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Gregg Popovich, Donovan Mitchell, Andre Drummond, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum

FIBA World Cup Primer: What to expect about a very different Team USA

Team USA will look much different than the star-studded lineup USA Basketball expected to trot out ahead of this FIBA 2019 World Cup, which will take place at the end of August and into the middle of September. A total of 32 nations will take their aim at the gold this summer, but while the United States will have the same expectation to come out on top, they won’t have as easy a path to win it all as they have had in the past.

Many NBA stars have turned down an invite to participate, choosing to withdraw from consideration for the upcoming training camp in Las Vegas and the consequent 12-man team that will take on the task at the world stage. Among them are:

2019 FIBA World Cup: Players withdrawn

Player Position NBA Team
Bradley Beal Guard Washington Wizards
Anthony Davis Forward Los Angeles Lakers
DeMar DeRozan Guard/Forward San Antonio Spurs
Eric Gordon Guard Houston Rockets
James Harden Guard Houston Rockets
Montrezl Harrell Forward/Center LA Clippers
Tobias Harris Forward Philadelphia 76ers
Damian Lillard Guard Portland Trail Blazers
Kevin Love Forward Cleveland Cavaliers
CJ McCollum Guard Portland Trail Blazers
JJ Redick Guard New Orleans Pelicans
Paul Millsap Forward Denver Nuggets

Rookie Zion Williamson, who had been invited to take part in the Select Team, which will scrimmage against the senior team, also withdrew from consideration after playing only a few minutes in Summer League and leaving with an injury.

So who’s taking part instead? As of July 31, these are the participants who remain on USA Basketball’s invite roster:

2019 FIBA World Cup: Team USA’s prospective roster

Player Position NBA Team
Bam Adebayo Center Miami Heat
Harrison Barnes Forward Sacramento Kings
Jaylen Brown Forward Boston Celtics
Andre Drummond Center Detroit Pistons
Kyle Kuzma Forward Los Angeles Lakers
Brook Lopez Center Milwaukee Bucks
Kyle Lowry Guard Toronto Raptors
Khris Middleton Guard/Forward Milwaukee Bucks
Donovan Mitchell Guard Utah Jazz
Mason Plumlee Center Denver Nuggets
Julius Randle Forward New York Knicks
Marcus Smart Guard Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum Forward Boston Celtics
PJ Tucker Forward Houston Rockets
Myles Turner Center Indiana Pacers
Kemba Walker Guard Boston Celtics
Thaddeus Young Forward Chicago Bulls

So who can we expect as the starting five?

The Starters:

Kemba Walker (PG): With Damian Lillard pulling out of consideration and Kyle Lowry coming off a thumb injury stemming from last season, Walker is the most accomplished and game-ready asset that Team USA has at the point guard position. Following an All-NBA nod, Walker should be primed to excel with not too much run on his legs after falling shy of the past three postseasons.

Donovan Mitchell (SG): Mitchell is no James Harden, but his game might actually lend better qualities than Harden’s isolation scoring, which could be ruthlessly punished at the international level due to the popularity of zone defense. If USA Basketball has taken any lessons from the 2004 Olympics, it’s that isolation basketball is best left for last resort opportunities in a shorter game. Mitchell’s scoring ability should bode well for this team and if he can find his stroke from distance, he could be a solid nod to lead the team in scoring.

Khris Middleton (SF): The recently-re-signed Bucks sharpshooter is coming off the best two years of his professional career and he can now put his marksman gifts to work for a team that will direly need his perimeter scoring. Middleton is also an excellent rebounder at his position and a heady team player.

Jayson Tatum (PF): Tatum isn’t exactly cut to be a power forward, but his length and athleticism should help him bother bigger opponents while giving the U.S. a swift scorer at the wing that can also shoot it from the outside. Tatum shot 43.4 percent from deep as a rookie, but only 37.3 percent last season. If he can shoot it at his career clip of 40 percent, he can be an incredibly helpful asset for this young, but talented team.

Andre Drummond (C): Drummond is coming off leading the league in rebounds in three of the last four seasons and coach Gregg Popovich will need a giant to ensnare the boards, just like his longtime talisman Tim Duncan used to do. The 6-foot-11 big dipper offers little in terms of perimeter shooting, but he’s vastly improved his free-throw shooting over the last two seasons, which makes him bound for good minutes, even as a closer. If Drummond can find it in him to defend the rim like he used to coming into the league, there’s very few players that deserve to man the center spot more than he does.

Overview:

Head coach Gregg Popovich will want a roster filled with shooting and diverse skill sets. Considering the players who have dropped out of consideration, it’s likely he’d like to keep veteran Kyle Lowry (the lone remnant of the 2016 team that won gold at the Rio Olympics along with Harrison Barnes), all while betting on defensive capabilities of Marcus Smart and PJ Tucker. Julius Randle, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Kuzma, and Jaylen Brown could round up the final 12-man roster, as Brook Lopez, Mason Plumlee, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Barnes are likely to miss the cut.

Team USA is committing to a younger roster, hoping to create a sense of loyalty from here on out, much like they did during Mike Krzyzewski’s regime that started with the World Cup in 2006. Popovich and assistants Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Lloyd Pierce (Atlanta Hawks), and Jay Wright (Villanova) will hope to balance this team with exuberant youth with a sprinkle of veteran experience, hoping that combination allows them to navigate the waters in China.

What are the challenges heading into World Cup competition?

Team USA will have no issues when it comes to group play, as they will face the Czech Republic on Sept. 1, Turkey on Sept. 3, and Japan on Sept. 5 in Group E before they move onto the elimination stage. The U.S. should have no problem getting out of the group and could even post a 3-0 mark against those teams, but issues will arise if they bump into veteran, physical teams like Spain, France, and their most-recent rival, Serbia in latter rounds.

Those teams will have hulking, experienced NBA players that can deal some hurt at either end of the ball, players like Marc Gasol (Spain), Rudy Gobert (France), and Nikola Jokic (Serbia). These European powerhouses could prove to be the Kryptonite to a superhero ensemble, considering this team has very little experience playing together or testing the international competition at such a high level.

Team USA will have five exhibition games, starting with the classic White vs. Blue scrimmage on Aug. 9, and then hosting Spain (Aug. 16), Australia (Aug. 22, 24), and Canada (Aug. 26). The final 12-man roster will have five days of rest (and travel) before taking on the Czech Republic to tip-off their start to the tournament.

What can we expect for the upcoming 2020 Olympics?

Recent news of Carmelo Anthony not getting consideration for this World Cup certainly shuts the door on a potential call-up for next year’s Olympic run, and while Marcus Smart believes those who make the roster this year should get preferential consideration ahead of the building of next year’s roster, that simply won’t happen.

Expect Team USA to load up with the best talent possible and once again call up the likes of Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard, along with others who weren’t considered for multiple reasons like Klay Thompson (injury), Kawhi Leonard (free agency), Kyrie Irving (free agency), and many others.

Those who shine in competition this year will surely get a call in due time, but no one will have a particularly cemented spot on the team until USA Basketball renews this process once again next summer.