Bench Players Who Can Provide the Biggest Boost for Team USA
The 2014 USA Basketball team is unlike any of its previous incarnations.
Instead of fielding a team loaded with the sport's top superstars, this version of USA Basketball is all about young, hungry players who are looking to enhance their reputations.
The 12 players whom managing director Jerry Colangelo and his coaching staff headed by Mike Krzyzewski and keyed by defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau selected will go as far as they can with a gameplan based on speed and defense.
The starting lineup will consist of Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis, but, per ESPN, Krzyzewski may alternate Irving and Derrick Rose on an every-other-game basis.
Regardless of who starts, the bench crew should not be overlooked. In this piece, we look at the bench options Krzyzewski will use to help USA Basketball go for the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup.
6. DeMarcus Cousins (tie)
NBA Team: Sacramento Kings
Wt: 270 pounds
2013-14 NBA Stats: 22.7 ppg, .496 FG percentage, 11.7 rpg
Analysis: DeMarcus Cousins is one of the biggest and most powerful players on the U.S. team, and it appeared that he would have a shot to compete for one of the starting front-line positions until he went down following a scary collision with Kenneth Faried at a Chicago practice session in mid-August.
Luckily, Cousins was not seriously injured and he will be able to compete in the tournament. In addition to his strength and versatility on the boards, Cousins is a solid scoring option near the basket because he is highly skilled and knows how to get his shot off when the 24-second clock is winding down.
The U.S. frontcourt appears to be where the team is most vulnerable. If the coaching staff senses that opponents are going to try to take it to them with a physically punishing style, Cousins will be one of the key players used to combat that strategy.
6. Andre Drummond (tie)
NBA Team: Detroit Pistons
Wt: 270 pounds
2013-14 NBA Stats: 13.5 ppg, .623 FG percentage, 13.2 rpg
Analysis: Many of the NBA experts who are following this team were surprised to see Andre Drummond make the final roster because he has only two years of league experience and doesn't appear to have the skill level that has been featured on many international teams in the past.
However, Krzyzewski and his staff were not going off past reputations. They made their judgments on how players performed in practice and the exhibition games. Drummond immediately caught the eyes of the evaluators because of his effort and speed.
Drummond's ability to accelerate to full speed and run the court is quite rare for a big man. He's a legitimate tough guy who will do anything he can to come up with the ball, whether it's on the glass or the court. Drummond can block a shot, direct it to a teammate and has the ability to finish the break. He could be quite valuable in this tournament because of his surprising skill set.
5. Mason Plumlee
NBA Team: Brooklyn Nets
Wt: 235 pounds
2013-14 NBA Stats: 7.4 ppg, .659 FG percentage, 4.4 rpg
Analysis: If you have been paying attention to Mason Plumlee's career, raise your hand right now. I thought so.
While he is almost certainly the most unknown player on this team, Plumlee has shown that he is a smart, hard-working, hustling player who can make a difference on both ends of the court.
When Thibodeau was installing the team's defense at a Chicago practice session, Plumlee got it on the first try. A day later when the USA defeated Brazil at the United Center, Plumlee was correcting teammates on the floor when they were in the wrong position or didn't rotate properly.
Plumlee is not a superstar, and he probably never will be. However, he plays the game the right way. Don't be surprised if Plumlee contributes a key block, steal or basket in every game of the tournament.
4. Rudy Gay
NBA Team: Sacramento Kings
Wt: 230 pounds
2013-14 NBA Stats: 20.0 ppg, .455 FG percentage, 6.0 rpg
Analysis: After Paul George suffered his broken leg in Las Vegas and Kevin Durant opted out of the competition, Rudy Gay offered his services and got the call to compete for a spot on the team.
He quickly showed that he belonged. He's a veteran of the 2010 USA Basketball team, and he brings a solid defensive presence along with a strong scorer's mentality. Gay's ability to run the court and make plays on either end should make him a valuable presence.
His attitude may be his best attribute. Gay just wants to contribute, and he has shown no outward signs of resentment for not being with the original group that started practicing in Las Vegas. He is smart, aware and will do whatever is asked to help his team win.
3. Klay Thompson
NBA Team: Golden State Warriors
Wt: 205 pounds
2013-14 NBA Stats: 18.4 ppg, .444 FG percentage, 2.2 apg
Analysis: Klay Thompson had impressive numbers last year while teaming with Steph Curry in the Warriors' backcourt, and he figures to play a key role for USA Basketball in the World Cup. There's a sense of calm, cool and confidence every time Thompson is on the court.
He is going to hit the big outside shot when coming off the bench, and he's also got the instincts and quickness to make game-changing defensive plays. Thompson appears to instinctively understand what the opposition wants to do, and he will get in the lanes to create steals and deflections.
Another aspect to Thompson's game is that he meshes well with the starters or the bench players. Krzyzewski does not have to worry about which group Thompson plays with, because he brings out the best in both groups.
1. Derrick Rose (tie)
NBA Team: Chicago Bulls
Wt: 190 pounds
2013-14 NBA Stats: 15.9 ppg, .354 FG percentage, 4.3 apg (in 10 games)
Analysis: Rose is the biggest question mark on the USA Basketball roster. He is still working his way back after suffering two major knee injuries, and he may be an up-and-down performer throughout the tournament.
When Rose is on his game, he is one of the most explosive athletes in his sport. Nearly every player in the NBA is a remarkable athlete, but Rose stands out. He has explosive speed and quickness and the talent to take advantage of these remarkable gifts.
However, Rose has experienced some pain and soreness, and he has been somewhat cautious as he tries to prepare for this tournament as well as his return to the NBA this season.
He has a chance to be one of the dominant players in the tournament, but he has not always looked sharp or shown great timing in the exhibition games or practice sessions.
1. Kyrie Irving (tie)
NBA Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 NBA Stats: 20.8 ppg, .430 FG percentage, 6.1 apg
Analysis: Irving is the starting point guard going into the tournament, but Krzyzewski said he may give Rose a chance to start as well. When that happens, Irving will come off the bench and undoubtedly give his team a huge spark.
Irving has superior quickness and he is capable of turning defense into offense by forcing turnovers with his ability to anticipate and steal the ball. He makes excellent decisions and he will either find the open man or take advantage of the scoring opportunity himself.
In addition to his physical talent, Irving is a supremely confident player who believes he is going to make something positive happen every time he steps on the floor. "It's an honor to be on this team and I intend to make something happen on offense or defense," Irving said. "That's my job and I intend to do it."