With the USA basketball minicamp officially in the past, Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski and their staff can begin sifting through the bevy of talented players to select their team for the FIBA World Cup next summer in Spain. That team will be the foundation for the squad that travels to Rio in 2016 to represent the United States in the next Olympics.
The team already has two commitments from former National Team players Kevin Durant and Kevin Love. The former Thunder trio of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden is expected to be reunited with both Westbrook and Harden showing clear interest in joining the team as well.
The rest of the team is up in the air, though. Whichever direction Coach K decides to take his team, he will need size to match up with the elite Spanish frontline featuring the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka. This need for size will keep the Detroit Pistons’ Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in the running for roster spots.
“It will not be the 12 best players,” Colangelo said per SI.com. “It’s going to be what we think will make up the best team. If you look at the 2008 team in Beijing and the team that won in London, [the final three spots] were role players, guys who had a specific role to come off the bench and make a specific contribution.”
Clearly, talent is a factor when selecting a team, however, it cannot be the only indicator. Teams need guys to fill roles to be successful. So while Monroe and Drummond won’t be making it on just talent, if the executives and coaches see them as the best option to fill a role, either player could be handed a jersey for the World Cup.
Durant and Love are sure-things on the roster. Westbrook and Harden seem all but committed to joining them. After displaying the superstar-potential at last week’s minicamp that is often associated with him, Anthony Davis is likely guaranteed a roster spot assuming he is healthy next summer. That’s five players from last Summer’s Olympic roster. Murmurs from LeBron James‘ camp are that he’s done, but everyone else from the roster is likely in play should they want to be. The one guy who is likely done is New York Knicks‘ center Tyson Chandler, who will be 31 next summer and 33 by the time the next Olympics comes around. Chandler’s departure would leave a need for another rim protector.
Assuming those five are the only returnees from the Olympic team, that leaves seven spots to be filled by newcomers. Paul George and Kyrie Irving will surely be selected assuming health. Five spots would remain.
Those seven fill the superstar void for the team. Scoring won’t be an issue, as any one of them can take a game over on the offensive end. That leaves the remaining five spots for role players.
It’s not guaranteed that the final five will be from minicamp participants, but it is likely that at least some of the spots will be filled by them. Among the minicamp participants that could fill a role for the team are Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. All three can provide shooting/scoring off the bench. With improved defensive skills, Barnes also possesses the size and athleticism to guard multiple positions, which is valued in international play.
Minicamp participants are, however, not the only options to fill out the roster. Steph Curry, a 2010 minicamp participant, is the greatest shooter on the planet and would be even more dangerous with the shorter international three-pointer. David Lee was mentioned by Colangelo during the camp last week as an option. Dwight Howard or Chris Bosh could rekindle their international time. LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin would have been going to the Olympics in 2012 were it not for injuries. Roy Hibbert wanted a release from Jamaica prior to the 2012 games to join Team USA. Brook Lopez is a past participant, as is the newest Piston Josh Smith (who also was at the minicamp scrimmage sitting alongside Joe Dumars last week). Kawhi Leonard is another player who can guard multiple positions. He pulled out of the minicamp to rest and deal with minor injuries after the season, though.
Clearly, Team USA is not without options. There should be at least one, likely two, more roster spots to be occupied by bigs for the World Cup. And the two Pistons are firmly in the race for them. Check back for part two on how Monroe and Drummond compare to other potential bigs and what they need to show in the upcoming season to separate themselves.