Athleticism and skill was supposed to be Team USA's ticket to a FIBA World Cup title, and it might still be.
But this group's final roster is bigger than most envisioned it—including head coach Mike Krzyzewski himself.
Bolstered by the past success of his small-ball groups on the international stage, Coach K sounded ready to downsize again.
"Everyone talks about matchups (with big teams such as Spain), people have to matchup against us, too," Krzyzewski told reporters in late July. "What you have to do is put your best 12 together and then make adjustments with the best 12. Obviously we’re not going to have 12 guards, but that’s what we’ve done."
That might been the intention, but it certainly doesn't reflect the direction this team has taken since. While predictably heavy in the backcourt, it's surprisingly deep on the interior as well.
|Team USA's FIBA World Cup Roster|
|PG||Stephen Curry||Kyrie Irving||Derrick Rose|
|SG||DeMar DeRozan||James Harden||Klay Thompson|
|C||DeMarcus Cousins||Anthony Davis||Andre Drummond||Mason Plumlee|
As USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo explained to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, this team gives Krzyzewski lineup options he didn't have in the past:
Early on [this summer], we said it would be hard to carry four bigs, but that was kind of put on the shelf. Certainly there won't be any discussion going forward about, "What are you going to do about bigs, what are you going to do about playing teams with size?" If Coach wishes to show a big front line, he now has the capacity to do so.
If that isn't the understatement of the year, it's certainly in the running.
This is suddenly a towering team with Krzyzewski free to lean on intimidating interior players like Anthony Davis (6'10", 220 pounds), Mason Plumlee (6'11", 235 pounds), Andre Drummond (6'10", 270 pounds) and DeMarcus Cousins (6'11", 270 pounds) as heavily as he would like.
Even with the added size, this is still a skilled group, too. Davis has MVP-type versatility, Cousins might be the NBA's best back-to-the-basket scorer and Drummond and Plumlee are effective, athletic cleanup men.
Yet, the roster seems to run counter to Krzyzewski's previous comments, and not for the simple fact that it's so much larger than expected. This feels very matchup-specific, as a possible championship meeting with the massive Spanish squad feels as if it played a major role in this team's construction.
That could prove to be a shrewd bit of foresight by these decision-makers. After all, no other team in the tournament field presents a greater challenge than the hometown club.
"Spain won't just create problems for Team USA; it will pose the single biggest threat to American victory in the World Cup," wrote Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes.
Spain has a wealth of international experience working in its favor, along with the tight-knit chemistry those years spent together bring. With players like Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro on board, the Spanish roster also oozes craftiness and creativity.
But Team USA didn't horde bigs to contend with pesky perimeter players. This was all about containing Spain's terrifying frontcourt trio: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Pau Gasol.
The two sides met in the 2012 Olympic gold medal game. While Team USA eked out a 107-100 win, it clearly had issues containing Spain's monsters in the middle.
The Gasol brothers combined for 41 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Ibaka chipped in with 12 points and nine boards in 22 minutes off the bench.
Tyson Chandler, USA's starting center, managed only two points and a rebound in nine minutes of action. While Kevin Love pumped in nine points and nine boards from the second team, USA's secret for survival was the performance of its perimeter players (17 points for Kobe Bryant, 11 for Chris Paul) and its versatile forwards (30 points and nine rebounds for Kevin Durant; 19 points, seven boards and four dimes for LeBron James).
That could still be the blueprint to gold for this team to follow, although the withdrawals of Kevin Durant (fatigue) and Paul George (broken leg) will put an even heavier emphasis on these guards to perform.
Davis, an unproven rookie in 2012, enters this competition with knockout power since added to his arsenal. Dubbed Team USA's "main guy" by Krzyzewski, via Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune, Davis is coming off an eye-opening 2013-14 campaign during which he posted per-game averages of 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and a league-best 2.8 blocks.
If there's a weakness in Davis' game, though, it's generating offense away from the basket. He has spent this summer in part addressing that issue, but he shot just 39.3 percent outside of 10 feet last season.
That problem is uncomfortably familiar among his frontcourt mates.
Cousins converted 40.6 percent of those looks, but his best offense comes on the low block, and his defensive effort tends to waver. Kenneth Faried rarely strayed that far from the rim, but when he did he sapped his effectiveness (38 of 119, 31.9 percent). Drummond got 91.4 percent of his field goals from dunks, layups and tip-ins, while the first two shot types accounted for 91.3 percent of Plumlee's 206 field goals.
The international stage tends to promote floor spacing, both to take advantage of shorter three-point arcs and to break opponents out of zone defenses. USA has stretched opposing teams thin in the past, but this super-sized attack doesn't offer the quantity of perimeter-oriented players as those clubs did.
Of course, what it lacks for quantity in terms of three-point snipers, it may completely compensate for in quality.
Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson launched 1,150 triples in 2013-14 and buried 42.1 percent of them. James Harden is a high-volume perimeter shooter with a career 36.9 percent success rate on his resume, which slots him behind backcourt mate Kyrie Irving (37.8 percent).
These four might make up the bulk of Team USA's long-ball attack, but that's a potentially menacing four-headed monster.
In many ways, that reflects the makeup of this roster.
This isn't the mix of versatile talents fans have grown accustomed to, but it should be able to scratch the biggest itches that will arise.
"It's an unbalanced roster but stacked in the areas they need," wrote CBS Sports' Matt Moore. "Shooters to break the zone, athletes to attack the rim and bigs to score inside and control the glass."
It's built like an NBA team, with defined roles and players lined up to fill them.
While it's nice to have a collection of guys capable of doing everything, circumstances took that option away from Krzyzewski this time around. Rather than trying to recreate that formula with lesser talents, he opted for a group that should collectively handle all of the tasks it will face.
The margin for error is thin, but this is still the best roster in the field. And, with this new emphasis on size, it is guarded against its biggest problem area in the past.
It might not look, feel or even play like the Team USA many expected, but it doesn't have to in order to keep this string of international success alive and well.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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