USA Basketball seeking sixth man, among other things, in Chicago

VIDEO: Team USA gets together for posterity

CHICAGO – Team USA doesn’t have Carmelo Anthony this summer in its quest for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It doesn’t have a Carmelo Anthony, either, as in an established NBA scoring champion, a volume scorer – 25.3 ppg in 11 seasons – and a bail-out option who can make something out of nothing, inside or out, to salvage possessions. Kevin Durant was that guy but he withdrew last week. USA Basketball, which faces its first real competition vs. Brazil on Saturday (9 ET, ESPN),  is once again looking for “that guy.”

That complicates the task of finding even a “Carmelo Anthony 2012 Edition,” a.k.a., that potent scorer off the bench who harnesses his ego even as he’s unleashing his skills in game-changing spurts.

Anthony filled that role expertly for the USA Basketball squad that took gold at the London Games. In the process, the New York Knicks scoring star – a polarizing player for what some see as me-first tendencies in his NBA work – wound up generating some of the best media clippings of his career and altering a few critics’ assessments.

“I don’t think he needed to do that. He always had respect from me,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a Team USA assistant who had Anthony in his only NCAA season, 2002-2003. They won the national championship that year.

“Back then, he was content. If he got 10 points and we won, he was fine,” Boeheim said Friday after Team USA’s workout at a West Side sports complex. “I think his main role in the NBA has been to score. I don’t think you should be criticized when a coach asks you to score and you score. That’s what he does.

“He’s a great offensive player. He’s not LeBron James. He can help, he can make passes. But his primary focus and what he does best is score. He did it for us when we needed him. He’s great under pressure.”

That’s one of the reasons coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted Anthony in that sixth-man role two years ago. Then there was that other reason.

“He was willing to do it, that’s No. 1,” said Jerry Colangelo, Team USA’s managing director.

There’s an esprit de corps each time the U.S. national team revs up nowadays, with All-Stars and franchise players generally accepting whatever roles Krzyzewski and his staff ask of them. But it’s not automatic and it certainly didn’t jibe with Anthony’s profile as an NBA dilettante whose teams in Denver and New York were, and needed to be, built around him.

Yet just two summers ago, with egos as assertive as Durant’s, James’ and Kobe Bryant‘s on board, Anthony agreeably took on the job of super sub. He came off the bench in all eight games and played less than half-time (17.8 mpg), but averaged 16.3 points, trailing only Durant (19.5 ppg in 26.0 mpg) in U.S. scoring.

Back in 2008, in Beijing, Anthony ranked fourth in scoring (11.5) behind Dwyane Wade (16.0), James (15.5) and Bryant (15.0). That year, it was Wade who did the sixth-man thing, outscoring each of the starters while averaging just 18.8 minutes.

And in 2004, Anthony’s first Olympics, he averaged just 2.4 points while appearing in seven of the eight games. The scoring load then was carried by Allen Iverson (13.8 ppg), Tim Duncan (12.9) and Stephon Marbury (10.5).

“These guys will do anything that you need ‘em to do to win,” Krzyzewski said. “Carmelo, for U.S. basketball, was really as good a ‘stretch 4′ as there was in international competition, starting or coming off the bench.”

With Durant tapping out and Paul George getting hurt two weeks ago – after other top candidates such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin opted not to participate – Team USA’s roster has been thinned.

As Colangelo said: “We originally thought we had guys coming off the bench – on paper – who would bring something to the table. Up tempo. A little more quickness. A little more shooting. But because of some injuries, they might end up starting.”

After Friday’s workout, Krzyzewski did not name his starting lineup for the tune-up game against Brazil’s national team Saturday at United Center. That’s part of what this pre-medal round schedule is for, flipping through the various combinations. But four of the five spots seemed heavily penciled in – Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis.

Candidates for the fifth starting spot include Chandler Parsons, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan. Big man DeMarcus Cousins (right knee bruise) will not face Brazil, so going small against that team’s big front line – Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter and Nene – might yield better results in a counter-programming way.

