LAS VEGAS — Mason Plumlee got a promotion on Tuesday, moving up from the Select Team to the Senior Team at USA Basketball camp.
Primarily, this was a numbers thing. The National Team had 19 guys in camp and only five bigs. The addition of Plumlee gives them an even 20, which allowed them to split into two 10-man teams for scrimmages (one on each floor) against the Select Team in practice and for Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, a more formal intra-squad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
But Plumlee’s chances of making the final roster for the World Cup shouldn’t be completely dismissed. The staff here likes him.
“He has good size,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo told NBA TV in discussing Plumlee’s promotion. “He’s active.”
It helps to be nearly seven feet tall. The imbalance between the U.S. Team’s backcourt talent and frontcourt talent is not a new thing. And the late decisions by Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to stay home created more of an opportunity for a guy who was supposed to spend most his rookie season in the D-League.
“Giving him an opportunity to play with the USA Team,” Colangelo told NBA.com, “that puts him in a position where he could earn himself a spot [on the final 12-man roster]. It’s possible.”
Plumlee’s older brother Miles has good size and is active too. But the feeling is that Mason has a better basketball IQ, is a better pick-and-roll defender and is more skilled. In the eyes of one person who would know, Mason just cares about basketball more.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski had both of them at Duke (and there are even more Dukies on the support staff), so he obviously has a good feel for what both can do.
Colangelo told NBA TV that he wants “extra bigs in my back pocket” when this team goes to Spain. Not only is there a possibility of facing two Gasols and Serge Ibaka on their home floor for the World Cup gold medal game, but every big in camp not named Anthony Davis has question marks…
- DeMarcus Cousins is a beast, but ultimately, the staff has to be able to trust him, both in regard to dealing with officials and in making decisions with the ball. During a scrimmage on Tuesday, Cousins punched a wall pad out of frustration as the ball went the other way in transition. It was something that would go mostly unnoticed in an NBA game, but that stuff registers with the staff. He has great skills, but USA bigs don’t need to play one-on-one.
- Colangelo on NBA TV: “We’re going to end up, I really feel this way, with some specialists. Now, I’ll just use a name. He may or may not be that guy, but [Kenneth] Faried … Energy, rebounding. We looked at tapes of yesterday’s scrimmage. He came in and, within a minute, he was responsible for six points for his team, getting two offensive rebounds, getting out on the break. And the same with [Andre] Drummond. He did a couple of things in a short period of time that added six points.”
- For the 6-foot-8 Faried, size is obviously the issue. Colangelo sees him more as an “energy” guy than a “big” guy. So the opponent likely would determine just how much he could play on any given night.
- For Drummond, it’s a little similar to Cousins in that you have to be able to trust him in a big moment. Because of their energy and athleticism, both can make more of short bursts than Cousins or Paul Millsap. And short bursts is probably all the non-Davis bigs will get with this team.
- Size is an issue with Millsap as well. And he just doesn’t have the explosiveness of Faried. But he’s obviously more skilled than the rest of the group. He’s an interesting case.
The role of a U.S. big seems pretty simple. You’re not asked to carry an offense here. You’re not going to be posting up on the low block. But you still need to put in your work.
“There’s a lot to it,” Plumlee said. “You know you have to be a great screener to play for [Coach K]. You have to be on the boards all the time. There are different things you have to see as a big man. Like, in our half-court sets, you’re going to be a playmaker-passer from the elbow. So, there’s a lot that goes into it. Just because you aren’t putting the ball in the hole, there’s a lot more to it.”
With so much uncertainty, you have to wonder if the U.S. might take four bigs on its roster (going back to that “extra bigs in my back pocket” line) for the first time since 2006, the first year of the Colangelo/Krzyzewski era, when the team lost to Greece in the semifinals of the World Championship.
Colangelo isn’t ready to make that kind of decision just yet.
“It could be [the year they again take a fourth big],” he said, “but there’s no lock on that. I want to put it in perspective. I do think we have to take advantage of this entire month of training camp, where we have an opportunity to see some things.”
Colangelo aims to cut the roster from (now) 20 to 15 after this week in Las Vegas. And maybe five of those 15 are big men, to allow the staff to really figure out what they have and what they need.
“We’ll learn something when we play Brazil in Chicago [on Aug. 16],” he said of an exhibition against the likes of Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. “That’s a huge frontline.”
Will Plumlee be there? After practice on Tuesday, he wasn’t even sure if his promotion was permanent.
“I’m just doing what they told me,” he said. “They told me to get on the 11:00 bus and I’m here.”
He seems like a long shot, but it sounds like Colangelo is keeping an open mind. Plumlee has two more days of practice and Friday’s Showcase to make the staff’s decision even harder.
When asked if he had spoken to teammate Kevin Garnett recently, Plumlee said that he did right before he came to Vegas. And it wasn’t about next season with the Nets (which they had already discussed), but this opportunity. Whether he makes the team or not, Plumlee is trying to take advantage of his time here.
“[I want to] just pick up things from the best players in the league,” he said. “It’s not everyday you get to practice with [Derrick] Rose, Kevin Durant and a lot of these guys. So you’re always learning no matter where you’re playing. You see what they do, their habits, the different things that they find success with, and then try to add it to your game.”
He might get even more time with those guys than he originally thought.