Team USA, player-by-player and role-by-role (Part One)

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Thumbnail image for Curry_Granger_USA.jpgNow that Team USA’s roster is finalized, it’s time to break down exactly what each of Team USA’s 12 players will be asked to do. Some members of Team USA are simply acting as an extension of their NBA selves, but others have seen their responsibilities shift due to the team’s needs, the overall makeup of the roster, and the nature of FIBA basketball. In this first installment, we’ll look at the likely reserve core.

Stephen Curry – With Team USA’s touch-and-go offense, having at least one designated shooter/scorer can be a tremendous asset. Curry is one such player. While Steph could definitely run the point if need be, thus far he’s come in with freedom to shoot and he’s exercised that freedom.

Curry has only played about 23 minutes in total, but he’s scored tremendously well in that limited run. His per-game numbers may not be all that impressive, but on a per-minute basis? Curry shines. Three games in, Steph is scoring at a rate of 25 points per 36 minutes, while shooting an even 50% from the field. Curry has incredible range, but he also has an innate feel for all-around scoring; if there was any doubt of Curry’s ability to perform on a FIBA stage, it’s been swiftly decimated.
 
Russell Westbrook – While Derrick Rose’s athleticism is appropriately designated as “pure” or simply “impressive,” Russell Westbrook’s athletic abilities are better termed as “unbridled.” There is some discipline in Westbrook’s game, but he’s at his most effective in bursts of unthinkable speed and power. Simply put, Westbrook has no delusions of being a finesse guard. He just wants to sprint up the court, jump a pass in transit, and throw it down over anyone that tries to stand in his way.

Team USA can use that. Westbrook is a bit of a wild card; he’s capable of playing both on and off the ball, scoring and distributing (and rebounding — Westbrook is a remarkably good positional rebounder), creating turnovers or gambling too much. He’ll have a rough game now and again, but Westbrook is a necessary do-it-all element on this squad, even if his position is probably redundant.
    
Rudy Gay – Rudy Gay has clearly worked into Mike Krzyzewski’s favor, though he did see his minutes drop in Team USA’s last exhibition against Spain. Regardless, Gay seems to function in the same capacity for Team USA that he always has for the Grizzlies. He’s dangerous in the open court, but far too complacent in a half-court setting. That’s all well and good when Rudy’s leaning, fadeaway jumpers are falling, but the majority of the time, when they aren’t? Not so fun.

Still, Gay has been a highly effective scorer in two of the three friendlies thus far, which counts for something. Better shot selection could mean a world of difference for a player of Gay’s skills, but it’s not meant to be. Not in Memphis, and certainly not in Turkey. The fact that he’s so impressive in spite of his lapses in judgment isn’t some intangible positive. It’s just worthy of a deep sigh, and a reminder of what could be if Gay’s mindset were just a bit different. Nevertheless, Team USA will take the status quo Rudy Gay, ill-advised jumpshooting warts and all.

Danny Granger – Danny Granger’s role on Team USA would seem to be clear: park him in the corner to keep the defense honest, and have him knock down a three every now and again, just to prove that he can. On a team lacking in knock-down shooters, Grangers’ ability to hit from both mid and long range is a useful asset against just about any defense Team USA will encounter at the FIBA World Championships.

But there seems to be some disconnect between that perceived role and Granger’s performance. Granger has yet to hit a three-pointer thus far in Team USA’s exhibition games. He’s only even attempted two. Maybe Granger’s too versatile to be strictly a spot-up shooter, but his minutes thus far haven’t brought any kind of scoring production whatsoever. That scoring is what will keep Granger on the floor, so it’s not all that surprising that after Granger failed to produce points-wise in the first two contests, he found himself benched against Spain.

Eric Gordon – It’s not easy to find minutes for Eric Gordon in such a loaded backcourt, but Mike Krzyzewski has managed to do it thus far. Though Gordon’s playing time was sliced in the Americans’ most recent exhibition (in which Coach K leaned more heavily on the big guns), he averaged about 13 minutes per game in the two exhibitions prior, and was fairly productive for Team USA on both ends.

