USA Basketball

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 171) … The Future!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What does the future look like for the Indiana Pacers?

The forecast is gloomy, even after a few sips of Rick Fox‘s homemade breakfast smoothie, which he needed to get through Episode 171 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Future.

Everything changed in an instant for the Pacers when their young All-Star Paul George went down with a compound-fracture of his right leg during last week’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas.

George could very well miss the entire 2014-15 season, and then some, recovering from the gruesome injury. And that leaves the Pacers, who also lost Lance Stephenson this summer via free agency, with huge holes to fill in their lineup with LeBron James (Kevin Love) and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose (Pau Gasol) and the Chicago Bulls hunting that No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.

We also talk about LeBron’s offseason weight-loss routine, Becky Hammon joining the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff, smoothie making and a plenty more on Episode 171 of The Hang Time Podcast … The Future:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Colangelo, Krzyzewski downplay effects of George injury on USA Basketball


VIDEO: USAB Scrimmage Recap

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been just four days since Paul George‘s horrific injury at the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas. But the National Team has no choice but to keep moving forward.

The next phase of training for the FIBA Basketball World Cup begins Aug. 14 in Chicago, with an exhibition against Brazil scheduled for Aug. 16 at the United Center. On Tuesday morning, USA Basketball announced the 16 players who will continue with the team for those three days of action and then five days of training (including two more exhibition games) in New York.

As was reported Monday night, Bradley Beal, Paul Millsap and John Wall are the three guys who were “cut,” though you’ll never hear USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo or coach Mike Krzyzewski use that word.

They did talk extensively on Tuesday afternoon. And, obviously, the aftermath of George’s injury was a big topic.

“We’ve been in communication with our players,” Colangelo said. “They are all on board. They recognize that injuries and sports go together, unfortunately. And we all have experiences that we could talk about, where players have been lost in practice, players have been lost in games and pick-up games for seasons. I personally have experienced that with my 45 years in the NBA.”

It wasn’t long after George broke his leg that people (rightfully) started to wonder how the injury — seen on national television — would affect the willingness of NBA players to play in international competitions in the summer. And we won’t really know if it will until 2016, when Colangelo calls on players for the Olympics in Brazil.

But he believes the pull of representing your country will overcome any risks players might see in playing competitively in the offseason.

“To be able to represent your country is what it’s all about,” Colangelo said. “It is about being patriotic. It is about selfless service. And our players get that. All you need to do is ask any of them who have been involved with us in our last three competitions and they would, to a man, say they feel they’re better people, better players, and felt a real warming within their soul to represent their country.”

NBA owners, of course, deserve a say in the matter. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has long been a critic of NBA guys playing for their country without compensation, continues to advocate for an international tournament run by the NBA.

“I think people need to read between the lines,” Colangelo said of Cuban’s comments. “He’s against international competition when he believes the beneficiary, being the IOC, is getting the money. So he’s basically saying it’s OK for our players to play internationally if the money goes to the NBA and to the team owners. That’s the difference.”

That’s a discussion for another day. Right now, there’s nothing Cuban or other owners can do.

“It’s pretty hard to keep players from playing the game,” Colangelo said. “That’s their core. They’re going to play pick-up games. They’re going to play any place they can. And injuries are a part of the whole process. That’s just part of the game. And we have to get by that. But who is to say what’s going to take place going forward. Right now, we’re dealing with the here and now, and that is one step at a time, Chicago, New York and Spain. We have a job to do and hopefully, we can accomplish our goal.”

What about short-term effects of George’s injury. Might the risks of playing competitively be in the back of the minds of the 16 guys left on the roster when they practice begins next Thursday? Krzyzewski didn’t sound concerned.

“I think our guys will go after it,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a lingering effect in that regard. In fact, I think it could be opposite. I think our guys might go after it even harder to honor Paul.”

