LAS VEGAS — Over the course of three days, in countless drills and scrimmages, players are bound to have a few shining moments. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what has happened during USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team mini-camp.
All-Stars like Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday have stood out, as have reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, Olympic gold medalist Anthony Davis and talented big man DeMarcus Cousins.
With 28 young stars from around the league gathered here for evaluations by USA Basketball’s brass, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises as well. Gordon Hayward, Klay Thompson, Derrick Favors, Kenneth Faried, Mike Conley, John Wall and others have stood out as USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski continue the vetting process for roster sports for the roster for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball next summer in Spain.
All-Stars and two-time gold medalists Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are already on board for 2014. (LeBron James, on the other hand, will not be around next summer and remains something of a mystery for 2016.)
Tonight’s Blue-White Showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV) will give us our first glimpse under the bright lights as to who might join Durant and Love in USA Basketball uniforms next summer and perhaps beyond.
Roster spots are limited. And no one game or performance will be used as the basis for any players’ candidacy. But is there a better way to gauge how these guys will perform under extreme circumstances than seeing them in game-like conditions?
We’ll have eyes on all of the action from courtside (four to be exact, mine and those of my main man and NBA.com’s John Schuhmann) from opening tip until the final buzzer.
We’ll share our thoughts of what’s going on and you need do the same below — (again, the action tips off at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV)
— White team shines through in the end with balance and superior energy and effort from their bigs in a 128-106 win. The USA Basketball talent pool is overflowing with talent these days. Kyrie thanks the fans at the end, which is fitting since this was his show tonight.
— If you’re looking for a player who changed his stock dramatically from scrimmages earlier in the week to tonight’s game, it has to be Kidd-Gilchrist and Holiday. They didn’t really distinguish themselves earlier in the week but they’ve both been really good in this Blue-White Showcase. I expected more from Cousins and would have loved to see more minutes for Favors, who was solid all week in scrimmages.
— All five starters for the White team in double figures in scoring. Their balance has been impressive. Coach Monty Williams is aiming for bragging rights over Blue team coach Tom Thibodeau. Williams better get this one because his Pelicans will only get two cracks at the Thibodeau’s Bulls during the regular season. And I’m betting the Bulls will be favored in both of those contests.
— We have to start talking MVP now with just under eight minutes to play. Kyrie is a no-brainer right now. He leads the White team with 20 points and six assists, and those numbers should climb in the next few minutes. He’s been a cut above the rest of the point guards in this game. Easy argument for him being the best player on the floor tonight.
— White team is just too good in all the right spots. Blue team can’t stay in front of their point guards consistently enough to keep them from doing work with the dribble drive.
— By the way, White team lead stretched to 89-79 in the final minutes of the quarter with Conley-Lawson leading the way.
— Harrison Barnes, who has looked really good tonight, highlights Anderson with a nasty smash while floating to his left through lane on his way to the basket. Still can’t see Barnes coming off the bench in Golden State this season. Mark Jackson is going to have to do some serious tinkering with his rotations with Barnes, Thompson, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala all in the mix at the same time. Once they get it down they’re going to be a monster crew on both ends of the floor.
— Tons of intriguing combinations on the floor tonight for both sides. White team has a Mike Conley-Ty Lawson backcourt that is doing work right now. Their mismatches have opened up the floor a bit for Ryan Anderson, who has knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers (and he’s 3-for-3 on the night so far). Blue team is countering with a John Wall–Kemba Walker backcourt that isn’t flowing at all. All eight of the point guards here this week were instructed to forget their normal designations and concentrate on just playing in the backcourt. Some of these guys have no problem doing that while others are continuing to struggle with the concept.
— Dunk of the night goes to the Air Force (Nathaniel Mills of Douglasville, Ga.) who was honored with 5:05 to play in the third and showed off his hops by nailing a Dominique Wilkins-inspired windmill in full fatigues and combat boots. He got some post-dunk love from Carmelo, too.
