LAS VEGAS — Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis likely had spots on next year’s U.S. National Team roster locked up before Thursday night. And if there was any doubt, the two former No. 1 picks likely removed it after their performance in the USA Basketball Showcase, a 128-106 victory for Irving’s White Team.
Irving got out in transition and sliced through the blue defense to the tune of a game-high 23 points (on just eight shots) and seven assists. He was the best player on the floor and made it clear that he’s not only a future National Team member but a star to watch in the upcoming NBA season.
“It’s a pick-and-roll league,” Damian Lillard said afterward, “and he’s really good at breaking guys down one-on-one. So if he has a pick-and-roll, a lot of times he has a big man in front of him and can take advantage of situations. When he gets that screen and has that big man on an island, he’s going to get around him and he can finish at the rim. When you have that type of handle and you can finish at the rim, that’s deadly.”
“I wanted to separate myself, somehow, from this group,” Irving said, “and show what I can bring to the team for next year.”
Playing alongside some other talented bigs, Davis looked like more of a stretch four on Thursday, showing off his ability to step outside and knock down jump shots. That might not be the role he plays with the National Team going forward, but he led the Blue Team with 22 points and seven rebounds. And after earning a gold medal as the 12th man on last year’s Olympic Team, he looks ready to take on a larger role for USA Basketball.
“As good as he was last year,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, “he’s just stepped it up another couple of levels. And that was exciting to see. He got better throughout the week and put on a heck of a performance tonight.”
This was not a great environment to evaluate anybody’s readiness for international basketball. The two teams played with the international 3-point line and with FIBA officials, but not in a hostile environment or against international defenses. The pace was ridiculously fast (more than 100 possessions each in 48 minutes), with no savvy international guards stopping the U.S. fast breaks with timely fouls. Playing Spain in Madrid for the World Cup gold medal next summer would be an entirely different experience.
So Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo won’t be putting extra emphasis on these 48 minutes when determining who will be in their pool of players for the next three years. In fact, what may be more important is what these young players learn from this week and bring to their NBA teams in the fall.
“This was just another day in the life of our group,” Colangelo said. “We’re going to have a lot of time to evaluate the entire week, the game included. And we’re going to be watching each and every one them during the course of the season, because we have a lot of time on our side before we go forward.”
Still, in addition to Irving and Davis, there were a few players who likely enhanced their stock on Thursday, most of them on the winning White Team. Kenneth Faried and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist used their endless energy to put up solid numbers in minimal minutes. Jrue Holiday filled the boxscore with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. And Mike Conley and Ty Lawson proved to be a cohesive point-guard combo on the White Team’s second unit.
For the Blue Team, Harrison Barnes showed that he’s got the skills to be a small-ball (or international) four man, while Greg Monroe was solid inside with an ability to play off talented ball-handlers.
All of the above will certainly get serious consideration when Colangelo and Krzyzewski create a new pool of 25-28 players in January. From that pool, teams for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics will be selected, though names can always be added or removed from the list. The pool will be made up of players that participated in this week’s camp, USA Basketball veterans, and a few other players who couldn’t participate this week.
“It’s a very fluid pool,” Colangelo said. “Guys are going to keep developing.”
The experience they gained this week will surely help them do that.