Evaluating the U.S. National Basketball Team

Yesterday following their 112-86 scrimmage victory against Puerto Rico, the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team trimmed its roster down to the 12 players who will represent the U.S. in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins on August 30, and is being held in Spain.  While the American team is a strong favorite in the 24 team tournament which has a similar format to the FIFA World Cup, but is the U.S. team really as much of a lock as many Americans would want to believe?

     The US has been placed in Group C, which includes round robin play with the Dominican Republic, Turkey, Finland, New Zealand, and Ukraine.  While it seems impossible for the U.S. to not finish top four in this group, and advance to the knockout stage along with the top four teams from Groups A, B, and D, it isn’t as clear whether or not they will breeze through games against top teams such as Spain, Argentina, Lithuania, and Brazil.
     Let be clear about this.  This is no dream team.  The 1992 Olympic Team starring Hall of Famers like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson would most likely be able to beat this team.  This is because many of the most talented American players will not be competing, a topic I discussed earlier here.  I may have been a little harsh on some of the players who did make the team when I claimed how this team is not near as good as it could be.  However, the team still does have a wide variety of very talented players, and certainly no scrubs.
 Here is the full list of players on the team.  Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, DeMar Derozan, James Harden, Rudy Gay, Kenneth Faried, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, and Mason Plumlee.

     It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team really shines with its guards, specifically the point guards.  This FIBA World Cup will be especially important for Derrick Rose, as he seeks to prove that he is poised for a successful comeback campaign in the 2014-15 NBA season.  Alongside Kyrie Irving, another strong slasher, and splash brother Stephen Curry, the backcourt is where the team is poised
to really shine. 
     Transitioning into the shooting guards, James Harden leads the way here.  He has recently claimed to be the best player in the league.  I don’t know about that, but he’s certainly a strong person at this position who will get the job done.  Joining him as a young but talented DeMar Derozan and the other splash brother, Klay Thompson.  Now while skilled, these backups aren’t the best, and in terms of team depth would’ve really benefited by someone like a Paul George.  Too bad he’s injured.  Overall, however, this is a solid group.
     This is where the positives stop in my opinion.  Once you pass the guards, the rest of the team looks very weak in comparison to the guards, and in my opinion this is due just as much to poor roster cuts as it is a relatively weaker talent pool available.
     There is only one small forward on this team, and only one power forward.  If these were, say, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, there would be less of a problem.  However, that isn’t the case.  Who we have are Rudy Gay and Kenneth Faried.  Now these are good players.  Rudy Gay, while never on a particular good team, has been a consistent 18-20 point scorer throughout his career, and has been snubbed from a few all-star games.  Faried is a big time rebounder and hustle player who is one of the leaders of the Denver Nuggets.
     These guys are what you want out of backups on something like a Team USA.  So, ideally to combat this, you would want some depth in these positions.  Maybe cut someone like DeMar Derozan, or Mason Plumlee (you’ll be hearing him later).  I would personally include someone like Chandler Parsons or Gordon Hayward to give a little extra at these positions.  If one of them gets into foul trouble, there will be trouble either trying to play small or big.
     Now big men is where I’m really not that happy.  Two words really sum it up.  Mason Plumlee.  (I guess you didn’t have to wait that long).  The U.S. team has decided to go with four centers.  It’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to match up good with Spain.  Spain will be the biggest competitor for the U.S.  In the backcourt they have Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, and Rudy Fernandez.  In the front court, they have (get ready) Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka.  All six have played in the NBA, and all but Fernandez currently play in the NBA.
     Are you nervous?  I am.  This is a highly skilled team which can rival the U.S.  However, I think we’re going about it wrong trying to match up with the Spanish side.  In short, we don’t need FOUR CENTERS.  DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond are the best we’re going to get in terms of centers, since Dwight and Kevin Love aren’t on the team, and we don’t have the Gasols.  Anthony Davis can I am also fine with, because he also plays power forward, and complements Faried nicely.  However, the problem is Mason Plumlee.  I honestly believe the only reason he’s on the team is because he went to Duke, and Coach K is the coach of the U.S. National Team.  Mason, if you’re reading, I apologize.  You’re a decent player, but you’re too young and not near good enough to be one of the top 12 players in the entire U.S.  You only average seven points and four rebounds and didn’t even play 20 minutes per game in your only NBA season.  Why you got in as a fourth center we will never use when we could get Parsons or Hayward is beyond me.
     Now enough complaining.  I can’t change the team at this stage, and Coach K knows a lot more than I do.  Back to the important question: will Team USA win the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup?  Despite their potential struggles with teams like Spain, I still see them as the clear favorites, and expect them to win.  But will it be a walk in the park?  No.  There are many good teams around the world, and they are only getting better as time passes.  Basketball is no longer just a sport for the USA to dominate.  They have to work for these Olympic gold medals and FIBA titles, but in the end they still have the best talent, at least for now.

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