WASHINGTON, D.C. – Technically, there are three point guards on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team roster. But on this squad, as it was in 2010 at the World Championship, Russell Westbrook doesn’t play much point guard.
So this is a different team than the one that captured Olympic gold in 2008. Jason Kidd started for the U.S. that year and was the prime historical example of a pass-first point guard, attempting only seven shots from the field in eight games. Chris Paul (38) and Deron Williams (52), meanwhile, combined to take 90.
Paul and Williams also spent a lot of time together on the floor in 2008, with Williams playing the two guard. This time around, those two-point-guard minutes will likely be limited.
“It seems like that,” Paul said Sunday, “and it’s tough, because we’re actually really, really good when we’re together.”
Paul looks to be the starter at this point. He started Thursday’s game against the Dominican Republic and has been working out with the first unit the last two days here in Washington. But Williams started the second half on Thursday and there’s still a lot of time for changes to take place. Don’t be surprised if Williams starts any of the four remaining exhibition games.
Whether it’s Paul or Williams, the starting point guard will take on a different role than he has with the Clippers or Nets, one more like Kidd had in ’08. With Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (or Kevin Durant) also in the lineup, there’s little need for the point guard to score. In his eight minutes on Thursday (he was limited by a thumb injury), Paul attempted just one shot.
“It’s fun for me,” Paul said. “I still have the ability to score, but it’s fun to get into the lane and know that I may have an open floater, but see KD, Melo, any of them standing out at the three wide open.”
Having a point guard like Paul or Williams also makes things easier for the scorers. Durant and Bryant, in particular, just need to roam the perimeter, catch, and shoot. Anthony is able to roam the baseline and be an efficient finisher, instead of controlling the ball and being more of a volume scorer like he is with the Knicks.
“Kobe is a great just pure-shooter if he doesn’t have to handle the ball and all that,” Paul said. “Just like it’s easy on me, it’s a little bit easy on them.”
Williams says the role is the same whether he’s running the show for the first unit or the second.
“I don’t think it changes at all,” he said. “[The talent level from starters to bench] is pretty even. Your job as a point guard is still to distribute, get people involved, run the offense, and then make the open shots.”
Chemistry is the biggest focus for the U.S. as they get ready for the Olympics, and it’s on the point guards to get everyone on the same page offensively. So it’s good to have them practicing. Paul missed a few days of practice with his thumb injury and Williams missed a few as he waited to sign his new contract with the Nets.
“It’s like a football team running its offense without a quarterback,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of practicing without a point guard. “We needed those two guys in there.”