Biggest Potential Strengths and Weaknesses of Team USA for FIBA World Cup
On the surface, USA Basketball's roster reads like an embarrassment of riches.
In many ways, that's precisely what it is. Even after losing Paul George to a horrific leg injury and parting ways with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap on Tuesday, this group is still overloaded with star power.
Of the 16 players still competing for the final 12 spots, eight led their NBA teams in scoring last season: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins. Two players on the team, Durant and Derrick Rose, have MVP awards to their names.
The talent is overwhelming, even with established stars like LeBron James, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook sitting out the festivities. It might not have the name recognition of the Dream Team or the Redeem Team, but on paper this group should be considered heavy favorites going into the tournament.
All of that said, the roster isn't perfect. The frontcourt is light, and the perimeter could prove overly generous at the defensive end.
These vulnerabilities aren't enough to strip Team USA of its favorite status, but they exist nonetheless. As coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff prepare this team for the road ahead, these are the biggest strengths that should ease the journey and the weaknesses that could derail it.
The offensive potential for a team packing this type of scoring punch is tremendous, but it will take a competent floor general to fit those pieces together.
Luckily, this roster has a handful of them.
Curry, Irving and Damian Lillard averaged a combined 20.2 assists a night last season, while Rose dished out 7.9 per game in his last healthy campaign (2011-12). What really amazes me about those numbers is that Curry, Irving and Rose all compiled them while also leading their clubs in scoring. Lillard ranked second on his team with 20.7 points a night.
They couldn't distribute perhaps as often as they'd like because the supporting casts around them demanded that they look for their own shot. Now, they can simply take advantage of all the scoring threats this group keeps inside the lines.
"Yesterday, I'm running up and down with KD (Kevin Durant), Paul George, Anthony Davis," Irving said earlier in training camp, per USA Today's Sam Amick. "I don't necessarily get to play with guys like that, so the opportunities are endless for offense and defense. ... You're playing with tremendously great players."
And a lot of those players are willing and able passers in their own right. Durant, Harden and Hayward each averaged better than five dimes a night (5.5, 6.1 and 5.2, respectively). Chandler Parsons wasn't too far behind (4.0).
Considering all of these players can call their own number, they should keep opposing defenses constantly on their heels.
Weakness: Interior Offense
Back-to-the-basket scoring isn't nearly as important in the NBA today as it once was, and its importance may actually diminish on the international scene.
Teams rely on ball movement to generate their offense, so anything that stops it—perimeter isolations or post-up plays—is kept to a minimum.
Still, if Team USA wants to generate something in the middle, its options are limited.
Cousins is one of the premier post scorers in the game, but ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that his roster spot could be in jeopardy. As gifted as he is offensively (22.7 points on 49.6 percent shooting last season), he's not exactly a stonewall at the opposite end. With questions still surrounding his maturity, the coaches may decide the reward is not worth the risk.
Outside of Cousins, there really aren't any low-block scorers on the roster.
Davis can light the lamp, but he works best either facing up his man or exploding to the basket away from the ball. Andre Drummond is a bone-jarring pick-and-roll screener and relentless offensive rebounder, but he's still finding the finesse to complement his power. Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried are energy bigs; if someone isn't setting them up, they probably aren't scoring.
This isn't so much a weakness as a byproduct of the design, but it still puts up a roadblock to one avenue for potential offensive production.
Strength: Perimeter Shooting
Regardless of how Krzyzewski and Co. handle the final roster cuts, the finished product is sure to include a collection of elite three-point snipers.
Between Curry, Lillard and Klay Thompson, Team USA has the top three players in terms of three-point attempts from last season. The trio launched a combined 1,704 triples during the campaign.
As staggering as that number is, the volume alone isn't impressive. Not until it's combined with efficiency, and in the case of all three, it certainly was efficient.
Lillard cashed in 39.4 percent of his long-range looks, and he was the worst shooter of the three. Thompson buried 41.7 percent of his three-point bombs, but even he was overshadowed by his brother in splash, as Curry connected on 42.4 percent of his attempts—believe it or not, the lowest conversion rate of his five-year career.
