Would It Be a Mistake for Team USA to Cut Andre Drummond Before World Cup?

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2014

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 29: Andre Drummond #25 of the USA Basketball Men's National Team stretches before practice at the Mendenhall Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on July 29, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Just days ago, the Detroit Free Press' Perry A. Farrell noted "speculation that [Detroit Pistons center Andre] Drummond could start the team’s first exhibition game Saturday against Brazil" with Team USA center DeMarcus Cousins listed day-to-day on account of a minor knee injury.

Instead, Drummond didn't even play—confirming at least part of a tweeted report from Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears that, "USAB's Jerry Colangelo told players this week that some would get DNPs, but promised that everyone would get their chance in 3 exhibitions."

Here's what Drummond told reporters, per the Pistons' official website:

I don’t plan on going home. I feel like I've done a pretty good job here these past couple of weeks really proving I could be a part of this team. We have a lot of great players out here. I’m not going to back down. I know what’s at stake. I want to win a gold medal.

Having watched Drummond at practices in Las Vegas and Chicago, Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim added to the same report, saying that he was "impressed" and noting that Drummond's physicality was something "not many people can bring to the table."

But for all the optimistic sound bites, the fact remains that Drummond could well find himself on the outside looking in before the club begins FIBA World Cup tournament play in Spain.

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 28:  Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons poses for a picture before the game against the Miami Heat on March 28, 2014 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agre
Dan Lippitt/Getty Images

Farrell now reports that "Drummond’s days on the U.S. men’s national basketball team might be numbered," adding that, "ESPN reporter Marc Stein said Drummond is the 15th man on the roster."

Farrell names Mason Plumlee as the player most likely to get the nod over Drummond. The Brooklyn Nets center played 15 minutes against Brazil, tallying nine points while going 3-of-3 from the field. 

Besides Cousins and Plumlee, Team USA also boasts 21-year-old big man Anthony Davis, a lock to make the final 12-man roster.

Per the Pistons website, Drummond said, "I just control what I can do when I get on the floor and I’m going to contribute to the team. Be an energy guy, run the floor, grab rebounds and finish strong around the rim when I do get the ball."

And it's those very virtues that make Drummond such a natural fit in theory.

He has the elite athleticism to keep pace with a team poised to do plenty of running in Spain. By most accounts, Team USA's powers that be have taken notice.

NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin recently wrote:

I will say I noticed this in Las Vegas when I was there for USA Camp — when you asked Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] about the bigs Drummond was always the first name out of his mouth. He would praise Cousins, he said Plumlee’s play was a pleasant surprise (which is saying something since Plumlee was at Duke for four years), but Drummond always was the first guy mentioned.

So what gives?

Though Drummond is only 21 years old, Plumlee is a similarly inexperienced 24-year-old with a less impressive NBA resume. While Plumlee brings energy and a strong work ethic to the table, you could say the very same things of Drummond.

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 16: Mason Plumlee #11 of team USA passes under pressure from Tiago Splitter #15 of team Brazil during an exhibition game at the United Center on August 16, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Team USA defeated team Brazil 95-78. (Photo by Jona
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Having played for Krzyzewski at Duke, however, Plumlee is more immediately familiar with the system Team USA employs—one factor weighing somewhat heavily in his favor.

Nevertheless, on paper, it's hard to refute Drummond's merits.

In just his second season last year, he averaged 13.5 points and an impressive 13.2 rebounds per game, which ranked second league-wide. Drummond also made a significant impact on the defensive end, tallying 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals per contest.

It was a breakout season for a much-anticipated talent who reasons to remain a pivotal building block for the Detroit Pistons.

The pleasant surprise is that Drummond is much more than a big body. While there's work still to be done, he's rapidly honed his skills in the post and shown flashes of elite potential. The key has been his willingness to learn.

Here's what then Pistons head-coach Maurice Cheeks told Grantland's Jonathan Abrams about Drummond prior to the 2013-14 campaign:

He’s always asking questions. Even before practice, he’ll come in and see me and we’ll talk about certain things that he can do to get better at. I think he has some knowledge in terms of where he wants to get to in terms of his ability. Most guys like that can reach another level — he has that ability.

Between his talent, physical gifts and mental approach, one might think Drummond is a natural to represent his country on a global stage—especially when the competition is similarly inexperienced.

Coach K may have other ideas based on the kind of chemistry he's attempting to create, but that rationale isn't yet self-evident. 

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 30:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the 2014 USA Basketball Men's National Team talks on the court during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 30, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

And there certainly remains a chance things could change.

Krzyzewski recently told reporters in Chicago that the team will wait to submit its final squad in case any injuries occur.

So for the time being, Drummond still has a chance—even if it's not an especially good one.

Though it would be unfortunate for Team USA to go in another direction, expect to see Drummond representing the United States before long. He's quickly made a name for himself as one of the league's best up-and-coming bigs, and it's only a matter of time before his ascendance translates into an international debut.

The Detroit Free Press' Jessica Weber notes Krzyzewski said "regardless of whether [Drummond] makes the cut, he sees international basketball in the big man’s future."

Hopefully, that future with the team comes sooner rather than later.