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

Player Team POS Height Age NBA Exp. National team exp.
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 24 4
Stephen Curry GSW PG-SG 6-3 26 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP C 6-10 21 2 2012
DeMar DeRozan TOR SG-SF 6-7 25 5
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 21 2
Kevin Durant OKC SF-PF 6-9 25 7 2010, 2012
Kenneth Faried DEN PF 6-8 24 3
James Harden HOU SG-SF 6-5 25 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA SG-SF 6-8 24 4
Kyrie Irving CLE PG 6-3 22 3
Kyle Korver ATL SG-SF 6-7 33 11
Damian Lillard POR PG-SG 6-3 24 2
Chandler Parsons DAL SF-PF 6-9 25 3
Mason Plumlee BKN C 6-11 24 1
Derrick Rose CHI PG 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW SG-SF 6-7 24 3

USA roster reduced to 16

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On Tuesday, USA Basketball officially announced a reduced roster for its next phase of training, which begins Aug. 14 in Chicago. But Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski had the scoop first, reporting Monday night that Bradley Beal, Paul Millsap and John Wall won’t be on the 16-man list.

The departure of Wall – who was a late addition to the roster – leaves four point guards: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose. Curry and Rose are locks to make the final 12-man roster and Irving (more like Rose) should be the favorite to be the third point guard over Lillard (more like Curry).

Millsap was also a late addition to the roster. In fact, after hearing about the decisions of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to withdraw, he and his agent volunteered the day before the first pre-camp meeting. With Millsap out, Kenneth Faried, whose energy and bounce have been impossible to ignore, is the only “small big” left on the roster.

Beal’s departure, along with Paul George‘s injury, leaves the U.S. five wings behind Kevin Durant and James Harden, with Durant likely to start at power forward. Four of those five will make the roster, with a spot likely to come down to a decision between DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 16 points Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, and Gordon Hayward, who finished with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in just 15 minutes.

The most interesting roster decision remains at the back-up center spot. And it will come down to a question of talent vs. fit. DeMarcus Cousins, who recorded a double-double on Friday, has the talent. Mason Plumlee (10 points, four rebounds and four fouls) is the better fit for the U.S. Team’s successful, fast-paced style. Andre Drummond, who had some ugly offensive moments in the Showcase, is still in the picture.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski could go with all offense in his starting lineup, placing Curry and Harden between Rose, Durant and Anthony Davis. But if he wants more defense, he could call on Klay Thompson to start at the three.

Krzyzewski has some time to see what he likes. The U.S. will play four exhibition games before the FIBA Basketball World Cup begins, starting with a matchup against Brazil on Aug. 16 in Chicago.

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

Player Team POS Height Age NBA Exp. National team exp.
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 24 4
Stephen Curry GSW PG-SG 6-3 26 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP C 6-10 21 2 2012
DeMar DeRozan TOR SG-SF 6-7 25 5
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 21 2
Kevin Durant OKC SF-PF 6-9 25 7 2010, 2012
Kenneth Faried DEN PF 6-8 24 3
James Harden HOU SG-SF 6-5 25 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA SG-SF 6-8 24 4
Kyrie Irving CLE PG 6-3 22 3
Kyle Korver ATL SG-SF 6-7 33 11
Damian Lillard POR PG-SG 6-3 24 2
Chandler Parsons DAL SF-PF 6-9 25 3
Mason Plumlee BKN C 6-11 24 1
Derrick Rose CHI PG 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW SG-SF 6-7 24 3

Paul George injury halts USA Basketball Showcase


VIDEO: Paul George was carried off on a stretcher with a serious leg injury

LAS VEGAS – USA Basketball’s first week of preparations for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup was marred by a horrific injury to the lower right leg of Pacers forward Paul George.

In the first minute of the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase on Friday, George attempted to block a James Harden layup on a fast break. On his landing, his right leg buckled as it hit the basket support.

Overnight, USA Basketball announced that George had surgery to repair a open tibia-fibula fracture and would be hospitalized for about three more days.

Players around George were shaken by what they saw. As George received medical attention on the baseline of the Thomas & Mack Center, his mother and father came down from the crowd and were by his side. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was also in attendance.