The candidates for sixth man – this squad’s ‘Melo – are in that above group, too, along with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Korver, pending the cutdown next weekend to 12 players. Krzyzewski’s substitution pattern Saturday won’t necessarily reveal anything, because the first game is all about “what if?” lineups. Even the game’s outcome – beyond setting, perhaps, a winning atmosphere – matters less than using the exhibition as a measuring stick.

“We’ll find out some things by trying new things, which will help us,” Krzyzewski said. “The main thing is medal round in Barcelona. We need to keep improving until we get to Barcelona, then it’s one and done. By that time hopefully we’ll be healthy, have whatever is good for our team in and then be ready to go for a World Cup.”

That includes a viable sixth man.

“I really think there are a lot of guys who would be willing to do it,” Korver said. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing. It’s one thing for a guy to be the sixth man on his NBA team, but there have been a bunch of guys [to do that for Team USA]. Every time someone’s done it, it seems that person has gotten a lot of praise and a lot of credit.”

Having a green light to shoot, at the urging of the coaches, at a rate that probably would lead the stellar squad in attempts-per-minute? Yeah, someone might raise his hand for that.

“We’ve got so many guys who can come in and contribute in any aspect of the game,” said Harden, who might pick up some of Durant’s shots in Team USA’s reworked offense. “From Klay Thompson to Kyle Korver to Damian Lillard, so many guys who can be effective at what they do.”

Harden was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 before getting traded to Houston and emerging as an All-Star the past two seasons. He knows a little about managing one’s ego from the bench.

“It’s all about your mindset,” he said Friday. “If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to impact the game, that as soon as you step out there you’re going to make your presence felt, then you’ll be more effective and your team will be better off. We won’t have that problem with this team – I’m sure guys will be ready and super-prepared at all times.”

Super-willing, it sounds like, to accept whatever role. From starter to sub, from sixth man to 12th man, and anything in between if the minutes change from night to night. Colangelo and Krzyzewski have worked wonders selling these guys on the honor of participating. They’re all fully marinated.

“When we started coaching NBA players,” Boeheim said, “everybody said, ‘Well, they won’t do this and they won’t do this.’ We found out they would do ‘this’ and they would do ‘this.’ They would come off the bench. They would play defense. They would sacrifice. Dwyane Wade came to us the first year [2008] and said, ‘I’ll come off the bench.’ Kobe Bryant came to us and said, ‘I’ll take the toughest guy defensively.’ Chris Paul came off the bench.

“These are great players. They do what they can to help us win and that’s why we’ve been successful. These guys have sacrificed, they’ve worked hard, they play defense and, really, I’ve never had a better experience in basketball than working with NBA players.”

21 Comments

  1. timothyhoward says:

    Let’s get it Team USA.

  2. zovche says:

    DeRozan and Lillard will come out with better performance then Harden, European teams know how to guard Harden but can’t follow tempo and dynamic of mentioned players

  3. mike jordan says:

    but still without any of the prolific scorers and superstars like james, Anthony, Durant, wade, I see derrick rose as the focal point of the offense, as well as AD

  4. mike jordan says:

    klay Thompson is the mamba in this squad, he can shoot form deep without a scratch, and also lillard, he can be clutch, but he cant score that much..one of them could be the sixth man, but de rozan is more versatile among the three..

    rose, curry, harden, faried, davis..small lineup but as dangerous and as athletic, get korver, Thompson together with cousins, derozan and irving, as second unit..they are also deadly form the outside..i also think Drummond is better than plumlee, so with lilard for the last spot, team usa could be very hard to defeat

  5. dustydreamnz says:

    I can’t believe Kenneth Faried is in the squad let alone starting, where are the good power forwards?

