As Team USA shifts its focus from Las Vegas to Chicago for its next pre-World Cup friendly (see what I did there soccer fans?), they are traveling a little bit lighter. The team officially cut John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap, trimming the roster from 16 to 12 (Paul George is the other player cut).
These are pretty significant cuts as it clarifies one position that faced a major logjam.
Team USA is going to be very guard-heavy. Not just guard-heavy, but 3-pointer heavy. Anthony Davis is looking like the only offensive-minded post player to make the team. Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee might fill the other post spots, but they are not going to be counted on to score. This will be an outside-in attack.
The Americans came to the camp with several guards — Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, John Wall, DeMar DeRozan and James Harden — and precious few spots for them. Figure that maybe five of the 12 spots on the roster will go to those players. Eliminating two of those players leaves seven players fighting for five, maybe six spots.
There were going to be difficult, difficult cuts.
It sounds from all reports that Derrick Rose will get one of those spots and likely start at point guard for the U.S. Coaches and teammates have raved about how the former MVP looks coming off a torn meniscus and almost an entire year away from competitive basketball. During the scrimmage last Friday, Rose looked to have all the explosiveness and burst we remembered.
Surprisingly, it also looks like DeRozan has a sure spot on the team. He was arguably the most consistent player throughout the game. He has a nice in-between game that is really valuable in international play.
What DeRozan also has is versatility. Particularly with Paul George now out, DeRozan might be stepping into the starting small forward role in addition to playing some guard. That versatility will be key throughout the U.S. roster.
Another expected roster invite Stephen Curry can play both guard positions. Plus, you know, he is Stephen Curry and can shoot the ball really really well. Klay Thompson has that versatility too. Damian Lillard can play both guard positions and is not afraid of the moment either.
James Harden should also make the roster thanks to his experience with Team USA and his commitment to the program. Harden also has the benefit of being a very capable sixth man who can score off the bench. Expect him to make the roster too.
So who gets those five spots?
Um. . . Rose, Curry, Harden, DeRozan and . . . uh oh. That last spot sounds like it is between Thompson and Lillard. Maybe Team USA needs a second point guard. That would lean more toward Lillard or Irving. But Thompson does provide some more versatility and a slightly better defensive ability.
These are really hard choices between some really good players for important roles on the team.
It is possible, I suppose, that U.S.A. carries fewer forward with Kevin Durant, Kenneth Faried and Chandler Parsons occupying the main forward spots with Thompson or DeRozan platooning at small forward when necessary. Gordon Hayward has looked OK and it is possible for DeMarcus Cousins to sneak onto the roster too (it is widely believed Mason Plumlee will line up at backup center and get the spot over Cousins).
There is still that logjam at guard either way you look at it with three really good players competing for these precious few spots. There are still a few more games to play before the World Cup officially begins for Mike Krzyzewski to sort things out.
What is becoming clear is that the U.S. will have something of a defensive deficit to overcome. Few of the players mentioned above are known as strong individual defensive players. Krzyzewski has built his whole U.S.A. program on defense and a frenetic trapping and pressure style. Without a lot of front court depth, these guards are going to have to be big on the defensive end individually to relieve that pressure, even as they are applying pressure of their own.
A lot is weighing on these guards for the U.S.’s gold medal chances. No pressure.