Paul George’s devastating and gruesome injury during Friday’s Team USA scrimmage marked the latest blow to the roster as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup starting on August 30th. After losing Blake Griffin and Kevin Love within just the last few weeks, the situation has now gone from bad to worse.
Paul George was not only an important player for the US team heading into this World Cup, he’s a cornerstone player for the national team looking to 2016 as well. Now that he may have to miss next season, Team USA needs to begin to examine its options. Obviously their first concern should be the health of the star player on a personal level, but there are decisions that need to be made. After cutting John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap, just 16 players remain eligible for the 12 roster spots.
With the starting small forward spot now vacant, the team needs to rethink its roster construction. When it comes to roster decisions, it’s important to first examine the style of the team, and what they are trying to accomplish. It’s also necessary to weigh the thoughts of the team’s decision makers.
First of all, the rules in international play are different from the NBA. This is especially important when it comes to the 3-point line. In fact, the FIBA line is actually closer to the college line than the NBA line. This means the USA team is going to have an enormous shooting advantage over every other team, and that will be a huge part of their gameplan.
In addition to creating a shooting advantage for the US team, the shorter 3-point line will cramp spacing in the half court. This will probably benefit the US team overall, as they will be able to use their length advantage to suffocate opponents on defense. However, offensively they should try to push the ball in transition as much as possible and hunt for quick shots.
Another component that needs to be taken into account is that the next Olympics is just two years away, and the team obviously has that in mind when deciding who to take. While the team is certainly trying to win the World Cup right now, they also have to think about what’s best for 2016 and even 2020.
In terms of this year’s tournament, it’s pretty clear that the team’s biggest competition is the home team, Spain. With a starting frontcourt featuring both Gasol brothers, team USA will need to make sure they can matchup with them while also having depth in case of foul trouble, a very real possibility in international play. The games are only 40 minutes long, but with a 5 foul limit the US needs to be cautious.
USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have been pretty transparent when it comes to what they’re looking for in terms of the roster.
In an interview with Sam Amick of USA TODAY sports, Colangelo indicated that the team would likely carry two pure point guards (not including Curry), and three versatile shooting guards.
“It’s hard to carry three pure points unless we felt we were very unsure. For example, if Rose had come in and hasn’t looked the way he has, we would’ve said, ‘Geesh, maybe we have to carry three points, but it appears that we don’t have to.”
In an interview with SI.com, Krzyzewski said the following:
“You try to get eight or nine guys that are going to be the core and three or four guys that complement them,”
The article states that Colangelo reiterated that the next day when he said the complementary players would be “players you have to fill specific roles, a shooter, an energy guy, another big.”
The SI article also claims Colangelo said USA Basketball will keep 15 players until August 22nd, giving a timeline for the roster.
Basically, Team USA is going to take 8-9 key players, with role players adding depth at the end of the roster while balancing out the positions and giving themselves as much versatility as possible.
With these things in mind, it’s easier to see how the roster will come together. The first grouping of players represents the core of the roster.
In my opinion, this group of players includes Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Derrick Rose and Klay Thompson. The first five are obvious, and I think that Klay is also a safe bet.
With 10 players left and only 6 roster spots, 4 of the remaining players are going to have to be cut. I think two of the cuts are obvious. Gordon Hayward is not going to be a centerpiece of this team and he doesn’t have that one skill to make him worth keeping him around, so he’s probably out. The other player is Mason Plumlee. Nothing against Plumlee, but he is just not as talented as most of the other players on this team. I think he’s a longshot to make the final roster.
With 8 players left for 6 spots, let’s start looking at roles and roster construction.
While Stephen Curry is an NBA point guard, he will probably end up playing off the ball a lot in this tournament. Shooting guards are not as physically imposing in international play as they are in the NBA, and the shorter 3-point line will make him a lethal spot up shooter. I think he’ll make over half of his 3s. With that said, between him and Rose they probably only need one more point guard on the roster, meaning either Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard will probably not make the cut. More on this in a second.
In terms of wings, I personally think that Kyle Korver should be a lock for this team. He is the best spot up shooter on the roster and he could easily shoot well over 50% from 3 on this team. He will work well as a role player. My guess is that the two remaining wings will fight it out for the last roster spot.
