Projecting Team USA's 2016 roster

History gives us hints on what the U.S. roster will look like at next Olympics

Originally Published: August 2, 2012
By Neil Paine |
USA Men's Basketball(Photo by David Becker/Getty ImagesHow different will Team USA's roster look in the 2016 Olympics?

It's hard enough making predictions about this year, but try this one on for size -- which players are most likely to be on the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team four years from now, in 2016?

For our educated guess, let's take a look at some historical trends that extend back to the first professional U.S. Olympic team in 1992. Building a model focused on predicting the next national team's roster strictly from knowledge available at the time of the previous Olympics, several factors emerged that deserve serious consideration.

The first, and most important, is age. On average, members of the current Olympic team who had any NBA experience in 2008 were just 23.5 years old at the time. And that figure is pretty much par for the course -- since 1992, the average Dream Teamer who had played in the NBA four years prior was 23.8 years old at the time. (If you eliminate the vet-laden 1996 team from the sample, the average drops to 23.2.)

As a general rule of thumb, for every year older that a player is four seasons before the Olympics, he's 8 percent less likely to be on the next Olympic team, even after holding performance equal. This is because older players are at a much greater risk to decline, or suffer an injury that prevents them from being a world-class player in the future. Four years is a long time by the standards of a professional athlete, and a lot of things can happen in that span -- many of them negative, unfortunately.

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Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.