Who's In, Who's Out for 2014 Team USA Basketball?
Now that Team White and Team Blue have squared off at the Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas, we're starting to get an increasingly clear indication of who will populate America's 12-man roster.
With the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup looming in 2014, head coach Mike Krzyzewski must put together the best lineup possible. He has a tough job.
It's not that there's a lack of talent competing to play for Team USA. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that's the problem. There are too many good players and not enough roster spots to hand out.
As it stands right now, six players have essentially locked up roster spots, and two aren't far behind. But who will take the remaining four places (one of which is open because LeBron James is done playing international basketball)?
Will veterans be taking over in the MVP's stead or will the young guns rise to the occasion?
Let's break it down.
The Established Locks
This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
Durant is the new backbone of this team now that LeBron James isn't going to compete internationally. The No. 2 player in the NBA, Durant controls this team, and his performance will set the tone for the rest of the roster.
As for Love, he isn't quite on Durant's level, but his rebounding and three-point shooting are invaluable to Team USA's cause. He thrived in the London Olympics, and it's highly unlikely we see anything different in 2014.
Of course, those aren't the only mortal locks for the 12-man roster. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul are both starting to get up there in years a bit, but they're still top-10 players who have excelled while representing their country.
'Melo is the second-best small forward available, and CP3 is still the world's best point guard. It's not a matter of "should" for those two, but rather "must" when it comes to being on the roster.
Closing out the locks portion are two former teammates: Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Each has plenty of international experience and is considered among the top players at his position.
This six-man group may as well be Sharpied into the roster right now. Forget about using a pencil.
The Not-Quite Locks
We can almost push the number of established locks to eight, but there are still question marks surrounding two players.
Anthony Davis played in the London Olympics before he even put on a New Orleans Hornets jersey, but that was mostly because the team desperately needed size during a time when there was a severe shortage of bigs.
After his rookie season, it appears as though The Unibrow is going to be rejoining the team. His remarkable block/steal and ensuing fast-break layup during the scrimmage showed two things: Mike Krzyzewski needs to be emphasizing how to stop the ball, and Davis is really good at basketball.
The Pelican should make the team, but if he fails to emerge as a star during his sophomore season, there are other young bigs just waiting for a chance. Again, I don't expect that to happen, but it remains a remote possibility.
As for the other, Derrick Rose is a lock for Team USA if he's healthy.
The dynamic point guard was the league MVP during his last injury-free season, and he remains one of the best players at his position. When healthy.
If his recovery from a torn ACL goes smoothly, he'll be guaranteed a spot playing for the U.S. But since he has yet to take part in actual action since that injury, he still can't quite move up into the slide filled with the absolute locks.
What Are We Left Looking at for the Last Four Spots on the Roster?
With the six absolute locks and two stars who will almost assuredly be making the roster, we're left with players in eight of the 12 spots. Because positions actually matter, here's a quick breakdown of who will be playing each one.
- Point guard: Chris Paul, Derrick Rose
- Shooting guard: James Harden, Russell Westbrook
- Small forward: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant
- Power forward: Kevin Love
- Center: Anthony Davis
Team USA ran with six guards during the Olympics, but that's not necessarily what will happen in 2014. They'll certainly add at least one more guard, but the figure could be exactly one.
It's also worth noting that I'm counting Russell Westbrook as a shooting guard here. Given the dearth of quality 2s in the NBA and Westbrook's aggressive shooting habits, he thrives as an off-ball guard in international play, despite definitely being a point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The biggest priority will be adding two more big men. Ideally, one of them will be a true center, as Tyson Chandler was for the last team.
While Team USA can dominate by playing small ball, it is a nice luxury to actually have some size on the roster.
During the scrimmage, Kyrie Irving was an absolutely dominant force.
The dynamic point guard scored a game-high 23 points while constantly attacking and probing the offense with his remarkable dribbling skills. When the Cleveland Cavalier has the rock in his hands, it's like he has it attached to a string.
Irving shot 6-of-8 from the field and 2-of-2 from downtown, but it was from the charity stripe that he truly made his mark. The 21-year-old made 10 trips to the charity stripe and only missed one attempt.
In addition to his points, he also recorded three rebounds and dished out seven assists.
It's a great preview of what's to come, as Irving is clearly the future of the point guard position. With players like John Wall and Damian Lillard competing for that final point guard spot, the Duke product is by no means guaranteed a spot.
Irving must spend his third season in the NBA improving his defensive abilities. Calling him porous on the less-glamorous end would be giving his point-stopping abilities too much credit.
However, there's no denying the sheer awesomeness of his offensive game. That's what will do the trick and get him on his former coach's roster.
Someone has to replace LeBron James and become the versatile, do-everything forward on Team USA's roster.
It can't be Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony, simply because they're already on the squad. If they filled LeBron's shoes, someone would have to fill theirs in turn.
So, say hello to Paul George. No pressure, Paul.
The Indiana Pacers small forward experienced one heck of a breakout season in 2012-13, taking over as the featured player for the Eastern Conference contenders and thriving in Danny Granger's absence. He emerged as a true lock-down defender, one who didn't care who he was guarding, and did just about everything on offense.
