Predicting the Next Round of Team USA Roster Cuts for 2014 FIBA World Cup
Soon enough, the Team USA roster will have to shrink from 16 to 12 for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
The first round of cuts saw John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap leave the festivities to enjoy more relaxing summers, but the next round will be even tougher. There's an intriguing case to be made for each and every player left competing for the roster spots, and each axe-job will be a painful one.
At this stage, it appears as though there are three primary battles remaining.
The point guards are a ridiculously deep bunch, but one has to go, whether it's Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose or Kyrie Irving.
On the wings, there's one player too many as well. Will it be Kyle Korver who's sent home, seeing as he's a role player, or will one of the more versatile talents fail to gain a final invite?
Finally, two big men aren't going to make the final cut, and the late addition of Mason Plumlee has thrown a massive monkey wrench into the equation.
Nothing about this is easy.
Cut: Damian Lillard
This is just unfair.
The American squad has already released John Wall—a bona fide All-Star—from contention for one of the 12 roster spots, and it still has to part ways with either Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard.
Of those, it's the Portland Trail Blazers floor general who has to say his farewells.
Curry is a 100 percent lock, given his insanely efficient shooting and shot-creating. Of all the players competing for spots, only Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis are bigger shoo-ins than the man who makes a living raining in threes from the Bay Area.
However, Rose is quickly moving up into that category.
It's impossible to find anything negative about him emerging from camp, and the positive reviews have been ridiculously abundant. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if people involved starting declaring D-Rose an MVP candidate before he played a single meaningful game, failing to learn the lesson taught to us by the 2013 NBA preseason.
Leaving Rose off after such effusive praise would be nonsensical. When healthy, he's still capable of playing like one of the best 1-guards in the world, and his driving game adds a new element alongside Irving's ball-handling and Curry's shooting.
Yes, it's Irving that gets the final nod.
Lillard is the superior player in the NBA world (at least right now; that might change as soon as LeBron James starts impacting Irving's career), but the Duke product shares a lot with Mike Krzyzewski. You know, like the Duke connection.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst refer to Irving as "one of Coach K's longtime faves," and it's tough to see Lillard getting the nod over him. With a healthy Rose leading the charge—and let's not forget Rose and Irving started the intrasquad scrimmage—Lillard is more redundant than Irving, given the latter's ball-handling and distributing skills.
Cut: Gordon Hayward
The swingmen competing for a roster spot on the final version of Team USA got noticeably thinner when Paul George went down with a brutal leg injury that will knock him out for the entire 2014-15 season. However, there's still plenty of talent.
Chandler Parsons became a lock without George, and essentially, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Korver are competing for three spots, leaving one quality player set to receive the axe. Before the competition, I'd have assured you that was Korver, as his biggest skill didn't matter that much on a roster filled with elite outside shooters.
However, that hasn't seemed accurate thus far.
Per Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Mike Krzyzewski said the following about the Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter: "He had a really good week," also revealing that he valued the veteran leadership Korver brought to the table.
It's looking unlikely Korver gets cut, and the same can be said about Klay Thompson. His shooting and willingness to lock down defensively are just too valuable to this team, especially with that shortened three-point arc used in FIBA play. Plus, he has established chemistry with Curry.
So, it's Hayward vs. DeRozan, as NBA.com's Jon Schuhmann suggested on Twitter.
"A strong showing in Friday's intrasquad scrimmage, combined with George's unfortunate absence, has put DeRaptor in legit contention for a roster spot when he was widely presumed to be one of the first cuts," explain Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
Hayward hasn't received reviews that are quite as positive, and the general feeling seems to involve him developing under Quin Snyder and making teams in the future, not the present. His inefficient shooting and lack of defensive chops just don't measure up against DeRozan at this stage of their respective careers.
Plus, DeRozan is only giving up an inch to his positional counterpart, and his athleticism helps make up for the vertical difference. Both can capably play either wing spot, which cancels out one of the advantages that Hayward would typically possess.
Cut: DeMarcus Cousins
It's all about mentality.
