5 Players Facing Toughest Uphill Climb to Crack Team USA FIBA Roster
Even without Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and so many other prominent American NBA stars trying out for Team USA, the competition is still ridiculously difficult.
There are 19 players fighting for the 12 roster spots, and each one of them is worthy of inclusion for various reasons. Even the non-stars like Kyle Korver have one marketable talent that's pretty incredible and worth serious consideration.
There aren't too many locks for the roster, but some players have an even tougher road than you might expect in the fight for inclusion in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The depth of talent at certain positions, as well as the need for shooting in international competition, necessitates that.
It's worth noting that these five featured players are not the worst players at Team USA's camp. Far from it, in some cases.
They're just the ones who have their work cut out for them in coming days.
NBA Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.3 PER
Bradley Beal is undoubtedly going to play basketball for Team USA at some point in his promising career, but he isn't quite ready for the big stage. At least not when competing against a star-studded group of players hoping to earn a roster spot on a team that doesn't need to feature too many shooting guards.
James Harden is a lock for the team, and there's no guarantee that there's another true 2-guard on the roster. Mike Krzyzewski has shown in past Team USA ventures that he's more than willing to roll with two natural point guards on the court at the same team, capitalizing on the position that offers the squad the most talent.
Each of the three remaining 2-guards—Beal, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan—are players worthy of gaining entry to the FIBA festivities, but all have their work cut out for them. Thompson has the easiest road of the bunch, simply because he's the best perimeter shooter and has established chemistry with Stephen Curry, another lock.
Beal, though, has the toughest path.
Can the American team bank on his excellent playoff showing and overlook the struggles he endured throughout the regular season? Beal did shoot only 41.9 percent from the field, and he doesn't bring the same versatility and established nature as a No. 1 option that DeRozan carries along with him.
His size—6'3", 207 pounds—also comes into play, as Coach K needs to have positional versatility at his disposal, given the inevitable small-ball stylings of the team.
"His disadvantage relative to his peers: his size," writes Bullets Forever's Mike Prada. "Whereas DeRozan, Hayward and Thompson can swing up to the 3/4 if needed in international play, Beal is probably a 2/3 only. Probably."
On a team where everyone can shoot—and needs to be able to shoot, as it works both ways—Beal doesn't have enough appeal. Not compared to Thompson, and certainly not when stacked up against the 6'7" DeRozan, fresh off an All-Star appearance.
For now, at least.
NBA Team: Utah Jazz
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.2 PER
Gordon Hayward is an interesting case.
On one hand, he plays a style of basketball that's perfectly suited for international competition. He can drain shots from all over the court, whether he's working off the ball or handling it and creating looks for himself. He can rebound well for his position, and his passing is nearly as good as you'll find from a wing player, even if he's been surrounded by lackluster talent throughout his brief time as a featured option for the Utah Jazz.
However, there are two things holding him back.
Even though he's a versatile contributor, Hayward is an inconsistent shooter from the outside. In addition to connecting on only 30.4 percent of his three-point attempts last season—which stands in stark contrast to the 41.5 percent clip he produced from downtown in 2012-13—the former Butler standout made only 41.3 percent of his shots from 16 to 23 feet, per Basketball-Reference.com.
That's not particularly appealing to Coach K and Co., especially when he's competing for a spot against a stacked field.
Durant is a lock at small forward (especially because he can easily play the 4 in smaller lineups), and Paul George and Chandler Parsons should both be well ahead of Hayward in the unofficial standings. The former is a bona fide All-Star with a two-way presence, and Parsons has the same strengths as Hayward, just with more success on his resume.
At least Utah's new max player will be ahead of the next small forward featured in this article.
NBA Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 13.5 PER
As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale explains so well, Kyle Korver just doesn't bring enough to the table, even if the one entree he does carry along with him is certainly scrumptious:
Korver does a lot more than just shoot threes. On Team USA, however, that's all he would do. He's not being brought in for his defense or his secondary passing abilities. Coach K hasn't fallen in love with the steely look that washes over his face each time he drains a three.
