Where Does Team USA Go From Here?
What a blow. By now you’ve heard or seen (unfortunately) Paul George’s devastating ‘compound fracture’ leg injury last weekend during the Team USA showcase. Everyone’s thoughts and prayers are certainly with George and we wish him a speedy recovery. There are a lot of articles out there talking about the role of super stars jeopardizing their health in International summer competition, but we’re going to focus on how George’s injury affects the rest of the Team USA roster.
After the drop outs of Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, and LaMarcus Aldridge there were 7 virtual locks to make the final 12 man roster: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Paul George, James Harden, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose (if healthy). That group right there is already guard heavy and the subtraction of George becomes even more so. Team USA will never have a problem scoring as they have a number of creators, shooters, and the world’s best scorer of the last five years in Durant. Defensively is where Team USA will miss George the most. George has the ability to matchup with the opposing team’s number one wing and play lock down defense. If you examine the rest of the player pool, there isn’t another wing player at that level defensively. Not to mention George might have even seem some time as a small-ball four in certain matchups. While Durant is a more than capable defender when he’s locked in, he will spend most of his time playing the Power Forward due to the dearth of Team USA big men. Harden’s defense is…well…ya.
The 12 Man Squad
The Team USA showcase gave us a little insight into where players stand in their chances to make the final 12 men roster. We’re going to place the remaining players into tiers based on their chances:
The first six were locks coming into camp and Thompson is elevated into lock-dom with George’s injury. Davis is the only real Team USA big man anybody fully trusts on the big stage, but you have to have as much depth as possible down low, especially with FIBA capping fouls at (5) as opposed to the NBA’s (6). Drummond seems to have solidified himself as the second big on the squad ahead of DeMarcus Cousins. Drummond oozes potential and won’t be asked to do much offensively. If he can give you 10-15 minutes of energy, rebounding, defense, it will be a huge win for Team USA.
This area gets really cloudy. There will be two more big men on the roster and we give the edge to Faried and Plumlee. Faried’s inclusion is all about energy and rebounding. Though not in the regular rotation, Faried should be counted on to give a spark off the bench if needed on the boards. Plumlee, while not on the original roster, seems to have also edged out Boogie Cousins and would be the third Center. There’s no doubt Cousins has more overall talent than Plumlee, but Plumlee is the prototypical International big: shot blocking, athleticism, finish at the rim. Parsons gets a spot as well due to his overall size, playmaking skills, and smooth 3pt shooting. The last guard we gave to Lillard who is probably the best player available. However that does put (4) Point Guards on the roster. Lillard needs to really show he can shoot it to prove he needs to stick around.
Outside Looking In
Everyone thought Cousins would get his first crack at international play this summer, but apparently he’s getting beat out by Drummond and Plumlee and subsequently finds himself here as opposed to the Lock group. Korver and Hayward have the next best shot at making the cut. Korver as the designated shooter a la Michael Redd 2008, Hayward as the versatile wing who can shoot and defend. DeRozan is a bit of an enigma here while he does a lot of things well, but nothing to stand out. His skillset is very redundant to what Team USA already possesses. The Wizards tandem of Beal and Wall are just not high enough up the pecking order amongst the guards and Millsap was a nice camp addition to fill in for Love, but stands little chance to make the cut.
The Starting Lineup
With Durant at the Power Forward and George out, the next best true Small Forward would be…Chandler Parsons? Gordon Hayward? While both have merits to potentially make the final squad, neither is going to crack the starting lineup. Davis and Durant are going to be your starting front court at the 4 and 5 positions respectively. You figure Harden’s international experience will also find its way into the starting lineup. There’s three. The Point Guard position is incredibly deep in this player pool to the point John Wall only go an invite on the second go around. At this stage, we’re going to go with Rose as the starter with his incredible camp and scrimmage.
The last spot will probably come down to matchups. Coach K will have a couple different options. He can slide Harden to the small forwards slot and insert a second Point Guard in Irving or Curry. Irving gives you another creator and Curry gives you the shooting. Either would slide Rose off the ball defensively. If Rose can check the opposing team’s shooting guard defensively, this is probably the better option due to the experience in Team USA’s point guard crop. The alternative is to slide the next best wing into the starting lineup in Klay Thompson. Thompson has the shooting ability to space the floor offensively and his size at 6’7” can guard a lot of international small forwards. This could be a coming out party for Thompson, but with no international experience, it could be a riskier option.
We’re going to go with a starting lineup of:
Team USA reconvenes August 14th in Chicago and the roster will be pared down to 14-16 names by then. The official rosters aren’t due to FIBA till the end