Even without some of its best stars, Team USA enters the upcoming 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup as overwhelming favorites to win its second straight crown at the event.
Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo have done their job assembling a roster loaded with top NBA players. The standouts from previous teams are slim but not non-existent, and they have plenty of options as the 12-man roster cut looms.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant lead the stacked field of players not with the team this summer, but that hasn't knocked the Americans from their perch. Even after Paul George's injury and Durant's withdrawal, Odds Shark still has Team USA as huge favorites with 2-7 odds. Spain is not far behind at 5-2.
Here's a look at Team USA's preliminary schedule, and potential games after that as Coach Krzyzewski and company look to repeat as FIBA World Cup champs.
|Saturday, Aug. 30||United States vs. Finland||3:30 p.m.|
|Sunday, Aug. 31||United States vs. Turkey||3:30 p.m.|
|Tuesday, Sept. 2||United States vs. New Zealand||11:30 a.m.|
|Wednesday, Sept. 3||United States vs. Dominican Republic||3:30 p.m.|
|Thursday, Sept. 4||United Staes vs. Ukraine||11:30 a.m.|
|Sept. 6-7||Round of 16||TBD|
|Sept. 14||Gold Medal Game||TBD|
Note: Schedule information courtesy of Team USA's official site. Times and order of games will be decided prior to the round of 16.
Team USA Storylines
Will Rudy Gay Fit in?
Practically all of the players planning to head to Spain for the World Cup went through the training camp in Las Vegas to get acclimated with the team and their role. Not Rudy Gay.
Gay wasn't a part of the team when it headed to Las Vegas, and it wasn't until the end of it that the need for him became apparent. With George's injury and Durant announcing his withdrawal from the event, though, a huge hole opened up on the wing.
The Sacramento Kings forward was quick to fill in, and he is prepared to make up for lost time.
“I plan on catching up and learning quickly,” Gay said, per USAB.com's Steve Silverman. “That’s part of my job and my responsibility. I have to learn where I’m supposed to be and know what I’m supposed to do. Others may have had a bit longer to learn, but I will catch up.”
Of course, Gay still has work to do to make the final cut and become one of the 12 players taken to Spain. But recent history bodes well. The 28-year-old was a key contributor in the 2010 event, averaging seven points per game off the bench.
Gay failed to make the final cut in 2012 for the Olympics, but his abilities will be much more needed this time without James, Durant, George or Carmelo Anthony. If he can settle into his role, eventually the team will need his ability to score from the wing.
Big Men Problems
Bigger, faster, better. Those are the key reasons why Team USA tends to demolish international competition.
Only, the Americans might not be "bigger" than all of their foes this summer in Spain. Without Kevin Love, Blake Griffin or even Tyson Chandler in the fold to begin with, Team USA was already short on big men. Then, DeMarcus Cousins injured his leg on Aug. 14, per USA Today.
Which reserve big man will stand out in Spain?
Team USA tends to play small ball anyway with its strengths in the backcourt and on the perimeter, but a lack of size could hurt them in an inevitable showdown against Spain. Three of their best players are Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, so fronts with two bigs are common and often hard to deal with.
Anthony Davis will need to play like a star, and whoever makes the team out of Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee must come up big when the Spanish come knocking. They should have enough size to thwart many of their opponents, but it will be a different story against Spain.
All Eyes on D-Rose
Seeing Derrick Rose play in the NBA has been a rare sight in recent seasons, so the sheer chance to witness Rose back and healthy is enough reason in itself to watch Team USA.
The Chicago Bulls point guard dazzled spectators with his explosiveness and an improved three-point shot in what was virtually his first action back since recovering from his second consecutive season-ending knee injury.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who happens to be an assistant coach with Team USA, told ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell what he's seen in terms of improvement from Rose:
I think he's reading the game extremely well. He's shooting when he should shoot, he's passing when he should pass. He's not forcing things. He's playing well defensively. And that's what we want him to do -- find the rhythm of the game. I think he's comfortable, he's confident, he knows he's prepared himself well."
Here's Rose hitting a three in training, per USA Basketball:
Derrick Rose knocks down the corner three off a crisp pass from Chandler Parsons. https://t.co/LTaFakfrUa— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) August 15, 2014
With no setbacks in Las Vegas and even his coach coming off impressed, Rose should contend for the starting job and most likely win it. Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are also currently on the roster, but Rose is at another level when healthy and effective.
Rose's signature acrobatic moves toward the rim and acrobatic attempts are back, and that should be a treat to see for basketball enthusiasts.