NEW YORK – Just a few hours after a 112-86 victory over Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden on Friday and six days before it needed to, the U.S. National Team finalized its roster for the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
In a bit of a surprise, two players – DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond – who didn’t play on Friday made the final roster. Drummond is the fourth center on the team, while DeRozan made the cut over Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver. He offers more playmaking and explosive scoring ability than the other two.
In addition to Korver and Parsons, Damian Lillard and Gordon Hayward did not make the 12-man roster.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had previously indicated that they might take more than 12 when the team flew to the Canary Islands on Saturday afternoon, because some of the final decisions were proving to be difficult. But Krzyzewski made it clear after Friday’s game that they decided not to take any extras, for two reasons.
First, because it’s “really difficult,” according to Krzyzewski, for a player to travel abroad and eventually get sent home early. Secondly, with just one exhibition game remaining (Tuesday against Slovenia), it’s time for this team to finalize its rotation and everybody’s roles.
“Now that we’re down to 12,” Krzyzewski said, “we can get a little bit more precise with things.”
DeRozan and Drummond join guards Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose; wings James Harden and Klay Thompson; forwards Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay; and bigs DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Mason Plumlee.
The starting lineup – Irving, Curry, Harden, Faried and Davis – seems to be set, with Irving having replaced Rose for the two exhibition games this week.
Rose is going to Spain, though. If Irving is the starter, Rose will be one of the first players off the bench, along with Thompson (backing up Curry and Harden) and Gay (backing up Faried).
There was no need to see how Rose felt after his second exhibition game. He got four days of rest after last Saturday’s win over Brazil, but Krzyzewski has clearly seen and heard enough.
“I feel very confident about Derrick,” Krzyzewski said. “I think Derrick feels very confident.”
It remains to be seen how many of the USA’s nine potential games Rose will play at the World Cup. It’s safe to assume that it’s less than nine, especially with the five pool-play games in the first six days.
“If he needs a day off,” Chicago Bulls head coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said of Rose on Friday, “he’ll get a day off.”
And Krzyzewski is fine with that. As the U.S. tries to win its fourth straight gold medal in international competition, it will also be trying to get Rose back into top basketball shape.
“These guys want to play with him,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of getting back is to be around a group of peers, who want you to be really good.
“That’s what we’ve seen over the years. That’s where the brotherhood develops. That’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the last nine years. We think that can happen again and hopefully, that will help Derrick as he gets ready to keep participating in this, but also for the NBA season. I think it’s a huge, huge help for him.”
So the U.S. will have just one full-time point guard – Irving – on the roster, with Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and the staff clearly wanted extra depth up front, with Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee backing up Davis, who could see some time at power forward.
The need for three back-up centers is a bit puzzling, especially since Davis will likely rank first or second on the team in minutes played. Two of three back-ups will certainly have limited roles.
But the U.S. may have its sights set on the frontline of Spain, which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The hosts are the clear favorites to reach the gold medal game from the other side of the bracket, though they’ll have a tougher road than the Americans.
The U.S. got a tough 20 minutes on Friday, as Puerto Rico took a five-point lead in the first quarter and hung within two until Thompson beat the halftime buzzer with a pull-up 3-pointer. Veteran guards Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea were able to take advantage of the USA’s aggressiveness on the perimeter to push Puerto Rico to 47 points on just 40 first-half possessions.
The U.S. tightened up its rotation and its defense in the second half, using a 14-2 run to take control.
“We tried to do too much trapping [in the first half], and they’re just too good,” Krzyzewski said. “Second half, I thought we played really, really well.”
Still, the U.S. will need Tuesday’s exhibition game against Slovenia (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and all five pool play games in Bilbao to sharpen up for single-elimination action in Barcelona and Madrid. With the roster set, the focus can go from choosing a team to winning another gold.
“There’s still,” Krzyzewski said, “a lot to do.”