Durant, Love hope winning form in Las Vegas pays off with U.S. team
U.S. team coaches impressed with Kevin Durant's versatility and scoring prowess
Kevin Love cleaned up off the glass at U.S. minicamp and made smart decisions
Devin Harris impressed with defense but inaccurate shooting may hurt candidacy
LAS VEGAS -- USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted to make one thing clear to the smattering of reporters who had gathered to watch the team's minicamp last week: Don't expect any roster decisions anytime soon.
"The pool [of players] won't be decided here," said Coach K. "We just want to get to know these guys. We won't decide who will or won't be on the team for a few months.
That roster -- which USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo said will be whittled to a 25-man group in November and a final 12-man unit next spring -- undoubtedly will include several of the NBA's young stars. How many is the question. While Colangelo said that not every player from the 2008 gold medal-winning team would return for the 2010 World Championships, he indicated the core of the team would remain intact. That means Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony are likely to be a part of the team that travels to Turkey next summer.
"Everyone I talked to [from the '08 team] said they were in," said Colangelo. "I think we are going to have a strong showing from our core next summer."
That leaves only two or three spots available for the 20 players who competed in Las Vegas. And while Colangelo will factor in past participation on the national team ("equity carries a lot of weight with me," said Colangelo) and the '09-10 NBA regular season into his decision, a few favorites have emerged. Let's take a look at who stood out, for one reason or another ...
The top candidates
Kevin Durant: When asked how he would improve the '08 team, Colangelo was succinct: "Kevin Durant." Durant was better than any other player in Las Vegas. His jump shot continues to develop and the U.S. coaches are infatuated with his versatility and ability to score inside and out.
Rudy Gay: Gay was the leading scorer (27 points) in Saturday's intrasquad game; he impressed with his open floor skills and improved jump shot. "He's taller than I thought he was," observed Krzyzewski on the first day of camp. "It's good to know. That's a big reason why we are all here, to get a look at these guys and see what they look like in person."
Kevin Love: Whoever makes the final roster will likely be a role player on the star-studded U.S. team, and Love seems the most equipped to fill that need. Love was a beast on the boards during the two days of practice and he rarely made a wrong decision with the ball. "We're all trying to do all the intangible stuff and fit into that role player mentality that they are looking for," said Love.
Derrick Rose: Rose was outplayed by Devin Harris and Russell Westbrook in Las Vegas but word is the reigning Rookie of the Year's play last season seems to have the U.S. staff leaning in his direction. Rose's explosiveness in the open floor and his penetrating ability in the half court are considered huge assets by Team USA.
Russell Westbrook: -- The best point guard in camp, Westbrook showcased physical defensive skills and an improving jump shot. He picked up three steals in Saturday's scrimmage and was a menace to Rose, Harris and D.J. Augustin during practices. "He's a bulldog out there," marveled Coach K.
Greg Oden: Traditional centers haven't fared well for the U.S. in recent international competitions; just ask Tim Duncan. With international rules allowing big men to camp out in the lane, though, few would be more intimidating than Oden. The Blazers center was the leading rebounder (10) in the scrimmage and blocked or altered dozens of shots during practices. But Oden struggled to pick up the playbook during practices and there are questions as to how foul prone he would be in an international game.
Jeff Green: Green possesses the versatility the U.S. team prizes, which is a big reason why Colangelo is believed to be high on the Thunder forward, despite his missing the second day of practice with a laceration on his arm. Green managed to start for the White team in the scrimmage, though he struggled (2-8) from the perimeter.
Devin Harris: Harris was the most vocal player in camp and showed flashes of the skills that made him an elite defender in Dallas. Harris is ultra quick on offense but the lack of range on his jump shot may inevitably hurt him.
Brook Lopez: The most offensively-skilled center in Vegas, Lopez was impressive in the scrimmage, scoring 18 points on an economical 7-8 shooting. Lopez didn't get a lot of touches in practices; but if he takes another step forward next season (Lawrence Frank said he plans to make Lopez a big part of the offense in '09-10), he could emerge as a dark horse candidate.
O.J. Mayo: Mayo has a strong relationship with Krzyzewski and Colangelo. He's also a pure scorer who can carry a team at times. After not looking to pass the ball often in camp, though, he may not be what the U.S. is looking for in a role player in '10.
Ronnie Brewer: Even though Brewer didn't distinguish himself in the two days of practice, Coach K was impressed by the Jazz swingman's defense in the scrimmage. "He's a pretty good defender," said Krzyzewski. "I didn't see that in the practices, but he really showed it in that game." Brewer is a long shot to be on the '10 or '12 teams; if his offense develops, he's a decent candidate for the '14 world championships.
See you in 2016 -- maybe
D.J. Augustin: It was a little puzzling to see Augustin in this camp, considering he is the second best point guard on his own team. Though quick (a valuable trait in the international game), his jump shot is suspect and he isn't much of a defender.
Kyle Korver: The oldest player at the minicamp, the renowned sharpshooter was 2-5 from three-point range in the scrimmage and struggled to find a rhythm in practices. The U.S. may be looking for another shooter should Michael Redd not return. If Vegas was any indication, Korver doesn't look like it.
Anthony Randolph: He was invited to camp on the strength of his summer league performance but the second-year forward looked a little overwhelmed against this level of competition. If his jump shot improves, Randolph is a candidate for the '14 team. Right now there are too many players ahead of him.
JaVale McGee:The Wizards should be happy -- they have a superbly athletic center on their roster. Though a spectacular shot blocker whose offense should develop in time, McGee is a little too raw to be considered for the '10 squad.
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