LAS VEGAS — In the last two Olympics, the starting forwards for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team were Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. In the 2010 World Championship, the starting forwards were Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala.
As the U.S. has gone undefeated in those three major competitions, they’ve started just one traditional big man — Dwight Howard in 2008, Lamar Odom in 2010 and Tyson Chandler in 2012 — and had just two others on their roster. Though the numbers made it clear last year that the presence of one of the bigs on the floor was critical, only two of them were in the rotation.
One of the two was Chandler, who is probably done playing international basketball. The other was Kevin Love, who was also on the roster in 2010 and could be back for next year’s World Cup in Spain.
At this point, more than 13 months before the World Cup tips off, absolutely nothing is set in stone. A couple of bigs that aren’t at this week’s mini-camp — Taj Gibson and David Lee — are still in the mix. So there could be as many as three and as few as one roster spot available for the 10 bigs that are here.
One of those 10 is Anthony Davis, who was the 12th man on last year’s Olympic squad. He was raw then, didn’t make a big impact as a rookie with the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans), and said this week that he’s not guaranteed a roster spot next summer. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had good things to say about Davis on Tuesday.
“He’s had some experience, real early, last year with us,” Colangelo said. “He observed and he learned a lot, just playing with the guys he did. I can see growth and experience and maturity already in him. And you can kind of project him out. He could be a tremendous shot-blocker in the international game.”
We’ll have to wait and see how Davis does in his second season in the league, but his experience, potential and skill set make him the likely frontrunner among this week’s group of bigs. With his athleticism, his ability to protect the rim on defense and finish at the rim on offense, he’s the prototypical USA Basketball big man. With stars in the backcourt and in those forward positions, those are the kinds of skills that are needed from the guys who will play the five spot.
Colangelo doesn’t want to think that specifically just yet. This week is just about seeing what guys bring to the table, and the selection process will wait until next summer.
“It depends on who your nucleus might be,” he said. “It’s way too early to know what our nucleus is. That’s why we have to continue to look at all the bigs. And then when the time comes, when we have to select those who we want to bring into camp next summer, it’ll be based on what kind of complementary players we have.”
It will also be based, in part, on how these guys do with their NBA teams next season. And since most of the group is so young – seven of the 10 are 23 are younger – one or more just might have a breakout year and prove to be better than Lee or Gibson by next July.
“Some of them just have more growing to do,” Colangelo said. “They’re young bigs. And of all the positions in basketball, it takes them longer to get where they can be.”
This is the first exposure to Colangelo’s program for most of this group of bigs. In addition to Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors were here last year as a member of the Select Team that practiced against the Olympic Team. But the rest are new.
The rest = Ryan Anderson, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Larry Sanders and Tyler Zeller.
Maybe one or two of those names might get a trip to Spain next year, because there’s a possibility that Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski take four bigs instead of three to the World Cup. Better safe than sorry, especially if one or two hasn’t played in a major international tournament before. For Krzyzewski, the lack of bigs on last year’s roster — a result of injuries more than anything — was a concern.
“We were actually really vulnerable in London, because Tyson was our only true center,” Krzyzewski told NBA TV before camp opened. “We were vulnerable in the fact that then we had to use LeBron, Carmelo and Kevin Durant as guys who would have to guard the fours and the fives. And since you only get five fouls, we were vulnerable in that one of those guys could get in foul trouble.”
So it’s good that they have a deep group here in camp this week. It’s a little difficult to envision any of the 10 as a starting center on a U.S. National Team, but things could certainly be different a year from now.