the world’s best, and as long as they keep winning gold medals, it will be hard to complain about much.