He may not be as talented as Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, as lethal as Stephen Curry, or as precise as Chauncey Billups, but Gordon’s ability to hit the three, get to the line, and D up warrants consideration.

Kevin Love – Kevin Love is the last line of defense, even if he doesn’t play much of it.

Love won’t get much playing time on a regular basis, but if anything were to happen to Lamar Odom or Tyson Chandler, Krzyzewski would likely throw Love into the rotation to gobble up rebounds. He’s a pretty awful defender and a useful offensive player, but Love’s magnum opus is his rebounding. He’s an elite NBA player in that regard, and though Love hasn’t had much of an opportunity to hit the boards for Team USA, he could, if he were ever needed. In case of emergency, Love.

Yet as nice as it would be to see the often underappreciated Love get a nice opportunity for playing time with Team USA, Odom and Chandler are playing in front of him for a reason. Team USA needs their length and defense, and Love just can’t provide that.

Suns’ T.J. Warren fined $15k for inappropriate language toward official following ejection (video)

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Everyone on the Suns seems frustrated.

In Phoenix’s loss to the Clippers on Monday, T.J. Warren got ejected. And his outburst will cost him extra.

NBA release:

Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren has been fined $15,000 for directing inappropriate language toward a game official following his ejection, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

This wasn’t a lengthy exchange. Warren didn’t linger on the court complaining. He must have said something extremely harsh to warrant two technical fouls and a fine that quickly.

(Despite confusion, the foul preceding the ejection was called on Deandre Ayton, not Warren.)

Pacers star Victor Oladipo returns from 11-game absence

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When the Pacers ruled Victor Oladipo out indefinitely a couple weeks ago, it seemed gloomy.

But Indiana weathered the storm, going 7-4 without its best player.

Now, Oladipo is back. He started against the Bucks tonight.

I still think the Raptors, Celtics, 76ers and Bucks will comprise the Eastern Conference’s top tier by the end of the season. But the Pacers (17-10, fourth in East) have a chance to crash the party. They acquitted themselves well without Oladipo, and it should get only easier with their offensive focal point/top perimeter defender.

NBA promotes Bulls’ Mexico game with video of their bus bottoming out

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The Bulls will play the Magic in Mexico City tomorrow.

Even amid all Chicago’s problems, that’s still a marquee game for the NBA as it expands its reach globally. So, the league is showcasing Chicago’s trip.

With unintentional hilarity.

NBA:

That sound eight seconds in is Chicago’s season.

Stephen Curry on moon-landing conspiracy: ‘Obviously, I was joking’

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Stephen Curry said he didn’t believe we went to the moon.

That caused an uproar to the point NASA offered him a tour of a lunar lab.

Curry, via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“One thousand percent,” Curry told ESPN on Wednesday of accepting the invite. “One thousand percent. Obviously I was joking when I was talking on the podcast. I was silently protesting how stupid it was that people actually took that quote and made it law as, ‘Oh my God, he’s a fake moon landing truther,’ whatever you want to call it, yada, yada, yada. So I was silently protesting that part about it, how the story took a life of its own.

“But in terms of the reaction that I’ve gotten, I am definitely going to take [NASA] up on their offer. I am going to educate myself firsthand on everything that NASA has done and shine a light on their tremendous work over the years. And hopefully people understand that education is power, informing yourself is power. For kids out there that hang on every word that we say, which is important, understand that you should not believe something just because somebody says it. You should do your homework and understand what you actually believe. But I’m going to go to NASA and I’m going to enjoy the experience whole-heartedly.”

Curry said he believed we didn’t actually go to the moon. I don’t find it unreasonable people took him at face value. I don’t find it unreasonable people thought he was joking, either. His sincerity was unclear.

I’m glad he set the record straight now.

We obviously went to the moon. There’s no way everyone who would’ve had to help fake the moon landing would have stayed quiet. People don’t keep secrets that well.

As for Curry, he got the NASA invitation and a lot of publicity. But it’s time to move on. Whatever he actually believed a few days ago, Curry has clarified his current view.

That separates him from Kyrie Irving, who also initially delivered a conspiracy theory during a lighthearted podcast segment. But Irving doubled down on his flat-Earth claim in several subsequent interviews.

Curry put this to rest fairly quickly.