LAS VEGAS — USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo needs more than four days and a 48-minute scrimmage to evaluate the players who are vying for the remaining spots on the Men’s National Team that will compete in next summer’s World Cup of Basketball in Spain.
But you have to start somewhere. And with anywhere from four to six members of the team that won gold at the London Olympics expected to reprise their roles (Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are already in), per Colangelo’s estimate, that leaves plenty of room for the players who participated in USA Basketball’s mini-camp at UNLV to make their respective cases for consideration.
With Colangelo, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski and the entire staff going over every detail and monitoring the players on and off the court, it was an intensive boot camp-style experience for many of the NBA and collegiate stars who were going through the process for the very first time.
This is only the beginning, of course. And that’s why we (NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is my partner in this CSI-style evaluation of the prospects who were in attendance this week) aren’t ready to close the door on any of these guys. Sure, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and Paul George appeared to separate themselves from the pack with their performances earlier in the week and in Thursday night’s Blue-White Showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
They weren’t the only ones, however, to walk away from the process feeling good about the work they put in.
“I thought I had a really good week, I thought I played well overall. And I learned a lot from the coaches,” said Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who was indeed another standout. “I learned some things watching these other point guards, too, as there were so many top guys here. It was great, just the whole experience and what it’s all about. A lot of people don’t get this opportunity, so I just tried to soak it all up. I feel like I left a great impression. They talked a lot about character and the type of people that it takes to be a part of something like this. And I think they all saw that I’m the type of person that can adapt to be a part of Team USA. And I can definitely do what I have to do on the floor to be a part of this team.”
No one knows what will happen between now and next summer.
It’s like Colangelo said, this was just another week in the life of this group. The evaluation process will continue throughout the course of the 2013-14 season and beyond.
In the meantime, we need to gauge where all of these guys stand after the first phase of this process. We broke it down based on the rosters for the Blue-White Showcase and also included the four players who did not participate in the Showcase (for various reasons):
Anderson didn’t shoot particularly well in early-week scrimmages, but drained all three of his 3-pointers in Thursday’s Showcase. As a stretch four, he’s a unique player among this group. He could probably hold his own underneath against most international opponents, but he got pushed around a bit by the stronger bigs in camp.
Conley has an advantage, because the U.S. always wants to pressure the ball and he’s the best defender among the point guards in camp. He and Ty Lawson proved to be a cohesive combo in the Showcase, but he still may be a victim of the numbers game with so much talent — including guys that weren’t here this week — at his position.
Drummond is a physical specimen, a force on the offensive glass, and a matchup nightmare for almost any international opponent. But he’s still young and raw, and coaches need to trust that their players will make the right decisions on the floor. Obviously, his development over the first half of the NBA season will be a big part of how much consideration he gets in January.
Every team needs energy and rebounding and Faried brings both in spades. If there’s enough scoring talent elsewhere on the roster, he could grab one of the last couple of spots. But he’s still a 6-foot-8 power forward who can’t shoot. The power forward position is typically played by stars like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, and a center needs to have size (Tyson Chandler) or a jump shot (Kevin Love). Still, his attitude and relentlessness could force the U.S. staff to think outside the box.
Though he didn’t play great on Thursday, George is the best overall player (defense counts!) in this group and should be a lock to make next year’s World Cup roster. Forget what he brings offensively. As a lockdown defender, he’s the great complement to Durant at the other forward position, similar to Andre Iguodala in 2010. In fact, if Iguodala isn’t on next year’s roster, it’s probably because the staff believes they have a more complete player in George.
Holiday is one of three All-Stars in camp, one of the better defenders among the point guard crop, and has the size to slide to the two. He didn’t really distinguish himself early in the week, but had a strong game on Thursday, playing alongside Irving.
Irving was the star among the eight point guards in camp and among all 24 guys who saw the floor on Thursday. Obviously, he’s a clear favorite to make next year’s World Cup roster. It will be tougher to slice through international zones, but his offensive brilliance will still outweigh his defensive issues. And a season under Mike Brown should make a big difference when it comes to the D.
Jordan threw down some vicious dunks in camp, but is otherwise limited offensively. And like a couple of other players on this list, his defense needs to improve. He can block shots, but trusting him to defend a dozen Rubio/Gasol pick-and-rolls may be tough to do.
MKG is athletic, will get after it defensively and make plays for his teammates. He was all over the place (in a good way) on Thursday, registering eight points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks in just 19 minutes. But his jump shot is brutal and opposing defenses will leave him alone on the perimeter, so it might be tough to include him on next year’s roster, especially if Russell Westbrook is there to provide similar energy and a better jumper.
Lawson’s quickness is an obvious asset, he has plenty of experience playing in an up-tempo system, and he dished out a game-high nine assists on Thursday. But again, there are so many point guards on this list, and most of them are better shooters.
A versatile wing who can run, jump and shoot (though he was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc on Thursday). With his size (6-foot-9) and the lack of depth at the forward positions, he has a legit shot at one of the last spots on next year’s roster.
