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 …
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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 …
- Stephen Curry
- Anthony Davis
- Kevin Durant
- Paul George
- James Harden
- Derrick Rose
- Kyrie Irving or John Wall
- Kyle Korver
- Kenneth Faried
- Klay Thompson
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Andre Drummond
- Mason Plumlee
- Chandler Parsons
- 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.