USA Basketball is finally rounding up its roster after the recent wave of events have left a lean number of players left in contention for the final 12 spots heading into the FIBA 2019 World Cup in China. Recent cuts saw Chicago Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo hit the road, while Marvin Bagley III and Derrick White were promoted from the Select Team to the full-fledged squad.
Bagley consequently removed himself from consideration in order to focus on the upcoming season while veteran point man Kyle Lowry, one of the only two remaining players from a gold-medal-winning team at the Rio 2016 Olympics, was forced to withdraw after he was not cleared to play due to a thumb surgery he underwent earlier in the offseason.
That has left the team with 15 players — players that are expected to travel with head coach Gregg Popovich and USA Basketball staff to Australia for a couple of friendlies before the final cuts are made, as Marc Stein of The New York Times outlined last week.
One idea strongly under consideration, according to USAB sources, is Coach Gregg Popovich taking 15 or so players to Australia later this month as opposed to cutting the roster down to the 12-man limit before Team USA leaves the country
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) August 8, 2019
The purpose of this is to factor in team chemistry and trying different lineups, as one on-court dynamic is at this point much more valuable than one individual’s talent level. Team USA is by far the most talented in the world, even with all the recent dropouts, but they are the most inexperienced team as far as playing together and building chemistry. Every player not named Harrison Barnes has not been through this process for more than a year, and none have played under Popovich besides White.
Three more players will need to be cut before the team travels to China to take on the World Cup group stage. The way Popovich is doing things, it’s likely these cuts happen progressively rather than all at once. Translation: this will be a trimming process, not a cutting one.
Popovich will need to evaluate his rotations at every position and figure out the likely minute allocation for each player, along with the tools they bring to the table. The excess will be trimmed, allowing for more minutes for Popovich to try out those who are in the bubble of making the team and going out the door.
Prospectively, this is the likely 12-man roster that will suit up for this upcoming tournament.
|PG||Kemba Walker||De’Aaron Fox||Derrick White|
|SG||Donovan Mitchell||Joe Harris|
|SF||Khris Middleton||Kyle Kuzma||Harrison Barnes|
|PF||Jayson Tatum||PJ Tucker|
|C||Myles Turner||Brook Lopez|
Point guard: Kemba Walker is the clear No. 1 and the most decorated among all participants in this tournament venture. De’Aaron Fox and Derrick White made an impressive leap from the Select Team and will likely find themselves representing their country in China. Fox has blazing speed, unreal hops and shifty handles to make him a nightmare for his opposition. While his long-range acumen can suffer, he can make up for it by getting to his spots and getting comfortable looks. White should prove a good floor general, one that Pop trusts after a couple of years in his system with the San Antonio Spurs.
Shooting guard: Mitchell can easily become one of the leading scorers in this team with his ability to penetrate and his lack of fear of taking chances. The aggression factor pegs him over Harris, who prospects as a sharpshooter and one of the first men called to come off the bench. Mitchell will be on the court as long as his shot is falling, but if he starts to struggle, expect Pop to pull the plug quickly and call on Harris, as there are only 40 minutes of game time in international play and perimeter contributions are of the essence.
Small forward: Khris Middleton provides the perfect mix of Mitchell and Harris at this wing position — a player capable of driving and finishing while also torching opponents from beyond the arc. His defensive reputation should play a part in his selection, as well as his knack for getting steals and quick outlet reflexes. Kuzma should see strong minutes off the bench as a points and boards guy while Barnes’ veteran presence will help bring some leadership while also being able to play both forward positions.
Power forward: Tatum is long, athletic, and can shoot the ball when given space — the perfect prospect for the modern NBA-four. The third-year player isn’t the strongest body-wise, but will make up for it with his length and dynamic ability to score and his aggression on the fast break. Tucker will be relied on a matchup basis, taking on the opposition’s toughest player, as well as being a potential knock-down shooter.
Center: Myles Turner is among the players whose game lends itself beautifully to the international game. He is a capable shot-blocker that led the league in rejections during the 2018-19 season. Turner will need help on the boards from his teammates, but his ability to shoot the ball at all three levels should make him a perfect fit into Pop’s system. Lopez offers the same skill set as Turner, but is much-less mobile than his younger counterpart. His 3-point shooting and ability to challenge shots at the rim should be a great complement to a lean and athletic forward core.
Unfortunately there’s only so many minutes to go around in a 40-minute basketball game, and these three players simply fall outside of that possibility. Based off the White vs. Blue scrimmage in Las Vegas earlier last week, a few conclusions can be drawn based off Popovich’s rotations.
Jaylen Brown: Brown failed to score a field goal in 11 minutes of play, scoring his only two points from the foul line. He coughed up four turnovers and found himself in foul trouble (four fouls) very quickly in the game. He is a great player, but offers little dynamic to a guard lineup that will have to be formidable to dominate in the upcoming tournament.
Marcus Smart: Smart was still bothered by a calf injury and sat out for this scrimmage. Even if he bounces back from it, his perimeter shortcomings just out-level his defensive brilliance. Pop will trust that Mitchell, Fox, and White have enough defensive instincts to contain any threats in an opposing backcourt, and there will always be a three-and-D stud in PJ Tucker to solve that ailment in case the aforementioned can’t.
Mason Plumlee: The Denver Nuggets center can be a contributor, but in the large scheme of things Pop is looking for versatility at the center position. Unlike Turner and Lopez, Plumlee isn’t a capable 3-point shooter and is largely a player that thrives on the dirty work of cleaning up the boards. Popovich will expect Turner and Lopez to do that while also contributing from the perimeter when called upon.