  6. Basketball Jones says:

    Demar DeRozan will make an excellent 6th man……he can create for himself….an efficient scorer…not a volume shooter…..he has an excellent mid range game and is a developing 3 point threat……his handle is getting better and he can be explosive…that would be my choice of the guys coming off the bench…..

    I am a Raptor fan,…of course!!!!!

  7. Wow says:

    Its sad when you look at the team two years ago and then you see this team…

  8. IrieChat says:

    Demar DeRozan should be the six man on this USA Team and that’s a RAP.

  9. BIGGIE says:

    KEEP SLEEPING ON DEMAR DEROZEN LOLL!!

    1 Kevin Durant (OKC) 81 3122 2593 849 1688 50.3% 192 491 39.1% 703 805 87.3% 58 540 598 445 103 59 285 174 1.56 0.36 2572
    2 Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 77 2982 2112 743 1643 45.2% 167 415 40.2% 459 541 84.8% 145 477 622 242 95 51 198 224 1.22 0.48 1942
    3 LeBron James (MIA) 77 2902 2089 767 1353 56.7% 116 306 37.9% 439 585 75.0% 81 452 533 488 121 26 270 126 1.81 0.45 2255
    4 Kevin Love (MIN) 77 2797 2010 650 1421 45.7% 190 505 37.6% 520 633 82.1% 224 739 963 341 59 35 196 136 1.74 0.30 2328
    5 Blake Griffin (LAC) 80 2863 1930 718 1359 52.8% 12 44 27.3% 482 674 71.5% 192 565 757 309 92 51 224 265 1.38 0.41 2082
    6 Stephen Curry (GSW) 78 2846 1873 652 1383 47.1% 261 615 42.4% 308 348 88.5% 46 288 334 666 128 14 294 194 2.27 0.44 1950
    7 James Harden (HOU) 73 2777 1851 549 1205 45.6% 177 483 36.6% 576 665 86.6% 61 283 344 446 115 29 265 177 1.68 0.43 1775
    8 DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 79 3017 1791 604 1407 42.9% 64 210 30.5% 519 630 82.4% 51 292 343 313 86 28 176 197

  10. Andy says:

    With the starters seemingly set (Rose, Curry, Harden, Faried and Davis) the three primary players off the bench Saturday at the United Center were Klay Thompson, Irving and Parsons. Plumlee was the only real Big off the bench. Gay, Lillard and Korver also saw some playing time. Hopefully, Cousins will be able to contribute when his leg heals. It looks like one of those last four won’t make the final roster, though I suspect all 13 will travel to Europe, since it’s always wise to have an extra player available in case of an injury before the final list has to be submitted to FIBA.

  11. harriethehawk says:

    I’m watching the USA Basketball game now. Hey James Harden, stop flopping! Your annoying!

  12. johnnyhoops1980 says:

    So mad Paul George got hurt playing for USA Basketball. I fear that it will have a rippling effect on the future of international hoops. Durant’s withdrawal being an obvious beginning to that. Read the SH piece on this issue, makes some interesting points: http://straighthoops.com/the_aftermath.html

  13. C_All_Star says:

    really don’t think harden can carry the offense, he is not good enough to take KD’s offense spot. i trust derrick rose more than him. i will start rose, irving, harden, faried and AD, the bench will be gay, gordon, klay, curry, lillard, cousin and drummond.

  14. CNagel47 says:

    I’d love to see Lillard fill in that role. Clutch 1 or 2 and can shoot lights out. Kyrie and Coach K’s connection at Duke is gonna be tough to overcome though.

  15. kavika6 says:

    It’s a sad day for the USA when Klay Thompson represents us in the World Cup.

  16. b.crow says:

    damian lillards gotta be the sixth man, hes hit the most clutch shots outta any of these people and is a better shooter and can create, itd have to be between lillard and kyrie. Lillard has more of an arsenal then kyrie so id pick lillard any day of the week.

  17. Max says:

    Really hope Rose can be able to play. Sixth man?? Just as important as the #1. It take an entire team to walk away with the GOLD!!~~