Finding the bottom of the net from deep is all Korver would be tasked with doing, which isn't enough. He's not suited for Team USA's pace of play, and he doesn't make up for his middling athleticism with superior rebounding or defense.
Korver is a capable defender. But is he more capable than Chandler Parsons, Paul George or even Gordon Hayward? Absolutely not.
He's a good entry passer. But is he a better entry passer than that same trio, all of whom are capable of actively creating for both themselves and their teammates? Absolutely not.
On this team, Korver simply wouldn't do anything other than space out the court with his ridiculously effective three-point shooting...which is exactly what most every other guard and forward will be doing already. When you have Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, George and potentially Parsons, you just don't need a specialist.
He's too redundant, even if he's damn good at the redundancy.
NBA Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.6 PER
"We're very loaded at that position," Jerry Colangelo, Team USA's managing director, told CSNNW.com's Chris Haynes about the squad's point guards. "We're a team of versatility. We have great length, but the guard spots are very competitive right now. So I'm sure our guards are going to be up and down everyday and we'll be evaluating as we go along."
Damian Lillard is a fantastic player, and he'd obviously be a great addition to the roster. But in order to make the cut, he must beat out some of the NBA's best point guards.
Stephen Curry is already a lock to make the squad, based on his international experience and the fact that he shoots the ball better than anyone else from the outside. And that leaves Lillard competing with John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose for an as-of-yet undetermined number of spots.
If the point guard cap is set at three players, it's probable that Lillard is left on the outside, looking in.
While he's a phenomenal shooter and a player big enough to suit up at the 2, which he sometimes did last season with the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard is more of a defensive liability than Wall and Rose, and he can't distribute quite as well as Kyrie Irving.
Plus, let's not forget that the Cleveland Cavaliers floor general and Coach K have experience working together during their mutual time at Duke, even if Irving was hindered by a prolonged injury to his toe for the majority of his time in Durham.
"I'll say this, I like my chances, and you should like your chances," Lillard told Haynes in Las Vegas. "But, even it were not to go my way, I would have to respect that because everybody here is worthy of being on the team. You can't be mad at the game. It's going to be who it's going to be. But everybody is here to put their best foot forward."
There's no bad selection at point guard, but Irving is a better fit for the roster, Curry is a lock and Rose is looking pretty darn good thus far. Plus, the Chicago Bulls 1-guard has arguably the highest upside on the roster and brings a new set of physical driving skills to the table.
If Team USA decides to bring four point guards with it to the World Cup, Lillard should be in. But if not, he's got a tough road to the roster.
NBA Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 19.5 PER
It's either Wall or Rose.
While Lillard, Irving and Curry are the shooters on the roster, those two are the slashers. They're the big point guards who can get into the lane at will, either finishing plays or kicking the rock out to shooters.
And Team USA only needs one.
Given the strength of the position, it's best to pursue players with different strengths, especially when there are often going to be two point guards on the floor at once during competition. But adding both Wall and Rose would be redundant, especially when including them would eliminate another complementary player from contention for a roster spot.
Unfortunately for Wall, Rose is looking quite good.
"He's been the most impressive guy here," Jim Boeheim told reporters in Sin City about the formerly injured floor general, as relayed by ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
[Rose's] movement on defense is spectacular. When we started practice [Monday], what he did defensively was like, 'Whoa.' It picked everybody up. You don't play that type of defense in the NBA because you have to play 40 minutes and 100 games. But [trying out for Team USA], if you play 20 minutes, that's a lot, but you don't have to play consecutively. So you can go to an extreme. And that's what he’s doing.
If Rose is healthy and effective, he'll make the roster. Guaranteed.
Not only is he looking good, but he's an established player with an NBA MVP to his credit, even if that came four years ago. The intrigue alone should grant him a roster spot, assuming he chooses to accept one and it's offered to him in the first place.
Should Rose not wind up with one of the 12 spots for whatever reason, Wall's chances will look significantly better. But for now, they're questionable at best.