While there's no denying that DeMarcus Cousins is just overflowing with talent and upside, he's a question mark. He'd be extremely useful against Spain's massive frontcourt, one led by Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka, especially given the size deficit that usually plagues Team USA, but there's no telling how screwed onto his shoulders his head will be.
Every roster spot is valuable in this type of competition, and Coach K can't afford to give one to Boogie if he's going to find himself in foul trouble or frustrated at the referees/opponents/life in general. Yes, even though his offensive game would be unstoppable in FIBA ball and he'd thrive on the glass.
Cousins is often criticized for his attitude, which is thought to be the culprit with his Team USA problems, along with defensive struggles. But he clearly wants to be a part of Team USA badly, especially to say he would come back after being cut twice. But the coaching staff's response would probably be that if he's that serious about wanting to be a part of the team that he needs to play like it. That means playing better defense, something Cousins admits in the interview he needs to improve on.
Boogie will be back.
This isn't the last opportunity for the 23-year-old big man, nor should it be. He's not done growing (mentally, not physically), and he should eventually return with a better demeanor, less red flags and a better defensive presence.
You can't blame the American coaching staff for failing to be impressed by what he's shown during camp, as it comes on the heels of another season with question marks. Once he's a consistent defender who doesn't lead the NBA in technical fouls, things will change.
Cut: Mason Plumlee
And then there were two.
Without DeMarcus Cousins in the running, only one more center has to be cut by Coach K and Co. The choices are Mason Plumlee, who was a surprise addition late in the proceedings, and Andre Drummond, a preternaturally talented big man who will be part of Team USA for a long time.
As Jessica Weber explains for the Detroit Free Press, Drummond isn't yet a lock for this year's roster, but he's going to be involved in the proceedings for quite a while:
Whether Drummond makes the 12-man roster has yet to be determined, but Krzyzewski said whether he makes the cut or not, he sees USA Basketball in the big man’s future.
'He is in full consideration for a spot going forward,' Krzyzewski said on Drummond in a teleconference on Tuesday with USA National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo.
Why isn't he a lock? I'm really not sure, even if big men who can't shoot free throws are often liabilities in FIBA play. It's not like Plumlee is particularly good from the charity stripe, as he shot 62.6 percent from the line during his rookie season. He's better, of course, but he's not exactly a stalwart from the stripe.
Plumlee is a terrific finisher with impressive springs in his legs. So is Drummond.
He's a great rim-protecting presence. So is Drummond, though his stats from the 2013-14 campaign don't look as pretty as Plumlee's. And even if he lags behind in that area, he's more versatile, capable of playing help defense and then recovering to cover a shooter on the other side of the arc with his quick feet and hands.
Drummond and Plumlee simply aren't at the same level, and neither will play a huge role. So why not take the player with more upside (Drummond) and give him some experience for future international ventures, similar to what Team USA did with Anthony Davis at the 2012 Olympics?
As SBNation.com's Satchel Price argues, there are no good reasons to take Plumlee over Cousins:
While Plumlee brings some unique traits to the table, including more lateral athleticism and a special bond with the head coach, any logical analysis of the situation says this would be a bad decision. Cousins is simply a better basketball player than Plumlee, without being redundant to other pieces on the roster.
We know fit matters in basketball, but at a certain point, talent outweighs everything. Cousins vs. Plumlee would appear to be one of those cases.
There are fewer still to take him over Drummond.
With four cuts made, there would only be 12 players remaining.
It's admittedly tough to keep track of everyone, as so many NBA fans are used to seeing them listed on their teams' separate rosters, so I'll simplify everything for you. From the stars (Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, etc.) to the role players (Korver and Co.), this is what the remaining depth chart would look like for Team USA:
- Point guard: Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving
- Shooting guard: James Harden, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan
- Small forward: Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver
- Power forward: Kevin Durant, Kenneth Faried
- Center: Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond
Remember, many of those players can line up at different positions.
Durant can easily play at either the 3 or the 4. Davis is fully capable of filling in at power forward in a bigger lineup. Thompson, DeRozan and Korver can all play either wing spot.
There's plenty of versatility, just as there's an abundance of talent.