The last time we saw Team USA at practice, they looked like a team starting to come together to make a run at the gold medal in Spain at the World Cup — they had a team that could play the international game well and the only question was what specialists would make the roster.
Then Paul George had a horrific, fluke accident that shattered his leg and ended not only his Team USA involvement but also his entire next season.
The Kevin Durant pulled out of Team USA citing mental and physical exhaustion.
Team USA opened camp again this week in Chicago and now there are a lot of questions.
Who moves into the starting lineup? Both Durant and George were going to start and not only did they bring a lot of scoring they also brought a lot of length and some good defense. Now who fills those roles? The USA was going small already with George at the two and Durant at the three and the likely even go smaller now (Anthony Davis is locked in as the five and looks good in the role). Rudy Gay has been added to the Team USA roster and he likely gets minutes if not starting ones, but look for versatile guys like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward also to get more run.
With the scoring, the USA should be okay — they will still play an aggressive defense looking to force turnovers then turn those into easy points in transition. Think about it this way: With Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and James Harden on the roster (just to name a few guys likely in the final 12) scoring is not going to be the issue.
How do they deal with big teams? That will be the issue. Because at the end of all this, the USA is still very likely going to play Spain in the Gold Medal game of the World Cup. (The USA lucked out and is on the easy side of the bracket, neither their group play or games in the single elimination rounds should be that big a threat, the best team they see may be Lithuania.)
Spain is a different animal, rolling out Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Combine that with quality guards (Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez) and you have a challenge.
We should get a sense on the size question from the Saturday exhibition game in Chicago when the USA takes on Brazil, which sports Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao.
How many centers do you keep? Anthony Davis is going to start and play the bulk of the minutes at the five for Team USA, but because of teams like Spain and others with size Team USA needs at least one and maybe two true centers. They have DeMarcus Cousins, Miles Plumlee and Andre Drummond on the roster. All three are not staying, but two might. Maybe just one. And where does Kenneth Fraried and his energy and rebounding fit into the equation?
Cousins had a pretty good week of practice but looked strong in the exhibition game in Las Vegas. Miles Plumlee surprised the coaches with his play (which is saying something, Mike Krzyzewski had him for four years at Duke) and they like how his versatility makes him easy to play with. When Coach K talked bigs in Vegas, Drummond was almost always the first name mentioned. It’s going to be interesting to see where the line gets drawn.
Who gets cut from the group of wings? There are four point guards on the roster — Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving — but all for very well may make the finals roster. Especially when you consider that Curry and Lillard can both play the two (maybe even Rose can in a pinch).
Also as wing players you have James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons. Some players have got to go and it’s not going to be an easy line to draw.
Until we see how Coach K shakes out his rotations after the Durant/George departures, it’s very difficult to guess who makes the cut.