Zeller has size and skills, but he’s another big who needs to get better defensively. He might actually be competing with younger brother Cody for a roster spot down the line.
An ideal fit as a combo forward, Barnes made plays at the rim and defended from the perimeter to the post throughout the mini-camp. He capped off his week with 18 points and the game’s best highlight on Thursday. That said, he could get squeezed in the numbers game at both positions when selections are made next summer for Spain.
Cousins showed considerable improvement in his attitude and effort from his bumpy showing last summer and still had moments where everyone in attendance cringed. He has undeniable talent but is a questionable fit on a team where he will be asked to defend, rebound and block shots first instead of doing what he does best as a low-post scorer. He was a non-factor Thursday night.
Davis has Olympic experience that no one else in camp could boast of and it showed. He consistently stood out among the big men in camp, has clearly gotten stronger, and drained a few jumpers on his way to 22 points on Thursday. The minutes he played in London last summer give him an added advantage. An excellent shot blocker, Davis still has work to do as a position defender, but he’s ticketed for Spain barring some unforeseen issue.
An exceptional athlete and improved shooter, DeRozan didn’t shine in any particular area in a crowded field this week during scrimmages and struggled in limited minutes on Thursday. He will have a hard time creating space for himself with so many other shooting guards and small forwards in the mix who shoot it much better than he can.
Summer school tutor Karl Malone has added a noticeable edge to Favors’ game. He’s always been light on his feet and an eager defender, but he’s added a physicality to his game that was on display in scrimmages. He challenged forays to the rim with full force. He runs the floor extremely well and could blend well with whatever group is selected for Spain. One issue: He racked up four fouls in just eight minutes of action in Thursday’s Showcase.
One of the true breakout performers during the mini-camp, if there was a 12-man group being selected this summer Hayward would no doubt be on the list. Listed at 210 pounds on the official roster, he seems much bigger and played like it in scrimmages. His best work might have been on the defensive end. His versatility could be the key to his chances of fighting for a roster spot next summer.
If Irving ranked No. 1 on the deep list of point guards in attendance, Lillard was 1-A. He’s bulked up a bit since claiming Rookie of the Year honors and his ease running the show and playing off the ball, a crucial aspect for every point guard in mini-camp, was evident. He’s still improving as a defender as well and showed off all facets of his game in the Showcase. He’s ready if needed.
An accomplished young big man whose best skills don’t necessarily shine through in a mini-camp setting, Monroe’s slow feet cost him defensively against a group of quicker and more athletic big men. But he was extremely effective in Thursday’s game, outplaying most of his frontcourt counterparts in the live setting.
Thompson ranked among the top five most impressive players during mini-camp, thanks to his ridiculous shooting stroke. That international 3-point line got a workout from Thompson Tuesday. But he shoots it well from all over the floor and is much sturdier and handles the ball better than some of the other “shooters” who were in attendance. There is always room for a specialist of his ilk on any U.S. roster headed for international play.
After a spotty showing with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Summer League team, Waiters was much more impressive early this week. He shot it well from the perimeter in scrimmages and showed off his handle while swinging between both guards spots. He even showed some impressive effort defensively. But he shot just 2-for-10 on Thursday and needs to show more consistency over the next 10 months to stay on the radar.
Another solid young player who got a bit lost in the deep pool of point guards in attendance. Walker’s a crafty but undersized point guard whose defensive liabilities will keep him from rising up the pecking order at his position.
Wall could be the richest man in this group by Aug. 1, if that reported five-year, $80 million deal the Wizards are working on for him is agreed upon by then. Even with his shot still very much a work in progress, Wall’s athleticism and ability to play off the ball and defend at a high level should keep him in the mix. A strong 2013-14 season with the Wizards works wonders for his candidacy for next summer.
FOUR MORE …
Rehabbing a right fibula injury, Beal didn’t participate in scrimmages during camp or in Thursday’s Showcase. His jumper looked great on the side court though, and if he has a breakout season for the Wizards, he’s got an outside shot (pun intended) at making next year’s roster.
Sanders was the best rim protector in camp and a defense-first big would obviously complement Love well, so he’s got a chance at a trip to Spain next summer. But he turned his ankle during a scrimmage on Tuesday, knocking him out for the rest of camp.
The leading scorer from this summer’s World University Games squad, McDermott looked comfortable and shot the ball well in scrimmages on Monday and Tuesday. He’s older than six of the NBA players in camp, but just didn’t match up physically. He didn’t participate in Thursday’s showcase, but will return to Creighton for his junior year with some valuable NBA-level experience.
All indications are that Smart would have been selected in the Lottery if he stayed in this year’s Draft, and he showed why in the first two days of camp. He was the youngest player here, but has an NBA body and held his own against the vets. He didn’t participate in Thursday’s Showcase, but could certainly be on a national team roster in five or seven years.