Predicting Team USA's final roster
On Wednesday, coach Mike Krzyzewski narrowed the Team USA roster to 15
Final cuts don't have to be made until Aug. 26, days before world championships
Kevin Durant has been tapped as the new face of USA; Stephen Curry impressed
When Jerry Colangelo took over USA Basketball in 2005, he faced the daunting task of rebuilding a crumbling empire. With the help of coach Mike Krzyzewski and a core of young players willing to make an extended commitment to the team, Colangelo re-established the U.S. as a global force in basketball, punctuated by a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics.
Two years later, the task of maintaining that success isn't quite so tall, but it is challenging. Not a single member of the '08 team recommitted for next month's world championships, leaving the U.S. to pick and choose from a fresh crop of young players who have been eagerly awaiting their turn.
"There are a lot of guys who really want to wear the USA jersey now," Kevin Durant said. "They want to keep this good thing going."
As the players change, so does the style of play. This team will rely more on its athleticism and ability to defend the length of the floor.
"We're going to pressure a little more," Colangelo said. "We feel international teams don't like to be pressured. The pace is going to be different. Athleticism will be a significant definer."
On Wednesday, Krzyzewski trimmed the roster to 15 by cutting O.J. Mayo, Tyreke Evans, Gerald Wallace and JaVale McGee. The final 12-man roster doesn't have to be submitted until two days before the
Aug. 28 start of the tournament in Turkey, but here's a prediction of who will make the cut.
Try as he might to avoid it, Durant is now the unquestioned face of USA Basketball. With a lack of versatile scorers on the roster, the U.S. will lean heavily on Durant to provide offense in the halfcourt and keep the team out of prolonged slumps. Already, Durant has assumed a prominent leadership role; during last week's minicamp in Las Vegas, Durant was one of the most vocal players at practices.
Billups, 33, one of the last remnants of the old guard, is especially eager to be a part of the team after being forced to miss the '08 Olympics because of a family issue. Billups doesn't fit the athletic/pressing mold the USA staff has focused on, but his ability to run a team and knock down a big shot is a huge asset on a team loaded with youngsters.
With big men dropping like flies at last week's camp, Chandler's value has skyrocketed. With the U.S. short on frontcourt players who can rebound, defend and block shots, Chandler should not only make the team but also expect to play a prominent role. He won't provide much help offensively, but his ability to control the paint -- when healthy, he is one of the best in the NBA -- should create more scoring opportunities for the U.S. in transition.
Colangelo & Co. have been high on Love for a long time. He's a gritty rebounder who can knock down the mid-range jumper, a critical weapon against zone-friendly teams. Love's also unselfish and won't lose focus if he is not involved in the offense for extended periods of time.
Westbrook is a prototypical USA guard: fast and powerful with an ability to defend the length of the floor. Expect to see a lot of Westbrook at both backcourt spots.
Like Westbrook, Rose fits the mold the U.S. has created. A summer spent improving his three-point shot will go a long way toward helping Rose in international competition. Teams will likely identify Rose as one of the players to sag off early; if he can prove he is a threat behind the line, it should open up the floor for everyone else.
Once considered a long shot to make the team -- partly because of his lack of shooting, partly because of a perceived lack of commitment -- Rondo forced his way into the conversation last week with his playmaking and defense. Arguably the most unselfish of any U.S. playmaker, Rondo's willingness to distribute should earn him this spot over Eric Gordon.
Every team needs a pure shooter and Curry is it. In the international game, zone-busters are at a premium and Curry should be a major threat from beyond the arc. The presence of big point guards (Westbrook, Billups, Rose) should allow the 6-3 Curry to spend more time at shooting guard, where he would be free to roam the floor and find gaps in the zone.
The Sixers' swingman was one of the standouts at camp last week, drawing praise from Coach K and Colangelo for his energy and defense. Iguodala can probably play three positions -- shooting guard, small forward and power forward -- in Turkey, a valuable asset on a team placing a premium on versatility.
FIBA-brand ball hasn't been kind to traditional pivots in the past (hello, Tim Duncan), but Lopez's presence in the middle will be critical in key individual matchups with Spain's Marc Gasol and Greece's Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Lopez is also an adept passer from the top of the circle and has decent range on his jump shot.
Odom started at center during the U.S.' intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas and will likely be counted on to man multiple positions at the worlds. Expect to see a lot of Odom in a point-forward role, a skill that separates Odom from fellow roster hopeful Jeff Green, which would free up the U.S.' more offensive-oriented guards to create for themselves off the dribble.
Gay may be one-dimensional, but, oh, what a dimension. Gay, like Durant, is capable of putting up 30 any given night. Adjusting to zone defenses may be a challenge, but Gay's tenure with the team -- he's been in the USA Basketball pipeline since 2005 -- and natural ability to score in the halfcourt and in transition give him the edge over Danny Granger.
MISSED THE CUT: Eric Gordon, Jeff Green and Danny Granger