Should Caitlin Clark have made U.S. Olympic basketball team?

Caitlin Clark left off Team USA roster for 2024 Paris Olympics (1:05)

Andraya Carter breaks down the U.S. national team roster and offers a take on why Caitlin Clark was left off the list. (1:05)

The U.S. Olympic women's basketball roster for the Paris Games is out, and Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark is not on it.

Clark is averaging 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists through 12 games -- strong numbers for any WNBA point guard, let alone a rookie. But she has struggled with turnovers as Indiana's primary ball handler, leading the league with 5.6 per game.

And while her immense popularity and projection as a longtime star of the WNBA made her a strong candidate for the team, it was not enough when stacked up against a deep pool of talented, experienced guards.

The U.S. Olympic team is chosen by a six-member panel, and USA Basketball has not confirmed who is on the team. That announcement is expected to come in the next few days. ESPN confirmed Saturday that Clark isn't on the roster. The Athletic and The Associated Press have reported that these players have made the squad:

Guard Diana Taurasi, center Brittney Griner and guard/forward Kahleah Copper of the Phoenix Mercury; guards Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum, and forward A'ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces; forward Breanna Stewart and guard Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty; guard Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm; forward Napheesa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx; forward Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun.

Including a WNBA rookie on the Olympic squad is far from unprecedented: The United States did it with Taurasi in 2004, Candace Parker in 2008 and Stewart in 2016. And in the year before the WNBA launched, Rebecca Lobo was included on the 1996 Olympic team after graduating from UConn in 1995.

Is USA Basketball leaving some valuable things on the table by not finding a spot for Clark, despite having so many veteran guards? Is it for the best that Clark -- who has had a nonstop schedule since the start of the college season last fall -- will have time to rest during the Olympic break? Michael Voepel, Alexa Philippou and Kevin Pelton examine the decision, the reasons and possible repercussions.

Should Caitlin Clark have made the Olympic team?

Voepel: Clark did enough to earn a spot, but I'm not surprised it didn't happen. As has been the case for decades, USA Basketball has by far the biggest women's basketball talent pool of any country. This Olympic cycle, that's especially true at guard.

Taurasi is the most experienced guard, but Gray, Young, Plum, Ionescu and Loyd are all experienced, too, and all but Ionescu are Olympic veterans. (Young and Plum won 3x3 gold in the Tokyo Games.) Two other Olympic newcomers, Thomas and Copper, aren't pure guards but perform a lot of guard duties. Thomas leads the WNBA in assists. Thomas and Copper also are two of the best defenders in the world who can guard multiple positions.

Taurasi and Sue Bird were the pillars of Team USA's backcourt from their time leaving UConn as teammates in the early 2000s to Bird's retirement after the 2022 season. Neither played on the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup team, which won gold. But Taurasi has played well enough so far in her 20th WNBA season -- and is so valued for her leadership -- that she's back for what might finally be her last Olympics.

Other young guards -- such as the Dallas Wings' Arike Ogunbowale, second in the WNBA in scoring -- didn't make the Olympic team, either. But she's also not a true point guard, so it's not a direct comparison to Clark.

Lastly, USA Basketball doesn't have a history of putting as much emphasis on marketing -- or being particularly savvy about it -- as you might think. When the Americans went on a monthslong tour before the 1996 Olympics with what was the women's version of a "Dream Team," it was paid for by the NBA, which was looking to launch the WNBA in 1997. Lobo was the young, popular and inexperienced star then, and although she was included on the Olympic team, you can attribute that more to the NBA/WNBA influence.

Philippou: I'm not shocked Clark didn't make it given the other guards who were ahead of her in the USA Basketball talent pool. Taurasi realistically wasn't going to be left off if she was healthy. And assuming Gray is ready to play -- she has yet to play in the WNBA this season as she continues her way back from an injury last fall in the WNBA Finals -- it's even more difficult for a rookie guard like Clark to break through.

Plum, Young and Loyd -- all former Olympians from the 3x3 or 5-on-5 squads -- were essentially locks. Before Clark took the sport by storm, Ionescu felt like the next guard in line to make the jump to the senior Olympic team: She was part of the 2022 World Cup gold medal-winning squad, had been a regular at USA Basketball training camps, and has come into her own over the last season-plus in the WNBA. Meanwhile, Clark's first national team camp invite came this past April, and she couldn't attend since she was playing in the Final Four. Yes, having Clark on the team would have helped develop the next generation of Olympians, but USA Basketball achieves some of that by tabbing Ionescu and Young, both 26.

It feels as if most of the discourse arguing for Clark's inclusion has centered on the fandom and coverage she would bring to the team and that it would give her Olympic experience as a future star of the program -- both valid points. But at the end of the day, particularly if Gray is healthy and can run the point, there was not a clear-cut basketball reason Clark needed to be on the roster.

As much as Clark is likely disappointed not to make it, there is a silver lining: She'll get a month without games -- the WNBA will break for the Olympics from July 21 through Aug. 14 -- to mentally and physically reset after a grueling year-plus. And at only 22 now, it seems all but guaranteed she'll be on the roster for Los Angeles in 2028, when she'll have much more pro experience and will undoubtedly have a larger role.

