The “white against blue” scrimmage for the 2014 FIBA World Cup revealed two important details about Team USA. First and foremost, Team USA will be flaunting a rotation full of elite talent at every position. Secondly, this might be the last year that NBA superstars such as Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Derrick Rose might be participating in the FIBA tournament in light of the devastating lower leg injury suffered by Pacers swingman Paul George.
In the fourth quarter of the Las Vegas scrimmage game, Paul George landed awkwardly on his leg attempting to block a layup by James Harden. As George’s foot got stuck underneath the stanchion of the hoop, his knee buckled resulting in a compact fracture to his right tibia and fibula, putting his 2014-2015 campaign in extreme doubt. And while players around the league would love nothing more than to represent their country in such an internationally recognized tournament, many athletes and team personnel would rather avoid the injury risk that could jeopardize the upcoming season. For example, Kevin Love made the personal decision to sit out of the 2014 FIBA World Cup most likely to preserve his health on the chance that he has the opportunity to sign a long-term contract with a team in the coming months. Injuries are an obvious part of sports, but some teams may choose to limit their star players’ offseason activity in an effort to better ensure season-long productivity. Nevertheless, we all wish Paul George a speedy recovery from his unfortunate circumstance.
While the remainder of the scrimmage game was ultimately called off after George’s injury, the same course of action cannot be taken for the rest of the FIBA World Cup. And believe that Coach Mike Krzyzewski will field a solid twelve-man roster with an adequate replacement for probable-starter Paul George and tons of talent to put on display in Spain this August and September.
With Paul George now out indefinitely healing his injured leg, here is who Coach K should consider to form his final twelve-man team.
The Shoe-Ins: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Derrick Rose, and Anthony Davis
This foursome would be devastating in matchups with opposing nations later this month and into the next.
Durant, Harden, Rose, and Davis each have represented the United States at least once in either the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup, which should add the necessary experience for the competing squad this year. Furthermore, each player brings a unique skillset to the table.
The reigning 2013-2014 NBA MVP, Kevin Durant is arguably the NBA’s best offensive weapon and can exert his size and athleticism to score anywhere on the floor. With George out and only a few big men to take up spots on the roster, KD35 will most likely be profiled as the stretch four – a position that he is accustomed to running in smaller lineups. James Harden will assume the perimeter duties, using his deadeye outside shooting to cause nightmares for opponents and stretching the floor for his teammates. Derrick Rose’s role on this FIBA roster will be intriguing, as he should hold the ultimate element of surprise in the tournament. While most of his opponents already know that Rose is deadly on the floor whether he has the ball or not, he is coming off of two significant leg injuries that have kept him sidelined for nearly two full seasons of play in the Association. Odds are he has some tricks up his sleeve that he has been working on during his rehabilitation periods and opposing countries should not know what to expect from D-Rose. Anthony “The Brow” Davis will be the most experienced post player on Team USA this year and his ability to get up and down the floor in transition should give him plenty of opportunities to make his presence known in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
***As of August 7, 2014, Kevin Durant has withdrawn himself from consideration for competition in the 2014 FIBA tournament with Team USA. Sacramento King’s forward Rudy Gay has been selected to take Durant’s spot on the current sixteen-man roster (update per ESPN).
The Supporting Cast: DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, and DeMarcus Cousins
Look for this group to play a big role in Team USA’s success in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. With Paul George unable to play, someone will have to step up big to fill the Pacer star’s shoes in the starting lineup, and that player should be DeMar DeRozan.
Without considering the three-point jump shot, DeRozan and George have very similar skillsets. Both players excel defensively, flaunting the ability to guard multiple positions, while having a niche for driving the lane with authority on offense. The Toronto Raptor guard-forward has been improving his jump shot in recent years from all areas of the floor, and he looks as if he is ready to take a huge step up in assuming starting responsibilities to replace Paul George. Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry look poised to create an off-the-bench backcourt punch. Both guards are very impressive ball handlers and make few mistakes when on the floor. Irving and Curry can also score in a variety of ways with their efficient jumpers and abilities to score in traffic down low. DeMarcus Cousins would most likely get a chance to start if Coach K chooses to have DeMar DeRozan come off the bench. But whether he earns a starting spot or fills in behind Anthony Davis, a spot on Team USA would do Cousins a great deal of good. While his maturity has often been in question since he arrived to the Sacramento Kings via the NBA Draft, DeMarcus Cousins’ athletic ability has never been in doubt. He should look to be a feared post presence offensively and defensively in Spain, and perhaps playing with some of the world’s best players could teach Cousins how to be a more mature teammate once the 2014-2015 NBA season gets underway.
The Sleeper Picks: Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Chandler Parsons, Andre Drummond
Here is where the going gets tough for Coach Mike Krzyzewski and company. All of the selected players who tried out for Team USA could make a case for why each of them deserve a spot on the final roster; however, whether it is an All-Star vote, award race, or Team USA tryout, the final decisions will either grace borderline players with a roster position or snub them until the next tryout. With that said, the final four players that best fit Team USA for the 2014 FIBA World Cup are Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Chandler Parsons, and Andre Drummond.
Despite a distinct depth at guard with D-Rose, Kyrie Irving, and Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard’s versatility and ability to hit the big shot should make him an attractive piece to the Team USA puzzle. Like his guard counterparts, Lillard can shoot and handle the ball with ease. But his cold-blooded ability to hit the big shot late in games makes him a unique talent that Team USA would not want to miss out on. Klay Thompson is perhaps the biggest sleeper of the player pool this year given the extensive amount of guards on the roster; however, Thompson’s height allows him to seamlessly shift to small forward if necessary. Thompson can knock down threes very consistently and is not afraid to put the ball on the floor. Playing alongside Golden State teammate Stephen Curry would help has productivity even more on Team USA. Chandler Parsons seems like a natural fit to come off of the bench behind Kevin Durant. Parsons scores and rebounds very well, allowing him to play both forward positions where depth is needed. Andre Drummond will most likely get the final roster spot to add frontcourt depth for a team looking to run several smaller lineups. Drummond’s size and athleticism will serve him well as the team heads into Spain to take on its competition.
The Snubs: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kenneth Faried, Gordon Hayward, and Kyle Korver
In nearly every sports scenario regarding voting, there will always be snubs.
John Wall and Bradley Beal have formed a dynamically gifted backcourt in D.C. and they should look to prove why they deserved spots on Team USA this year by taking the Southeast Division by storm. Kenneth Faried is an athletic big who rebounds phenomenally, Gordon Hayward is a young swingman on the rise who can do it all around the floor, and Kyle Korver is the definition of an elite three-point shooter. Choosing Team USA is a tough task and each these players have what it takes to earn a spot on the final roster. Only time will tell if the final team plays out to these predictions and if those who are snubbed by the result use it as a motivational tool down the road.
Written by Alex Floch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
I am currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Growing up in a sports family, I have formed a distinct love for the industry. I enjoy writing about sports in my free time and hope to one day be able to pursue it as a career.