The 1 Reason Every Team USA Finalist Should Make 2014 FIBA Roster
The USA men's basketball roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup has been sitting at 16 finalists since John Wall and Paul Millsap were cut on Aug. 4. With Kevin Durant pulling out of the tournament after being named a finalist, Rudy Gay has since been added.
The roster will need to be trimmed to 12 by the start of tournament play on Aug. 30, and coach Mike Krzyzewski and Co. will have some difficult decisions to make.
With the league's most powerful names missing from this year's World Cup, lineups will need balance and consistency in lieu of slightly diminished star power. With this in mind, cases can be made for each of the 16 to crack the final squad—cases that we broke down, finalist by finalist.
Reason: To prove he's ready for another comeback
We went through this last offseason, when Derrick Rose was priming himself for an ultimately unsustainable comeback from knee surgery. Rose looked ready for a relaunch during preseason play in 2013, only to show a lot of rust through the year's first 10 games and then go down with another crushing ailment.
Forget the fact that Rose may be the best player on Team USA. Forget about his devastating explosiveness from the point guard position—those are givens at this point.
Above all else, NBA fans want to see D-Rose play basketball. It really is that simple.
If he's right physically—which Coach K believes he is—Rose is capable of a skill set the league has been missing for two years. He gave us a taste of what we've been missing during the team's scrimmage weeks ago.
For Rose, more than anything, this World Cup is about proving to the world—and himself—that he's ready to pick up where he left off in 2012.
UPDATE: Thursday, August 14 at 4:45 p.m. ET
Cousins sustained a knee injury at practice on Thursday, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. It's unknown if he'll miss any time.
Reason: A summer with USA Basketball would do wonders for his maturation
Simply put, DeMarcus Cousins is a beast. He would give the team a dominant inside presence to turn to when all else fails.
He's coming off averaging 23 points per game last season with the Sacramento Kings while grabbing a league-high 30.5 percent of available defensive rebounds and posting a career-high 17.8 percent of his team's assists while he was on the floor. It goes without saying that he would be tremendous for Team USA in international play.
The primary concern with the 24-year-old, though, is his perception as, what he calls, a "ticking time bomb." He's known for emotional outbursts, and harnessing the emotion into positive energy may be all he needs to evolve into an elite center.
Spending the World Cup under the tutelage of Coach K, Jim Boeheim and Tom Thibodeau—not only on the practice floor but during game action—would inevitably make Cousins a smarter, better leader.
According to KentuckySports.com, the staff is already pleased with Boogie's progression with the team:
All the coaches were really pleased with DeMarcus and how he played. Look, his attitude is tremendous because he wouldn't keep coming back to be a part of Team USA if it didn't mean something to him. We recognize that. He was in good shape. He played well. He was talking on defense. He was our leading rebounder (in Friday's scrimmage) and he can pass out of the low post. He gives us a 'big' that is different than Anthony Davis.
Also, the team would benefit from a 23-and-12 guy manning the middle. That's a pretty big reason, too.
Reason: Team USA could space the floor with one of the league's best shooters
The bad news about Stephen Curry's 2013-14 season is that he shot a career-worst clip from three-point range. The better news is that he still shot 42.4 percent and qualified for eighth-best in the NBA.
With a roster full of attackers including Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gay, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan, floor spacing will be pivotal for Team USA. In Curry, defenses will need to respect a threat from beyond the arc every trip down, which will create more room for the other scorers to work and get to the basket.
He's also coming off averaging a career-high 8.5 assists last season for the Golden State Warriors while scoring 24 points on 47 percent from the field. Curry is obviously a capable scorer on his own, and his shooting will be among the team's best assets. But his ability to keep defenders on his hip will only give his teammates even better looks.
Reason: Can be the most dominant player at his position on both ends
We're only entering the third year of Anthony Davis' career, and he's already achieved star status in the NBA. What's next is downright frightening, and it begins with the 2014 World Cup.
Nobody his age has ever put up a season like he did in 2013-14. He averaged 21 and 10 while swatting away a league-leading 2.8 blocks per game. In just his second pro campaign, his usage rate was above 25, and he committed just 1.6 turnovers per game. He did all this while playing out of position at center for half the season after Jason Smith went down with a season-ending injury on Jan. 15.