“[George] appeared, like, stoic,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “They allowed his father to touch him and to comfort him. I thought our trainers did a great job, right away, of making sure, emotionally, he was as good as possible. But Paul reacted well.”

Both teams gathered together in prayer before George was taken away in a stretcher. And there was a universal decision to end the game with 9:33 to go.

“With the serious injury that we had,” Krzyzewski announced to the assembled crowd, “and the fact that we stopped playing for a long time and, really, in respect for Paul and his family, the scrimmage is done. We want to thank you for your support.”

Afterward, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said that there would be no decisions on the USA roster “for a while.”

“We need to just take a step back before we do anything at all,” Colangelo said. “Our first concern, our primary concern is Paul George.”

Colangelo and Krzyzewski said that they would be heading to the hospital immediately after speaking to the media. They had been set to cut the roster down from 20 to 15, likely early Saturday. But the team is not scheduled to reconvene until Aug. 14 in Chicago and there’s no urgency to make any decisions now.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s injury

Before George’s injury, Friday night was about the performance of Derrick Rose, who looked as quick and explosive as ever in his first game in almost nine months. But just as the USA and the NBA got one star back, it lost another. George was set to be the starting small forward for the U.S. Team at the World Cup, which begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And though there are no details on his injury as of yet, it is likely to keep him out several months.

“We are aware of the injury sustained by Paul George in Friday night’s Team USA game in Las Vegas and we are obviously greatly concerned,” Pacers president Larry Bird said in a statement. “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Paul.”

Bird filed another statement on the team’s website Saturday morning and added the following in regards to George:

“Our first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.”

George’s injury could also have repercussions for USA Basketball, which has gotten commitments from most of the best players in the country since Colangelo took over the program in 2005. George’s injury could be in the back of players’ minds any time they’re asked to play for their country.

“It’s a first for us in USA Basketball,” Colangelo said, “to have something like this take place.”

Questions will be asked about the distance between the baseline and the basket stanchion at the Thomas & Mack Center. It appeared to be shorter than at a typical NBA arena.

“Anything can happen anywhere,” Krzyzewski said. “Tonight it happened during a basketball game.”

George’s U.S. teammates did not address the media after the game and left the arena quietly. Kyrie Irving was seen crying in his father’s arms.

A lot of the players, along with dozens of other NBA players and former Louisville guard Kevin Ware, who suffered a similar injury last year, tweeted their support afterward. NBA commissioner Adam Silver also issued a statement.

“There’s a brotherhood in the NBA,” Krzyzewski said, “and to me, at moments like this, a family, a brotherhood shows its heart, shows its depth.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 170) featuring John Schuhmann

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Time to make some cuts … or roster selections as they say in the world of USA Basketball, where NBA All-Stars go to get humbled.

Not everyone is going to make the traveling roster for the World Cup in Spain later this month. Guys like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Paul George and Anthony Davis are virtual locks to make it to Spain.

But there are still some questions to be answered for other guys who are a part of the master group but might not fit on the competitive roster for this particular position. All-Star talents like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins and others are fighting until the very end for their respective places on the team.

It’s a good thing USA Basketball honchos Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have the responsibility of making the hard choices. But if they need any assistance, they can listen to Episode 170 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Schuhmann. NBA.com’s stat master and international basketball maven has been on the ground in Las Vegas since the start of training camp. He’s crunched the numbers and watched the workouts. He’s got his own ideas, backed up by his meticulously gathered data, about who should make the final cut.

So do we, of course (in addition to our views on the latest surrounding LeBron James, Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins, Pat Riley and more).

Tune into Episode 170 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Schuhmann to find out all about it:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

USA Basketball Showcase big for roster hopefuls


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 3

LAS VEGAS – Thursday was a light, no-contact day at USA Basketball training camp. On the fourth day of preparations for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Select Team was gone and the Senior Team just went through drills and shooting.

This was to make sure everybody was fresh for Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, an intra-squad scrimmage that could go a long way in determining who will still be with this team when it reconvenes in Chicago on Aug. 14 and who won’t.