— Faried and Holiday have some nice chemistry working for the White team. Holiday has five assists and Faried 11 points and seven rebounds. Versatility kills in this type of environment. The fact that Holiday works efficiently with either hand and is a much better and more physical athlete than he appears to be on the hoof, He just as good off the ball as he is with it in his hands, something that will come in handy this season in New Orleans.
— I see you Monroe. He gets his shot blocked by Jordan on a flat-footed jumper from the wing. He got the ball back and spun baseline past Jordan for a smooth layup that draws oohs from the crowd. Monroe has been solid tonight, extremely solid for a guy who struggled a bit at times during the week.
— Schuhmann’s head is going to explode if Davis takes another 18-footer. Haha. I love his confidence and he absolutely needs that shot as a part of his repertoire going forward. He’s 6-for-8 from the floor right now and leads the Blue team with 12 points with 7 minutes to play in the third.
— Proof that you just never know how these things will play out once the lights come on: George missed his first six shots of the night before draining a corner 3-pointer. He was clearly the best player on the floor during scrimmages earlier in the week. But tonight he’s struggled to get on track.
— Surge from the Blue team at the cuts the White team’s lead to just 53-51. We’ll have fireworks in the second half for certain.
— Carmelo Anthony is in the crowd an gets a shoutout from the PA announcer and some jumbotron love. White team still in control with a 50-42 lead in the final three minutes of the first half.
— Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was sort of quiet during the scrimmages on Monday and Tuesday. But the things he does well (hustle, defend, find-the-ball instincts, etc.) are on full display as the White team takes control of things here in the second quarter. He’s the sort of utility player that comes in handy during international competition. You just wonder how long it’s going to take him to improve his shot to the point where won’t be a liability on offense?
— Pistons boss Joe Dumars is sitting behind the scorer’s table at midcourt with prized power forward Josh Smith as they watch Monroe and Drummond do work in the showcase. Nothing but smiles.
— White team takes the lead 42-38 with 5:59 to play behind Kyrie doing the Blue team dirty off the dribble. He was clearly the best point guard here this week and arguably the best player in camp. This showing so far tonight is just validation of what we’ve seen all week. He leads all scorers with 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor.
— Kyrie is just ridiculous. He keeps blowing by his man and getting into the teeth of the defense. The fact that he can finish at the rim with either hand makes him even more dangerous. He’s the first man in double figures tonight with 13. He can get whatever he wants out here. Ridiculous.
— Cousins is such an enigma. One second he’s blowing by Drummond with a great first step to the basket and drawing a foul. The next he’s pouting because he ran the floor and didn’t get the ball. A guy with his attitude issues is going to be a tough sell on any 12-man team selected to represent the U.S. in any international competition. There are too many guys in the program who can do similar things that don’t bring that extra stuff.
— Blue team is up 30-23 after the first 12 minutes. Davis leads the Blue team with 8 points. Lillard has 7. Irving the leads the White team with 8 points, Jordan has 6 and Faried 5.
— It took Faried all of nine minutes to grab six rebounds to go along with his five points. His motor runs in ways that these other guys just can’t match. Even when he seems physically overmatched he wins his individual battles around the rim on sheer hustle. Works the same way with FIBA rules as it does in the NBA.
— Klay Thompson is left open twice moments after entering the game and drains a step-in jumper and a 3-pointer off of a long rebound. Seriously, someone on the White teams needs to make sure he is not left open.
— Nice point guard battle shaping up here. Lillard drains a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer and Kyrie answers with a driving layup on the other end and the foul. These two guys could fight it out for a spot on the team next summer to go to Spain.
— Blue team opens the game on a 8-0 run while the White team turns it over time after time.
Greg Monroe’s work in the post is subtle but effective. He’s a smart big man who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
— White team starters are Irving, Holiday, George, Faried and Jordan. Blue team starters are Lillard, Waiters, Hayward, Monroe and Davis.
— Chris Paul, with Lil’ Chris by his side, is headed to the arena to see the action as well.
— George takes home top honors in the unofficial dunk contest during pregame warmups. He nailed his signature windmill cuff dunk three different times, each one better than its predecessor. Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Holiday joined him on the White team’s spectacular warm up line with some crazy dunks of their own.