USA Basketball got a sobering reality check yesterday as Paul George horrifically injured his leg in an exhibition scrimmage. George landed awkwardly on the stanchion while chasing down a James Harden layup, resulting in his leg snapping in a grizzly manner reminiscent of Louisville’s Kevin Ware. However, despite its major implications and undeniable severity, the injury should not be an ultimatum against NBA players participating in international play.
This especially rings true for budding superstars such as George and Damian Lillard, who is still fighting for a roster spot. Despite a mass exodus of talent from this year’s Team USA squad including Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, offseason international play is productive for players, for the NBA and for basketball in general.
Coming of a head-scratching roller-coaster playoff run for the Indiana Pacers, George was out to prove something and treated this upcoming season as a “make or break” year for his superstar status. While his freak injury was devastating to himself and the Pacers, it was a freak injury nonetheless. George, 24, represents an incredibly deep pool of young NBA talent, many players in which are on the cusp of breakout stardom.
The most intriguing of these players is Lillard, who has quickly reached the level of fellow guards Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Stephen Curry, despite having only half the number of seasons under his belt. Lillard, like George, Wall and others, is participating in Team USA basketball to maximize his talent and despite the obvious risk of injury, is doing so for the benefit of himself, his team and the NBA.
For young talent, nothing is more beneficial than experience and exposure, two things that international play provides at a very high level. Those who opted to play for Team USA are relishing the unique opportunity to maximize their potential. Continued organized play helps players maintain a rhythm of development. This is especially true for Lillard, whose exposure to NBA talent has improved his game at a frightening pace over the last two years. To discourage the NBA’s youth from participating in international play is a disservice to basketball on every level. Injuries are part of the game, but so is dedication, and the latter is something that should continue to be encouraged.
Jeremy Rucker is an NBA Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @JeremyR327.