DeMar DeRozan and Chandler Parsons are both solid players, but I think Parsons’ combination of size and shooting will give him the nod over DeRozan. DeRozan is way more athletic and a more explosive finisher, but Parsons is a better role player and fit for this team.
This leaves Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond as the remaining frontcourt players. Team USA can’t afford to cut more than one of these guys as it could leave them vulnerable up front. I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to take DeRozan or Irving/Lillard over one of these front court guys, but I think they will ultimately keep all three of them.
I personally love Cousins for this team, but Colangelo seems to not be as impressed after adding Mason Plumlee to the roster. Colangelo has a no nonsense reputation, so it’s hard to know what the team has in store for Cousins in this World Cup.
The other guys I could pretty much take or leave. Faried is a power forward who can’t stretch the floor and doesn’t protect the rim. He’s a great rebounder and energy guy, but honestly I think the team would’ve been slightly better off with Millsap. Drummond is interesting, but he’s still so raw and his free throw shooting could become a problem. Drummond has enormous potential for both the Pistons and Team USA, but he’s not close to being there yet. I like him on the roster, but I don’t trust him.
I honestly have no idea what Team USA will do when it comes to deciding between Lillard and Irving. For me, it’s pretty much a toss up. They bring very similar skill sets to the table.
Kyrie is quicker, and a more shifty ball handler, but Lillard is much bigger and more explosive. While neither of them is great defensively, I think that Irving is a little more of an active negative than Lillard, which is ultimately why I would take Damian. Kyrie may have more upside and he’s a bigger name, but I think Lillard is the better pick right now. However, I think the team will end up picking Kyrie because he has more potential, which I have no problem with.
That leaves Hayward, Plumlee, Lillard, and DeRozan on the outside looking in.
My power rankings for the players in terms of what they bring to the team and how likely they are to make the roster is as follows,
- Kevin Durant
- Anthony Davis
- Stephen Curry
- Derrick Rose
- James Harden
- Klay Thompson
- Kyle Korver
- Kyrie Irving
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Chandler Parsons
- Kenneth Faried
- Andre Drummond
- Damian Lillard
- DeMar DeRozan
- Gordon Hayward
- Mason Plumlee
*Cousins would be higher on my personal list.
With the roster projection complete, the question now becomes who will start?
There are a lot of possibilities, but I think the most likely starting lineup includes Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. Davis, Durant and Curry are locks, while DRose will probably start.
With Paul George out, I think Klay Thompson is the most likely replacement as the nominal small forward. He’s obviously not as good as George, but he can replace a lot of what he does. Thompson is a very good defender and will be a dominant spot up shooter on the other end. With Curry, Rose and Durant dominating the ball, Team USA doesn’t need any more ball handling in their starting lineup.
This means the second unit will be Irving, Harden, Korver, Parsons/Faried and Cousins. The team will definitely do a lot of mixing and matching with its lineups, and they have a ton of versatility with this roster.
The one true criticism of this team will undoubtedly be its size. With virtually every player in their starting lineup playing up a position, they won’t be a physically dominant team. However, I don’t think it will ultimately be that big of a problem, particularly if DeMarcus Cousins is a part of the rotation.
DeMarcus Cousins is an absolute monster, and he could be a dominant international big man. He was 2nd in the league last season in DReb% at a whopping 30.9% and he improved a lot defensively. Team USA could play Davis and Cousins together in a pinch, and as long as Durant is on the floor the team will still be really good offensively.
Cousins also adds an interesting flavor to the offense as a post up player and pick and roll weapon. Cousins has the potential to dominate opposing centers that aren’t used to defending a player with his combination of size and skill. Most teams simply won’t have an answer for him, making him a potential matchup nightmare. Cousins is a good player for Team USA to have in its back pocket.
Considering that over half the players on the US roster could conceivably shoot over 40% from 3, this team will have a lot of options when it comes to lineups. They have so many players that can play all over the court that they can adjust to almost any situation.
The bottom line is as long as these players are playing with good chemistry on both sides of the ball, the US team should have a very, very good chance to win the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
*All stats per NBA.com