LAS VEGAS – There are 28 players in USA Basketball’s mini-camp this week, eight of which are point guards. And with shooting guard Bradley Beal not participating in scrimmages (because he’s still rehabbing a right fibula injury), those point guards will be spending time on the floor with one another.
In one scrimmage on the first day of camp, we saw Mike Conley and John Wall team up against Ty Lawson and Damian Lillard. Kemba Walker and Jrue Holiday played on the same team.
In speaking with NBA TV over the weekend, coach Mike Krzyzewski said that one of the things they’ll be looking at is how all the point guards mesh on the court and “adapt to a few different roles.”
Two-point-guard lineups aren’t just a necessity because of the numbers here in Vegas or even the lack of star shooting guards in the NBA. It’s a big part of the identity Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo have developed with USA Basketball over the years. They stress speed and athleticism and that starts on defense, where the guards are asked to put pressure on opposing ball handlers. So we’ve seen Chris Paul and Deron Williams share the floor in the Olympics and Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook play together in the 2010 World Championship.
“We’ve all watched the Olympics,” Walker said Monday. “We’ve seen those guys play, so when we get out here, we know what time it is already.”
For some, playing alongside another point guard is no big deal. Lawson has played almost 2,000 minutes alongside Andre Miller with the Nuggets over the last two seasons. Pushing the ball at every opportunity is all he’s known playing under former Denver coach George Karl. Having played FIBA rules in Lithuania during the lockout, Lawson also knows the importance of on-ball defense.
“In the European game, it’s huge for pressure to be on the ball,” he said. “If not, they have a bunch of shooters, so they just come off and knock it down. Pressure’s huge. I’m not really used to it like this, but I’m getting used to it.”
For some of the others here, there’s an adjustment to not being the only point guard on the floor.
“Last season was my first time really doing it,” Conley said. “With Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten and those guys, I got to play off the ball a little bit. So I’m starting to get used to it. I’m still not all the way there, but it’s not my first time.
“The toughest part is being able to play without the ball. You got to learn where you get the ball, where you need to be, roll and replacing, getting spacing right and getting to the corners instead of always wanting the ball and needing the ball in your hands.”
Still, Conley knows what he’s doing when his fellow point guards kick the ball out to him on the perimeter.
“When I’m playing that off-guard, I’m thinking shoot first and pass second,” he said. “It puts me in a different mode, more of a scoring mode.”
And for Conley, the USA Basketball identity is a fun change of pace from the way he plays with the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies.
“I love it,” he said. “Who knows? The Grizzlies might turn into that one day.”
More quotes from Monday…
- Walker on playing with Holiday: “I’ve been around Jrue for a long time, since high school. I enjoyed it. It was cool to not be the only one having to make the plays.”
- Conley on playing with Wall: “We’re pretty unselfish guys. We let whoever has the ball take it and the other person runs. We both like to get up and down, so it was fun to play alongside him.”
- Lawson on Lillard: “He was killing today. You can see he’s been working on his games. His shot’s smooth. He’s a great player. I like playing with him.”
- Lawson on the advice he’s received from the coaching staff: “Throughout practice, they were like, ‘Just play your game,’ because they saw me try to run plays and I guess they wanted to see what I can really do. So the last two games we played, I just started pushing it and felt a lot better. That’s what they wanted to see.”