“Tomorrow night,” USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday, “if somebody just knocks somebody out, in terms of performance, that’s big. That is a big factor. So, not to put pressure on anyone, but it’s one thing to practice, it’s another thing to play in games.”

Here are the rosters for the game, with the players’ potential positions for the National Team …

Pos Blue White
PG Derrick Rose Kyrie Irving
PG John Wall
1/2 Stephen Curry Damian Lillard
2/3 DeMar DeRozan Bradley Beal
2/3 Kyle Korver James Harden
2/3 Klay Thompson
3/4 Paul George Kevin Durant
3/4 Gordon Hayward Chandler Parsons
4 Kenneth Faried Paul Millsap
5 Anthony Davis DeMarcus Cousins
5 Mason Plumlee Andre Drummond

We won’t know the details of the roster reduction until Saturday at the earliest. Neither will the players, who’ve been left in the dark about their status all week. Colangelo, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and their staff will meet after the game, discuss and evaluate what they saw.

“This isn’t evaluating one individual and his game,” Krzyzewski said Thursday. “It’s about evaluating a group and how a group will go together. All these guys are outstanding players. It’s just a matter of how we feel they can mesh as a unit.”

The U.S. won’t necessarily cut the roster down to 12 when it departs for the Canary Islands (for four more days of training and an exhibition against Slovenia) on Aug. 23. They took extra bodies abroad in 2010 and could do so again.

“I’m not saying we are going to do that,” Krzyzewski said, “but we don’t have to have the 12 until the day before [the World Cup begins]. We’d rather have it done before, but we’ll see.”

Here’s how I believe the roster stands at this point …

The locks

There are six guys who, barring injury, will absolutely on the team as it opens pool play at the World Cup on Aug. 30. They are (in alphabetical order) …

Stephen Curry – Curry didn’t play big minutes on the 2010 team that won gold in Istanbul, but he’s blown up on the NBA level since. It looks like he’ll be the sixth man, though he could be a starter at either guard position.

Anthony Davis – The starting center and likely one of two guys who will play big minutes (around 30 per game, maybe more in the final). Though he barely played in 2012, his last-minute addition to that roster (due to a Blake Griffin injury) is turning out to be a blessing. That experience will go a long way.

“It’s one of those things,” Krzyzewski said Thursday, “where a really good thing happened even though something bad happened.”

Kevin Durant – Well, duh.

Paul George – The starting small forward alongside Durant. He’ll get the toughest perimeter defensive assignment.

James Harden – Likely the starting shooting guard, who will share playmaking responsibilities with Rose and Curry.

Derrick Rose – Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have been downright giddy about what they’ve seen from Rose this week. He’s looked strong and in control, and his jumper is better than ever. It would be a real surprise if he isn’t the starting point guard against Finland on Aug. 30.

The other point guard

Colangelo told USA Today on Wednesday that it would be hard to keep more than one “pure point” on the roster, and labeled Rose, Kyrie Irving and John Wall as the true points in camp.

So it seems clear that one roster spot will come down to Irving vs. Wall. Irving is the more dynamic one-on-one player, but Wall is the better passer and defender.

Also, while Irving (35.8 percent) was a slightly better 3-point shooter than Wall (35.1 percent) overall last season, Wall was much better on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Wall had a 3-point percentage of 43.1 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 60.8 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, while Irving’s numbers were just 32.1 percent and 46.0 percent. Opponents will pack the paint and hope the U.S. Team is having an off night from the perimeter, so catch-and-shoot skills should be more important than pull-up skills with this team.

The specialists

Colangelo has said that, beyond a core of seven or eight guys, you need specialists. Those specialists could be energy guys, defenders, shooters or big man insurance.

There are two guys that fit the bill better than anyone. And beyond the six locks above, I’d label them as the most likely to make the roster (though that doesn’t mean they’ll have big roles).

Kenneth Faried – He doesn’t seem to fit in international basketball, because he’s 6-8 and can’t shoot. But he has ridiculous energy and bounce, he can finish on the break and he will outwork guys on the glass. Krzyzewski can put Faried into the game for a few minutes at a time, tell him to wreak some havoc and be confident that he will make a positive impact.