With Andre Drummond limited offensively and DeMarcus Cousins handicapped defensively, Davis gives the national team an all-around threat at the 5, if that's where he'll be logging most of his minutes. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), his opponents shot 38 percent against him overall, and he held pick-and-roll bigs to 0.79 points per play, which ranked 25th in the league. In isolation, he allowed 0.73 points per play.
This World Cup should act as a good barometer to see where the 21-year-old currently stacks up against international competition.
Reason: Adds depth and athleticism to the wings
DeMar DeRozan is coming off his best season as a pro and earned a chance to compete for a spot in the World Cup. The competition at his position makes it tough, but he still possesses the tools to make an impact in the right situation.
As a bigger 2, standing at 6'7", the Toronto Raptors guard can use his size to his advantage—particularly on defense, where he was particularly improved last year.
Per Synergy Sports, the 25-year-old held opponents to just 0.83 points per play last season (ranking 90th league-wide—up from 226th the season prior), including 0.55 in isolation and 0.72 against pick-and-roll ball-handlers.
With one of the league's worst defenders above him on the depth chart in James Harden and another poor defender in Gordon Hayward also competing for a spot, DeRozan's chances aren't as grim as some expect.
If he can display an attacking mindset, he can make an impact offensively, too. Though just 15 percent of his shots came within three feet of the rim, he shot a career-best 71.2 percent from that zone in 2013-14.
Reason: Can dominate in the pick-and-roll and on the offensive glass
In Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Mason Plumlee, Team USA has a full pool of centers to select from when crafting the final roster. But if Coach K's staff leaves Drummond off, it'll be making a huge mistake.
Drummond's offense doesn't extend beyond the paint, but the Detroit Pistons center made the very most of his skill set last season in an unfavorable situation. Synergy ranked him as the 26th-most efficient scorer in the NBA and the third-most efficient roll man, as he recorded 1.31 points per pick-and-roll play. He also pulled down a league-high 17.5 percent of available offensive rebounds while he was on the floor.
His defending slipped a bit after an impressive rookie season, but he still held post-up players to just 0.76 points per play, and his opponents were held to an effective field-goal clip of 50.8, per 82games.com.
His game may not be as flashy as Cousins or Davis', but Drummond can be the rock that USA needs under the basket when all else fails.
Reason: Gives USA power forward depth and can bring momentum-shifting energy
Kenneth Faried's offensive game isn't spectacular and his defense isn't lockdown, but he's made the very most out of his skill set through his first three NBA seasons and plays a brand of basketball that can be electrifying under the right system.
Team USA is short at the power forward position, with Faried being the only squad's only true 4 as it stands now. With all the talent on the team, that may be his best shot at cracking the final roster.
But that's not to diminish the impact he could have offensively. He managed to shoot 55 percent last season under a new coach who installed a system which completely contradicted everything he'd learned previously.
His trademark transition game is perhaps his biggest weapon. He has the ability to finish with flair in the open court—though the importance of this on a roster full of supreme talent may not be especially high.
Faried, like much of the roster, is young and athletic, which works to his advantage. It will ultimately come down to how highly Krzyzewski values what Faried brings to the table and how important traditional positions are.
Reason: Underwent a renaissance last season with Sacramento and wouldn't be relied on as a primary scorer
What a difference a year makes. This time last summer, Rudy Gay was the punch line of jokes among the analytical NBA crowd—and for good reason. The most recent portion of his career to that point consisted solely of inefficient shooting and not much of anything else.
But after an early season trade to the Sacramento Kings, Gay flipped the script. He shot 48 percent with the Kings—up from 38.8 percent over 18 games with Toronto to begin the year—and averaged a career-high 3.1 assists on the season.
Building on his impressive showing in Sacramento, Gay is working to re-establish himself as a top scorer at the small forward position. And after Paul George's terrible injury and Kevin Durant's decision to sit out, Team USA is in need of a scoring 3.
