It is just over 50 days until the start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain and while the Australian Boomers team will have to adjust to playing without two of their biggest names, the reigning Olympic Champions will once again have a plethora of talent to choose from.
Team USA’s training camp commences July 28 in Las Vegas (where else?) before their first exhibition game on August 1.
Who will make the final cut?
We learned earlier this week that Russell Westbrook has withdrawn from the squad, as he tries to ensure his health is maximised entering the next NBA season. So who is left? The current squad contains 27 other players who will need to be whittled down to 12.
In alphabetical order, here is who USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo and Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski will be choosing from;
LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Bradley Beal, Tyson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Kenneth Faried, Paul George, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kyle Korver, David Lee, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Klay Thompson and Deron Williams.
Before we get started, there are a few names we can eliminate right away to make things easier.
Firstly, Deron Williams is recovering from surgery on both ankles and is not expected to resume basketball activities until September. The tournament starts on August 30 – you do the math.
Derrick Rose is practicing without restriction now and showed Carmelo Anthony that he’s healthy, but has yet to commit to Team USA. I’m going to assume he will not risk any setback before next season and will withdraw as a precaution.
Chris Paul has served Team USA well, but given his struggle to stay healthy for a full season the past couple of years, I also feel like he’ll decide to rest up and let someone else run the team.
So given I just eliminated 4 point guards (including Westbrook), there’s no better position to start our preview.
The Candidates: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard
The Selections: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard
That was easy. FIBA teams nearly always carry 3 point guards and with only 3 to choose from, there really was no choice. Expect Curry to start with Irving playing back-up (he would start for the Boomers!) and Lillard providing insurance.
When named to the squad, Irving was quoted as saying: “To have USA on your chest is one of those lifetime goals as a kid I want to accomplish.” I guess all hope of him ever playing for the Boomers is gone.
The Candidates: Bradley Beal, Paul George, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson
Shooting guards in FIBA play need to be able to shoot first and foremost, but they also need to be able to handle the ball when those pesky European teams try to trap or press. Harden and George (who could be a small forward) can both handle the ball and distribute, as well as shoot from deep, while George is a lock down defender. I would like to find a spot for Thompson and Beal, but they’ll have their chances in the future. Given all three point guards can also play effectively off the ball, I think the guard rotation has more than enough depth.
When asked by FIBA.com what it would mean to wear the red, white and blue in Spain, George said: “It is always special to represent your country and it would be an honour for me to help Team USA win titles. I would like to win NBA titles, but I would also like to win gold medals.”
Team USA fans are hoping he accomplishes at least one of his goals this year.
The Candidates: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard
The Selections: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, LeBron James
Iguodala’s time on team USA is done and like Thompson and Beal, Leonard’s time will come. There was some talk last Summer of James’ time on Team USA coming to an end, but he has since expressed a desire to play in the 2016 Olympics and requested to keep his name in the squad.
“LeBron has an incredible opportunity to do it [play in the Olympics] a fourth time,” Colangelo said. “The mere fact that his name is on the roster indicates his desire and interest in continuing to have that opportunity in front of him.”
If Anthony, Durant and James all remain available, then they are instant selections. James can also play some point forward providing a different dimension, while Anthony and Durant excelled in London shooting from deep. All three can also play power forward in small-ball line-ups which were used frequently by Coach K in London.
If one of those three withdraw (most likely James due to all the miles those legs have covered over the past 4 years), expect to see one of Kawhi Leonard or Bradley Beal selected in his place.
The Candidates: LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, Blake Griffin, David Lee, Kevin Love
If I had to choose on recent level of play, I’d probably go with LMA and K-Love, but Team USA is different. It’s as much about sending a marketable team as it is about the best possible talent. Davis is the future of NBA front court talent and was there in London, while Blake Griffin (who had to withdraw from London with a knee injury) just had a career year and would sell infinitely more Team USA jerseys than either Aldridge or Love.
I also have a suspicion that with both of those guys looking for new contracts next Summer, they might just quietly withdraw from selection anyway.
Griffin is looking forward to Spain and putting the Donald Sterling saga behind him. “You can learn from players [on Team USA] and playing under Coach K,” Griffin said, via Arash Markazi. “I look to use that as a learning experience to grow my game.”
The Candidates: Tyson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard
Chandler is past his prime and totally unmarketable, so it comes down to two of Boogie, Drummond and Dwight. In the lead up to London in 2012, Colangelo told reporters that Cousins “has some growing up to do” and that he “needs to mature as a person.” Cousins has been given another chance and told NBA.com in January “I am humbled by the invitation and opportunity to compete for a spot on Team USA. It would be a huge honour for me to represent my country.”
If Boogie is on his best behaviour during Team USA camp later this month, then I think he gets the nod over Drummond. Like some of the younger wing players, Drummond’s game is still developing and will have his chance in future as the “next Dwight”.
Howard is still one of the most marketable big men in the game and Boogie is a fan favourite and also coming off a career year. Howard provides defence and rebounding, while Boogie provides a genuine low-post threat and more rebounding. A nice complementary one-two punch if you ask me.
The Final Squad
PG: Curry, Irving, Lillard
SG: George, Harden
SF: Anthony, Durant, James
PF: Davis, Griffin
C: Cousins, Howard
Passing, shooting, athleticism, speed, shot blocking, defensive pressure, post-scoring and rebounding. This team has all bases covered and would be primed for another gold rush!
What do you think? Leave a comment or tweet the Downtown team and let us know.
Follow me on twitter @tomhersz
Follow Downtown @Downtownball