Kyle Korver – You know why he’s here. But the league-leader in 3-point percentage won’t hurt you defensively. He’s improved quite a bit on that end of the floor over the years.

These guys have unique skills, and both can be trusted to happily accept a limited role.

The rest of the core

So, if there are six locks and a seven- or eight-man core, who makes up the rest of the core? Colangelo wouldn’t bite at that question, but said they’re pretty set on who it is.

“That’s been pretty consistent,” he said. “It just depends. Is the core group seven or is it eight?”

The best bet to be that seventh or eighth guy is Klay Thompson, a guy who can shoot and play a little D on the wing.

The other big

Oh boy. This tweet from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst really stirred up some stuff Thursday evening …

The DeMarcus Cousins/Mason Plumlee debate is fascinating, and it’s too early to say that any decision has been made regarding the two. In fact, it’s extremely likely that both Cousins and Plumlee (and all the other bigs) will continue with the team to Chicago and New York, so that the staff can see them against other teams.

“This is a camp that is a month long,” Colangelo said, “not five days.”

The stop in Chicago will include an exhibition against Brazil, which has the front line – Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao – that most closely resembles Spain, the team, if any, that the U.S. would plan for when building its roster.

But the U.S. doesn’t necessarily have to match up against the World Cup hosts. In fact, in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympics, the three U.S. bigs – Kevin Love (19), Tyson Chandler (9) and Davis – combined to play just 29 minutes against Spain.

Davis could play that many himself this year. And if the U.S. does face Spain in another gold medal game, the hosts would worry about matching up with the Americans (namely Durant) as much as the opposite. The only difference between 2012 and this year is that the U.S. had bulkier forwards (LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony), who didn’t give up as much size to opposing bigs, while forcing them to try to guard them on the perimeter.

Back to Cousins/Plumlee, and back to Krzyzewski’s quote above about how the team will “mesh as a unit.”

Cousins’ advantages over other bigs are reduced when he’s not a focal point of the offense. And when he’s playing with the likes of Rose, Curry, Harden and Durant, he’s certainly not going to be that. He’s not getting 10 (or even three) post-ups as a back-up center on this team. And he doesn’t have the end-to-end speed to play the style that has been successful for the U.S. over the last several years.

“The style we play lends itself to what Anthony does,” Krzyzewski said, “or even what a Plumlee is doing. A little bit of [Andre] Drummond.

“DeMarcus’ game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he’s trying to make it. But also, as he grows, we have to look and see ‘Is there something we can do to help in bringing something more out of his game?'”

For Colangelo, the Cousins/Plumlee decision is about continuity from the starters to the bench.

“If you want to play a certain style,” he said, “you need the personnel to play that way. Now, some guys don’t really fit that way, but if there’s enough reason to carry someone … we play differently when he’s in the game. You have to make an adjustment.”

Plumlee does what they like. He runs the floor, he’s active and vocal on defense, and he stays in his lane. He’s certainly not perfect – it could be bad news if he has to make decisions with the ball or shoot free throws – but his type is a better fit on this team, especially when you’re talking about a roster spot that will see limited playing time. And yes, Cousins’ temperament is always a factor.

Drummond is definitely still in the picture, so this could be a three-man race for that back-up center spot. And it’s a race that will likely go from Vegas to Chicago to New York.

“We’re going to take a long look at our bigs,” Krzyzewski said.

Paul Millsap is likely in competition with Faried for the smaller big man spot. Millsap offers better offensive skills and floor spacing, but in short bursts, it seems clear that Faried can make a more immediate impact. It should also be noted that Faried was on the original roster, while Millsap volunteered to come when Kevin Love dropped out.

The redundancies

In answering a question about Gordon Hayward on Thursday, Colangelo said, “We have a lot of redundancy at certain positions and body types and sizes,” and put Hayward in the same category with Chandler Parsons and DeMar DeRozan.

“This will be very competitive for a number of guys because of the redundancy,” Colangelo said. “You could go one way or another.”