With loads of talent around him on the national team, Gay presumably wouldn't feel the need to force the issue, which has been his most dramatic flaw through his eight-year career.
With plenty of scoring options down low in Kings teammate DeMarcus Cousins and New Orleans Pelican Anthony Davis—along with elite floor spacing thanks to Stephen Curry and Kyle Korver—Gay would be in a position to succeed on Team USA.
Reason: Is the most offensively gifted shooting guard on the roster
With injuries derailing the careers of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, James Harden may be next on the shooting guard hierarchy. He's a back-to-back 25-point scorer and has posted nearly six assists in both of his seasons with the Houston Rockets.
He's shot 46 percent from the field with Houston, including 37 percent from three-point range. Over his career, he's drawn 1.09 free-throw attempts for every two field-goal attempts.
Harden's defense has been among the league's worst over the last few seasons and is far from the reason he'd be making the squad. But according to Bobby Gonzalez of Sheridan Hoops, the staff has been impressed with his defending thus far:
I spoke to several members of the USAB staff, and behind the scenes they were amazed at how good James Harden has become as an overall player since his last tour with Team USA two years ago. The fact that he came in and was focused on being a lockdown defender blew them away. …
But now I am being told Harden is getting it done on [defense], which has always been the major complaint about his game.
If Harden isn't a complete negative on defense, it'll be an improvement from what he was last year in Houston. But Harden's offensive output is still potent enough to justify his spot on the team regardless.
Reason: Combination of scoring and playmaking at a position of need
Without Paul George and Kevin Durant, Team USA had to reach out to Rudy Gay to fill a need on the depth chart at the 3. With Gay and Chandler Parsons in front of him, Gordon Hayward faces an uphill battle in making the final roster. But he brings a skill set to the table that the other two can't completely match.
Hayward struggled shooting the three ball last year, which was concerning. But even in a down season, the 24-year-old still averaged 16 points, five rebounds and five assists, with the latter two being career highs.
He tallied 24 percent of the Jazz's assists while he was on the floor and grabbed 14 percent of available defensive rebounds. Neither Gay nor Parsons matched those numbers last year.
After a disappointing season, Hayward will need to gather a lot of momentum to make the final team. But if all is going right for him, he offers a more rounded game than other options on the roster.
Reason: Unselfish but has the ability to take over a game
Kyrie Irving's job with the Cavaliers is about to get a whole lot easier once he suits up with LeBron James and (probably) Kevin Love in October. But in the meantime, he has a different group of stars to cater to.
Team USA is point guard-heavy, but all options have a lot to offer, including Irving. Over his first three years, he's averaged over 20 points and six assists while shooting 45 percent and 38 percent from three-point distance.
Irving frequently came through in clutch scenarios for the Cavs in 2012-13, shooting 47 percent (57 percent on two-pointers) in the final three minutes with the score separated by less than five. Those numbers dipped a bit last year, but Irving has still shown a tremendous ability to hit meaningful shots. It's a trait he's developed out of necessity in Cleveland the last few years, based on the talent around him.
The backcourt rotation will likely be heavy with point guards, but Irving's offensive arsenal should be reliable enough to earn him a spot.
Reason: All of the threes
There's no shame in admitting Kyle Korver has stuck around Team USA this long for one reason only. As the league's longstanding three-point king, defenses need to keep an eye on him at all times. Coach K is certainly one to value that.
Korver has never shot worse than 37.5 percent from three-point range in a season and just last season recorded his second-best clip at 47.2—on a whopping 5.5 attempts per game.
During his two years with the Atlanta Hawks, the team has been 8.3 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor, with the offense being 4.2 points per 100 possessions better with him playing. He's posted an individual offensive rating at or above 115 five times—each coming in the last five seasons. Which means, as scary as it sounds, Korver just keeps making his teams better every year.
Reason: Compatibility with the other point guards
All four Team USA point guards will more than likely make it through the final cuts, which should leave plenty of time for dual-point guard lineups during game action, especially without an abundance of shooting guards. In Damian Lillard, Coach K has a perfect backcourt mate for any of the three other options at the point.