Pelton: I would have picked Clark so she could have gotten the same experience Bird got in 2004 in Athens, when Bird rode the bench while veteran Dawn Staley played the bulk of the minutes in her third Olympics. Understanding what the Olympics and USA Basketball culture are all about helped Bird when she became the starter and continued that gold medal streak throughout her five Olympics.

That said, there's nobody except Taurasi -- like Clark, not one of the 12 best American players in the WNBA at this stage of her career -- I would say she deserved to beat out for a spot.

If there's an injury, could Clark or another player be added? How late can roster changes be made?

Pelton: Final rosters aren't due until just before the start of the Olympics, so USA Basketball naming its 12 more than a month and a half before opening ceremonies on July 26 is primarily about allowing players to plan ahead.

Because every U.S. player is active in the WNBA, their preparation won't include the kind of extended training camp with roster cuts most national teams are able to hold. That had to happen with camps during the WNBA offseason, most recently during the NCAA Final Four, a camp Clark was unable to attend because she was busy leading Iowa to the title game.

The flip side of that is the preliminary 12-player roster won't necessarily be the final one. In particular, Gray's return is worth monitoring -- she's still coming back from the foot injury she suffered in last year's Finals. If it doesn't go to plan, Clark would be a logical replacement for Gray's ballhandling ability.

Should Clark have been a candidate for the 3x3 team, which was announced earlier this week?

Voepel: Clark didn't even seem to think of herself as a candidate -- and without a 3x3 tournament on her résumé in the last 18 months, she technically wasn't eligible. The sport has tried -- as much as possible -- to protect spots in major competitions to those who've committed to 3x3.

Still, had there been a way, Clark on the 3x3 team could have given her Olympic experience for a future 5-on-5 spot, which is what happened with Plum and Young. In the Tokyo Games, 3x3 proved very popular with viewers when it debuted. Since there are only four players to a team, they all get playing time.

The players who made it on the Americans' 3x3 team -- the Los Angeles Sparks' Cameron Brink, Atlanta Dream's Rhyne Howard, TCU's Hailey Van Lith, and former Tennessee and WNBA player Cierra Burdick -- all are good choices to try to repeat the Americans' gold medal.

Is this the most controversial roster pick for the women's U.S. Olympic team?

Voepel: No, but it's going to get the most attention because that's the case with everything involving Clark. She has brought in fans who rarely or never watched women's basketball before. The size of the crowds she plays in front of and the TV ratings her teams get are enormous. She's a phenomenon. But there's a lot of tension between longtime WNBA followers who feel the newer fans disrespect the league's history and players and newer fans who say, "Let up on the gatekeeping." Chalk up these debates as just part of the league's continued growth.

That said, the most egregious snub by USA Basketball was not giving Nneka Ogwumike a spot through three Olympic cycles: When she was the No. 1 pick in 2012, when she was the league MVP in 2016, and when she was still an effective veteran in 2021. Ogwumike was dealing with a knee injury in 2021, which was suggested as the reason she was left off. But Griner and Gray were included this year despite injury questions.

It's reasonable to say, "Clark is 22, so her chance will come." And that's very likely true. My concern is we thought the same thing about Ogwumike.

Another controversial selection that will never be forgotten by the Tennessee Lady Vols fan base was Candace Parker's omission in 2016 after she had won gold in 2008 and 2012. The friction between Parker and Team USA coach Geno Auriemma of UConn contributed to that. But it was also an Olympic cycle with a lot of top post players. The league MVP (Ogwumike) and WNBA Finals MVP (Parker) that year didn't make the Olympic team. They did, however, win the WNBA championship.

Which players are making their 5-on-5 Olympics debut? How much playing time will they get?

Voepel: Probably a lot. Thomas, who turned 32 in April, somehow seems to be getting better with age. She didn't win the WNBA MVP award last season but had a legitimate claim to it. Copper, the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP, turns 30 in August and so far is having her best WNBA season. Plum and Young have had to carry the Aces' guard play with Gray out so far, and they are exceptional all-around players.

So, this is a different Olympic cycle for the U.S. team. There is no one coming in expecting to mostly just watch and learn. The youngest members of the team are both 26-year-old All-Stars and No. 1 picks: Ionescu was born in December 1997 and Young in September 1997. It's notable that they played collegiately at Oregon and Notre Dame, respectively. The youngest player on the U.S. team for each of the past seven Olympics was from either UConn or Tennessee.

Beyond Clark, what's your biggest takeaway from the roster?

Philippou: The health statuses of Griner and Gray were top of mind. Griner made her season debut Friday, returning from a preseason toe fracture. The Aces haven't disclosed when Gray might return but have emphasized that they're trying not to rush her back.

I would take Gray's inclusion on this roster to mean she is healthy enough to play in Paris (and that she is probably close to returning to the WNBA, too); if that doesn't turn out to be the case, USA Basketball would certainly face questions over its decision-making.