If you go back to those catch-and-shoot numbers, Parsons (41.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes) was much better than DeRozan (34.0 percent) or Hayward (31.8 percent). He’s also a good playmaker, so give him the edge going into Friday night.

The other guards

Damian Lillard is thought of here as a one/two in the mold of Curry. And it’s hard to see them taking two of those. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he definitely won’t be in Chicago or that the staff doesn’t like him, but he seems the most likely to be done after Friday.

Bradley Beal has flown under the radar this week and is probably behind Thompson in the two/three consideration. But nobody should be eliminated from potentially being on the 15-man list before Friday’s Showcase.

The wild card

Colangelo told Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet that it’s not impossible for Love to ultimately be on the World Cup roster. Love withdrew from camp because of trade uncertainty, but again, the roster doesn’t have to be set until Aug. 29.

Cavs No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded on Aug. 23. So, it’s possible that Love could be dealt to Cleveland and then decide to play at the World Cup.

That could obviously send a bad message – that you can skip training camp and still play – to other U.S. players. But if it comes down to a decision between Kevin Love and Mason Plumlee, it may be difficult not to compromise your principles.

Predictions

So here’s a guess of what the roster will look like after it’s reduced this weekend, in the order they were addressed above …

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Anthony Davis
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Paul George
  5. James Harden
  6. Derrick Rose
  7. Kyrie Irving or John Wall
  8. Kyle Korver
  9. Kenneth Faried
  10. Klay Thompson
  11. DeMarcus Cousins
  12. Andre Drummond
  13. Mason Plumlee
  14. Chandler Parsons
  15. Bradley Beal or Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap or Irving/Wall

No. 15 will depend on what the staff thinks it needs and who played well on Friday. And the number of players going to Chicago doesn’t necessarily have to be 15.

USA camp – Day 3 notes


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 2

LAS VEGAS – Media time after Day 3 of USA Basketball training camp went a little long, because everybody was watching an extended game of “King of the Hill” between Kevin Durant, Paul George and James Harden.

“King of the Hill” is a three-way game of one-on-one. Player 1 tries to score on Player 2. If he does, Player 2 steps off the floor and Player 3 comes in and to play defense. But if Player 2 gets the stop, he moves to offense and tries to score against Player 3. The game goes on until a player gets five buckets.

That shouldn’t take long, but the trio played the game from several different spots on the floor. (Here’s a vine of a couple of right-elbow possessions.) By the time they were done, they had gone for a good 20 minutes or so, drawing quite a crowd of media, USA teammates, coaches, and other onlookers. And this was after a full practice.

“It was intense,” George said afterward. “At the end of the day, we’re out here to get better. And there’s no better guys for me to go against, for myself to guard than KD and James. And James is quick and low to the ground and KD’s got the length, so it’s good for me, offensively, as well. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to get better and work hard. And I think we took it to another level.”

Yes, that was George giving credit to Harden’s defense. At one point, Harden blocked Durant’s seemingly unblockable shot, getting in some trash talk afterward.


VIDEO: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Paul George play a game of King of the Hill

***

Speaking of Durant and George, they’re the latest USA forward tandem that no other country that can match up with. And by putting them on the same team every day, the U.S. staff is making sure they get time to build some chemistry.

***

Harden and Durant, meanwhile, are two of only five players in camp with Senior National Team experience. But 12 of the other 15 were here last year for a four-day mini-camp.

The U.S. had no competition to play in last summer. By winning the 2012 Olympics, they automatically qualified for this year’s World Cup and had no reason to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought 28 guys to Las Vegas, so they could get to know them and get them integrated into the system.

It was only four days and with so many guys in the gym, none of them got all that much playing time in the scrimmages. But it reduced the learning curve for the whole group and allowed them to hit the ground running on Monday.

“A big thing is their familiarity with me and the coaching staff,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time trying to get to know them. So, it lends for familiarity.”

And it has paid off.

“We have actually gotten more in in the first three days of this camp,” Krzyzewski said, “than we have our previous three camps.”

