Who Is Team USA's New Alpha Dog in the Absence of NBA MVP Kevin Durant?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2014

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today

Paul George won't be the only superstar forward missing from Team USA's roster during the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. 

Citing the toll taken by the 2013-14 season, reigning MVP Kevin Durant is withdrawing from the team.

He explained his rationale in a statement released Thursday afternoon:

This was an extremely difficult decision as I take great pride in representing our country. I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience. After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint. I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. I will be rooting for USAB and look forward to future opportunities with them.

That leaves Team USA with one less star, but it also leaves the squad without a leader who had already proved himself on the international stage after winning a gold medal during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski is now tasked with replacing Durant's production while also compensating for the intangibles he brought to the table as one of the game's most dominant players.

Suffice it to say, there are few substitutes for someone of Durant's stature—especially if the one and only LeBron James isn't an option (and he's not). Neither will Carmelo Anthony nor Kevin Love come to the rescue.

Team USA still boasts an incredibly talented roster, and there's little doubt it will come together and put on a good show without George and now Durant. But who will emerge as the club's principal threat? Who will carry the squad when push comes to shove?

Likely candidates include Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry and Chicago Bulls point guard (and former MVP) Derrick Rose.

Harden arguably ranks as the roster's most productive member, having averaged 25.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds this past season. Though his Rockets ultimately struggled in their ill-fated first-round playoff knockout against the Portland Trail Blazers, the 24-year-old has established himself as one of the NBA's most lethal offensive weapons.

Meanwhile, Curry is coming off an outstanding season, averaging career highs with 24.0 points and 8.5 assists per game. He's turned the Warriors into one of the Western Conference's most promising up-and-coming franchises.

Though Harden and Curry had standout 2013-14 campaigns, Derrick Rose may be Team USA's most intriguing presence.

After missing most of the last two seasons, Rose is taking this summer seriously as he prepares for a long-awaited return to the Bulls.

"I think he's exceptional in every way," said Krzyzewski, per FIBA.com.

"The first defensive exchange in the camp, he was all over the ball-handler, moving his feet, attacking him," Krzyzewski explained. "There was a buzz right away because it was basically him saying, 'Look, I'm not just back. I'm back at a level that's elite.' "

ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell wrote that Rose "opened eyes throughout the past week with his play," adding, "Team USA players and coaches continually said Rose was playing like he did before the ACL injury in April 2012."

That's quite the compliment, given that Rose was nothing short of electric prior to his spate of injuries.

At his best, Rose averaged 25.0 points and 7.7 assists during his 2010-11 MVP campaign. His athleticism and energy make him a world-class two-way player, capable of scoring, distributing and defending as well as any guard in the league.

Though he's not an especially vocal leader, Rose is as intense and professional as they come. 

And at the moment, he believes in himself.

As USA Today's Sam Amick explained, "He's older, wiser and—to hear him tell it during a 25-minute session with reportersperhaps even better than ever."

During Team USA's time in Las Vegas, Rose told reporters, "I'm there man. I'm not worried about that. My confidence is very high. That's the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof."

The 25-year-old's eagerness to prove himself could inspire a FIBA performance for the ages. He's been patiently awaiting the opportunity to demonstrate his continued relevance, and the World Cup serves as an opportunity to get a head start in that endeavor.

There's no guarantee that Rose will step into the spotlight with Team USA. His playing time may be limited as he continues to rediscover his rhythm.

Per Amick, Team USA assistant coach (and Bulls head coach) Tom Thibodeau noted, "I think this is a good situation for him to come back in because of all the talent. He doesn't have to play a lot of minutes, find your way, get over that hurdle of the rust you have to shake off, and I think he's ready for this."

In short, Harden and Curry will have to do their parts too—as will the rest of a deep roster that's likely to include emergent talent like Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16: Stephen Curry #30 and James Harden #13 of the Western Conference All-Stars prepare prior to the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Davis is expected to be an especially pivotal contributor after having a breakout second season with the New Orleans Pelicans. The 21-year-old put up averages of 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game, proving plenty of production on both ends of the floor.

His ability to inflict damage inside and out could pose serious matchup problems for opposing teams.

Another factor that mitigates Durant's loss is that the United States generally adopts an ensemble approach to international play. These games aren't characterized by hero ball, partially obviating the need for a go-to scorer in the first place.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Chris Paul #13, Carmelo Anthony #15, LeBron James #6, Kevin Love #11, Kobe Bryant #10 and Kevin Durant #5 of the US Men's Senior National Team celebrates against Spain during their Men's Gold Medal Basketball Game on Day 16 of
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

On the 2012 Summer Olympic team that featured Durant, James, Anthony, Love, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, no one averaged more than 19.5 points per contest (Durant). The second-highest scorer (Anthony) posted 16.3 points per game.

In all, Team USA boasted five players who averaged double-figure scoring and three more who tallied at least 8.3 points per game. 

It was a collective effort, as is often the case when multiple All-Stars come together.

Durant will be missed, and he probably won't be replaced with any single player. But Rose and Co. are well-prepared to make up the difference. This may even be an opportunity for some of the club's lesser stars to shine on the global stage.

The competition will be stiff, but Team USA's resolve promises to be stiffer—even with its best player watching from home.


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