Derrick Rose didn't make Team USA's final roster for the FIBA World Cup in Spain because the U.S. needs him to beat the likes of New Zealand or Finland in group play. He made it because he'll give Team USA the elite player it needs against the only real threat it'll face.
So maybe we should all take a deep breath and stop fretting over his lingering durability issues.
Sure, it's fair to be concerned when Rose misses a couple of practices to rest his knees, as was reported by Mike Mazzeo and Marc Stein of ESPN.com. And yes, considering Rose's injury history, red flags went up when he followed those off days with a DNP in an exhibition against the Dominican Republic.
The fact that head coach Mike Krzyzewski may split starting point guard duties between Kyrie Irving and Rose doesn't say much for the latter's durability either.
"We'll see as things go on," Krzyzewski said, per Stein. "We might alternate 'em. Both of them are going to play significant minutes."
The FIBA schedule is unforgiving and includes one stretch of five games in six days during pool play. No NBA team (in a non-lockout season) ever sees that much compressed action, and for a guy like Rose, coming off of two lost years, it's easy to understand why the coaching staff is handling him with kid gloves.
Toss in the fact that Team USA enters FIBA play at a chemistry disadvantage from the outset, and there's a real case building that Rose's here-today-gone-tomorrow availability poses a problem. Remember, most of the teams in this tournament have maintained their cores for years; the Americans endure massive roster turnover between every international competition.
Fiddling with the starting lineup isn't ideal in circumstances where chemistry is at such a premium.
Plus, there's the opportunity cost of rostering Rose. Damian Lillard and John Wall didn't make the final squad, and if Rose really can't contribute consistently, you could argue that having another healthy All-Star guard would provide more value to the U.S. cause.
Those all sound like legitimate worries. Maybe Rose, limited as he is, is doing more harm than good to Team USA.
Rose insists the surgically repaired areas of his body are sound: "No, not the knees," Rose said, per Tim Casey of the Chicago Tribune. "No, no, no, no. Y'all don't got to worry about that."
And if you're skeptical of that source, consider another:
"Derrick brings something that we don't have as far as being able to push the ball so fast and get into the paint, and [he's] so athletic," USA guard James Harden told Chris Strauss of USA Today. "He made a couple cross-court passes for open threes. He looked phenomenal."
Words not doing it for you? How about some visual evidence?
One more for good measure:
That last one is worth an extra comment. Splitting a double-team, getting to the rim in two enormous steps and finishing a wrong-footed layup with tons of torque...That's Derrick Rose. That's the guy who won an MVP.
Physically, we've seen all we need to see. And so has the U.S. coaching staff.
"I know what Derrick Rose can do," Krzyzewski explained after sitting Rose against the Dominican Republic, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.
One of the things Rose can do is play basketball at a higher level than either Lillard or Wall. He's a better defender than the former (as is almost everyone), and he gets to the hole more effectively than the latter.
This isn't a pity case.
We have to assume Rose earned his way onto the team by impressing his coaches—one of whom, Tom Thibodeau, had every incentive to lobby for his point guard's removal in the interest of preserving him for the Chicago Bulls' upcoming season.
If some very smart basketball minds watched Rose play against the best the U.S. had to offer for weeks and somehow erred in believing he made the team better than the alternative options, well...that seems pretty unlikely, doesn't it?
Besides, everyone expected it to take some time for Rose to knock the rust off.
"By participating with Team USA this summer, the hope was Rose would be able to get through a lot of the early ups-and-downs he’s likely to experience after so much time away from the court, and that appears to be what’s happening," wrote Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.
What's more, the concept of opportunity cost doesn't apply to Team USA like it would to a club with less depth. In normal circumstances, a healthy, question mark free player adds more value to a team than one who shuttles into and out of the lineup.
But it's not like Team USA is simply taking Rose over Lillard or Wall. This squad's depth is ridiculous, so if Rose misses a game or two (or merely sees his role reduced somewhat), his minutes get absorbed by Irving and Stephen Curry, or perhaps even James Harden.
When your replacement-level player is a legitimate superstar, it doesn't hurt as much if someone like Rose can't provide consistent minutes.
Think of it this way: Dwyane Wade's 28 missed games last year hurt the Miami Heat in a number of ways. It taxed LeBron James too heavily, forced other players into roles for which they weren't suited and generally strained an already thin roster.
Wouldn't the negative impact of those missed games have decreased if Curry, Irving or Harden were there to pick up those redistributed minutes by committee?
The thing is, if we agree Rose is a better player than Lillard or Wall when healthy, which he almost certainly is, he helps Team USA by being on the roster. Rest him against Finland and New Zealand, then break the safety glass for tougher tilts against Spain or Brazil down the line.
Team USA's peak level of performance is higher with Rose, and if he can only provide that peak level every other day, that's fine. It's not like Kirk Hinrich, Rose's Chicago replacement, will be thrust into the lineup for 38 minutes a game.
There's really just one genuine threat to Team USA in this World Cup: Spain.
And even if we have our doubts about Rose's ability to string together a couple of healthy weeks, we've seen more than enough to be sure he can play optimal, MVP-quality ball when his body allows him to get on the floor.
So if all we see of Rose in this tournament is a dynamite effort against Spain, it'll have been worth it to keep him on the roster.
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