George isn't quite a top-10 player in the Association going into the 2013-14 campaign, but he could very well emerge as one.
In fact, the only reason he wasn't considered a lock for the roster is that he doesn't have the international experience of the other guys.
At this point, Team USA is still missing a Manimal on the roster, and there's only one player in the world who can fill that void: Kenneth Faried.
The rebounding machine pulled down seven boards during the Team USA scrimmage, and he also recorded 11 points in the 128-106 win for Team White. He didn't make a monstrous impact, but there's little doubt that he's a bundle of energy who will excel playing against international competition.
Given the damage Faried routinely doles out on the glass under NBA rules, it's scary to think just what he could do with FIBA rules. No shot that finds anything other than the net would be safe.
Faried is by no means the most talented player left to choose from. In a truly positionless system, he'd be left off the roster.
However, there's a glaring void at power forward, especially if Anthony Davis spends more time playing at the 5, given the lack of competitive centers. The other choices are Ryan Anderson, Taj Gibson and a bunch of other converted centers.
Someone has to be a true backup to Kevin Love, and one of the greatest rebounders in NCAA history would be a great choice.
Now for the toughest decision of them all.
Who gets the final spot on the roster? Is it worth adding the most talented player left—Stephen Curry—despite the fact that the team already has five guards? Do Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and James Harden really need help?
As you can obviously guess from the slide title and picture, the answer is no. There is no disrespect meant to Curry, who just submitted the greatest three-point shooting season of all time and would splash in plenty of triples from behind the shortened arc.
He just would be a luxury rather than a player who fills a need.
Team USA desperately needs a center at this point. Anthony Davis is holding down the fort at the 5, but he's more of a natural power forward. Someone has to be able to body up with players like the Gasol brothers, and The Unibrow is still too skinny.
Tyson Chandler is going to be too old. Dwight Howard's back should prevent him from expending energy in international competition ever again.
That means we're left looking at one of the young studs.
Greg Monroe doesn't have elite upside and he's not much of a defensive ace, while DeMarcus Cousins is still too much of a headcase.
That means that Monroe's teammate is the pick. Andre Drummond takes over the final roster spot, and Team USA will hold its collective breath, hoping that the world doesn't ever have to witness him lining up for a free-throw attempt.
Drummond had a shockingly effective rookie season for the Detroit Pistons, and his summer league performance indicated that he's going to improve drastically as a second-year player. He was a man amongst boys there, just as he was in the scrimmage.
In only nine minutes of action, the Connecticut product recorded 11 points and six rebounds, three of which came on the offensive glass.
Drummond also has elite defensive skills, exactly what this team is searching for.
Now What Roster Do We Have?
After adding the four young guns to the roster, here's what we're working with:
- Point guard: Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving
- Shooting guard: James Harden, Russell Westbrook
- Small forward: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Paul George
- Power forward: Kevin Love, Kenneth Faried
- Center: Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond
Center is still the biggest problem, as the two men lining up at the 5 are 39 years old—combined.
That means that Team USA would be playing a lot of small ball, letting Davis and Drummond go to work as the matchups called for more size.
The guards and small forwards are the true strengths of this roster.
With CP3, Rose, Irving and Westbrook, the U.S. has an unfair rotation of point guards, and James Harden should be the class of the shooting guard position by the time 2013-14 is through. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he had a decidedly better season than either Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade.
Between Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Paul George, Team USA also boasts three of the best four small forwards in the world. LeBron James is the only top-tier 3 missing, and that's just because he's done with international competition.
Another year, and another stacked roster for Team USA.
Five Biggest Snubs
When it comes to basketball, the United States is just unfairly talented.
It makes picking a Team USA roster nearly impossible, because there are inevitably a number of young studs who you just feel awful about leaving off.
Stephen Curry should absolutely be playing for his country, but he's blocked by the ridiculous depth at guard. Even though he's the best outside shooter in the world now, there isn't much of a need for his services.
Who on this roster can't shoot threes, other than Andre Drummond and Kenneth Faried?
With Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving blocking his path, Curry is just out of luck. The same can be said for John Wall, no matter how much he breaks out during the 2013-14 campaign.
Unfortunately for the two offensively talented guards, their skills are already accounted for. The only way they could make it onto the roster is if one or more of the five drops out.
Harrison Barnes and Kawhi Leonard also have the misfortune of playing at a stacked position. With Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Paul George already on the roster—especially because 'Melo and Durant can both play the 4 as well—there just isn't room for either of the up-and-coming forwards.
Even if Leonard and Barnes make the All-Star team in 2013-14, they still won't be able to push past the other three players at their position.
Our final big snub is DeMarcus Cousins. Of the five, he's the most likely to make the roster, but I've left him off because he's just too mentally volatile.
Until Boogie shows that he can keep his cool and go a season without drawing too many technical fouls or ejections, he's a liability in international competition.
It's a shame that none of these players can make it, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Instead of feeling unhappy about it, Americans should instead rejoice that the roster is just that talented and still populated with plenty of exciting young players.