"We haven't seen anybody else with his ability to be a great shooter across the board," former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of Curry, per ESPN The Magazine's David Fleming. " ... Any way you can name how to shoot a basketball, Steph Curry is a great shooter."
As strange as it sounds, it's hard to say definitively that Curry is even the best shooter on the roster.
Kyle Korver has taken 1,476 threes over the past five seasons and hit 45.5 percent of them. Over the last two years, he's been a 46.4 percent shooter from outside.
Add in players like Irving (career 37.8 three-point percentage), Durant (37.7), Parsons (37.0), Harden (36.9) and Hayward (36.5), and it becomes glaringly apparent just how much damage this team can do from distance.
Weakness: Perimeter Defense
George's injury was more than just a crushing psychological blow. It also stripped this roster of one of its few defensive weapons on the perimeter.
Long, athletic and blue-collar to his core, the 24-year-old has been selected to an All-Defensive team in each of the last two seasons. He takes on the Indiana Pacers' toughest defensive assignments and owns them. He held opposing 3s to a below-average 14.1 player efficiency rating last season, per 82games.com, an eye-opening statistic given the quality of offensive weapons he's asked to contain.
With George out of the equation, the roster really doesn't have a lockdown defender on the outside.
Rose has been a defensive pest, but he's essentially been out of action for two consecutive seasons while recovering from a pair of serious knee injuries. DeRozan has the physical tools to play the role of stopper, but his inside-the-arc-based offensive game could prevent him from securing a spot.
Thompson's versatility allows him to defend either backcourt position, but he can only guard one man. Krzyzewski might need to get creative if he tries to play any combination of Curry, Harden, Irving and Lillard together.
Granted, the roster has some rim-protecting insurance policies with Davis and Drummond at the basket. But they have their own responsibilities to worry about, and there isn't enough depth down low if their shot-blockers get into foul trouble.
Team USA is built to get more than it gives, but don't be surprised if the scoreboard moves rather quickly for both sides.
This team might not be quite as uber-athletic as some of the USA's teams in the past, but the formula for success is the same as it's always been.
"Our roster is built on quickness, athleticism and shooting," Krzyzewski told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.
The quickness aspect is obvious. When coupled with slick handles, it's what will allow players like Curry, Irving and Lillard to be on the right side of gag reels by the time the tournament wraps.
The shooting has already been discussed, and it's every bit as remarkable as it sounds.
But the athleticism and explosiveness might be the most visually impressive aspects of this team.
Just consider the different vertical leaps these players have produced, per DraftExpress.com: 33.5" for the 6'10", 270-pound Drummond, 36" for the 6'11" Plumlee, 38.5" for DeRozan, 39.5" for Lillard, 40" for Rose. Those aren't springs; they're pogo sticks.
And that group doesn't include the physically freakish combo of Durant and Davis. Nor a former Slam Dunk Contest participant in Faried. Or an underrated dunk artist in Harden.
This team can soar, and its flights almost always end in something spectacular. Combine that explosiveness with elite-level skill, and you're left with a heavy favorite.
If there's one thing really working against Team USA, it's the lack of roster continuity.
A lot of these players are new to this scene, and there isn't a ton of time to get acclimated. Not everyone is a fresh face, but this group hasn't returned many guys from past teams.
"Davis, Durant and Harden are all returning members from the 2012 Olympic team, while Curry, Durant and Rose are all returning members from the 2010 World Championship team," noted Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver.
That's not to suggest these players are unfamiliar with one another. But recognizing someone and knowing how to share the floor with that player are two entirely different things, particularly when matching up with different clubs that have spent years together.
This process leading up to the tournament can't replace years of experience. If fans need a reason to worry, the greenness of this group is the obvious choice.
"That's the cause for concern," Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote of the inexperience, "and it's still only a minor one."
Just like there's no way for Team USA to manufacture that missing experience, there is no way for opponents to bolster their ranks with a team as talented as this.
Chemistry and cohesion can be fostered by good coaching. As long as Krzyzewski creates enough of it, his talented team should validate its status as the favorites.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.