DeMar DeRozan was one of those guys here last year. (more…)

U.S. set with another talented tandem at the forward spots


VIDEO: All-Access: Paul George at USA Basketball Practice

LAS VEGAS – For most of the Jerry Colangelo/Mike Krzyzewski era, the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team has played two nominal small forwards together.

On the 2008 Olympic team, the starting forwards were LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. On the 2010 World Championship team, it was Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant. And at the 2012 Olympics, it was Durant and James.

One reason is that the international game requires more shooting on the floor than the NBA game, where you can have offensive success with two traditional bigs. Under FIBA rules, defenses can play zone and pack the paint.

The other reason? Well, the U.S. is really freaking talented at the small forward position.

When you have the two best players in the world on the same team, you’re not going to have them backing each other up.

This year’s edition of the National Team has Durant playing next to Paul George, one of the best two-way players in the league and an MVP candidate through the first half of last season. With those two teamed with Anthony Davis, the U.S. starting frontline is pretty much set in stone.

All you have to do is look at how the 20-man roster has been broken up in training camp this week. Once Kevin Love decided to back out of participating this summer, it became obvious who would start at the three, four and five positions. So, the staff set out on allowing the trio to start building chemistry from the start of camp. Each of the first three days, Davis, Durant and George have been on the same team.

“We’re going to play a lot together,” Durant said Wednesday. “The chemistry is going to come. But if we stick with it, continue to keep learning and playing off each other, we can be great.”

Though it’s becoming clearer with every day that passes that Derrick Rose will be the starting point guard for this team, the minutes distribution in the backcourt is still in the air. So the George-Durant-Davis trio has been teamed with different backcourt tandems each day.

On Monday, it was Rose and James Harden (the best bet for the starting two at the World Cup). On Tuesday, it was Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry. And on Wednesday, it was Rose and Klay Thompson, with John Wall subbing in for Rose after a few minutes.

“We wanted that with different guard tandems,” Krzyzewski said. “So you give them all a chance to play with those two guys, and with Anthony.”

George knows that, playing next to Durant and the guards on this roster, his focus has to be on one end of the floor in particular.

“I [have] got to be a defender,” he said. “We got guys that can make shots, run the floor and make plays. I got to be a defender for us. We got a bunch of defenders here, but I can be the versatile one that can guard 1-4 and be able to make plays when I need to.”

That’s the role that Iguodala played in 2010. Durant carried the U.S. offense, averaging 33 points per game in the final three games, but Iguodala’s defense — like holding Linas Kleiza to four points on 1-for-11 shooting and stripping him clean multiple times in the semifinal — was also critical.

Davis, Durant and George is a freakishly long and athletic frontline. And though they each averaged more than 20 points per game last season, George likes the potential of the trio defensively more than anything.

“What’s great is we can switch everything and not give up much,” he said. “I’m excited with that lineup. We can really cover the floor with our athleticism, our length, our speed.”

The U.S. only has 12 days of practice, one intra-squad scrimmage and four exhibition games before it begins World Cup pool play in Bilbao. So chemistry building from Day 1 is important. But so far, it has come at the expense of versatility building. With Davis, Durant and George always teaming together, they haven’t had the chance to team with other frontcourt pieces.

“The thing we haven’t been able to do,” Krzyzewski said, “is take a look at Paul at the four.”

With two NBA small forwards playing the three and four on this team, you’d think they were interchangeable in the game flow. And as George explained, they are on defense. But there are some distinctions between the two positions in the U.S. offense.

“The four, you’re setting a lot of screens instead of coming off the screens,” Chandler Parsons, a candidate to back up Durant and George, said. “You’re taking the ball out of bounds instead of running the wing. In different sets, you’re in different places. But for the most part, if you’re moving and you continue to get around, it’s all the same stuff.”

At some point, George will get the chance to play the four alongside another one of the U.S. forwards. But for most of the World Cup, he’ll be Durant’s running mate. James may be taking this summer off, but there still no country in the world that can match up with the U.S. forwards.

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

Plumlee gives USA another big option


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Jerry Colangelo Interview

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.