Lillard's 39 percent clip from three last season makes him and Derrick Rose a favorable pair—he could space things out for an attacking Rose to get to the rim and create for others.
When Lillard is paired with Kyrie Irving, defenses would need to worry about supreme athleticism in the backcourt at all times and two players who are lightning-quick with devastating handles and a pure jumper. A Stephen Curry-Lillard pairing would be one rivaled by only the Splash Bros. combo in Golden State—but Lillard is a far better all-around weapon than Klay Thompson.
He's wise to keep his shots away from the inefficient mid-range and is lethal in the corner-three spots, shooting 44 percent there last season. According to 82games.com, he kept opposing point men to a 47 percent effective field-goal rate overall.
Lillard's specific skill set makes him effective in nearly any scenario.
Reason: Suddenly has everything to prove
Over his first three NBA seasons as a second-round pick making a salary less than $1 million annually, Chandler Parsons was possibly the best dollar-for-dollar value in the league. He averaged 14 points, five rebounds and three assists during his tenure with the Houston Rockets, shooting 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from three. He was an integral piece to a rising Houston team, averaging seven win shares per season over the last two.
But now, as the highest-paid Dallas Maverick over the next three years, Parsons may have suddenly morphed from undervalued to overvalued with just one offer sheet. But it's up to him to dispel that theory.
The national team is short at small forward, which helps Parsons' case moving forward. But even still, the 25-year-old surely is out to prove himself worthy of his current deal—to the Mavs, to the Rockets, to miscellaneous detractors everywhere.
Having a Parsons who was determined to prove himself worthy of an NBA role worked out for the Houston Rockets. Having a Parsons determined to prove his worth among NBA stars could hold the same value for Krzyzewski's staff.
Reason: Familiarity with Coach K
There's no way around it: Mason Plumlee got his foot into Team USA's door because of a familiarity with coach Mike Krzyzewski. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, because he's fresh off an impressive rookie year with the Brooklyn Nets and is a young, energetic center.
DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond are all more accomplished players than Plumlee, but that familiarity with a coach as influential as Krzyzewski is very meaningful.
He played four seasons at Duke under Coach K, averaging 10 points and eight rebounds over 26 minutes—including 17, 10 boards and two assists in his senior season.
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the coach implied as recently as July 31 that Plumlee may have the edge over Cousins:
In DeMarcus' case, the style we play lends itself to what Anthony does, or even what a Plumlee is doing. A little bit of Drummond (also), because Detroit, what they do, is they put he and (guard Will) Bynum in the game and all they do is pick and roll. DeMarcus' game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he's trying to make it.
In trying to find another justification for Plumlee's place on the final squad, SB Nation's Satchel Price considered the following:
Even with several big names missing the World Cup, Team USA doesn't lack willing shooters. Guys like Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Paul George will be happy to shoulder the scoring load, making it important to balance the roster with players who don't need the ball to contribute.
That's why Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson will be so important to what the Americans do, and it's one reason Plumlee might be preferred over Cousins, who has developed into the one of the highest usage players in the NBA.
It will be a questionable call for Coach K to leave a player like Cousins off the roster in favor of a 24-year-old Plumlee. But if he does, it's all about familiarity.
Reason: Experience being a three-point shooting role player
Klay Thompson's NBA value has been a weird topic of discussion this summer, with the Warriors front office being unwilling to include him in Kevin Love negotiations. But what's gotten lost in this is that Thompson has true value as a role player on the Warriors, and on a national team filled with star talent, that could come in handy.
An on-court pairing with teammate Stephen Curry would be especially helpful, as those two made up the best three-point shooting pair of teammates anywhere last season. Golden State outscored opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions while the two shared the floor.
For his lack of development elsewhere, Thompson is a lethal shooter from long range. He's shot 41 percent from distance over his three NBA years and is one of just six players to post that mark over his first three seasons while using at least 22.8 of his team's possessions while he's on the floor (minimum 3,000 minutes and 10 three-point attempts).
In the same way that familiarity with the coach would help Plumlee crack the roster, familiarity with a role could help Thompson make the team. He has a special talent and has experience with using that talent in a refined role—the latter is something that most finalists aren't accustomed to.