DeMarcus Cousins or Mason Plumlee? To many observers, the sudden importance of that question sums up the dire state of the Team USA’s roster.
The pickings are suddenly slim after Kevin Durant, last season’s league MVP, became the latest NBA star to excuse himself from the Team USA team that will compete at the FIBA World Cup, which starts late this month.
Kevin Durant pulls out of USA camp for physical and emotions reasons and not due to Paul George, @usabasketball announced.
— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) August 7, 2014
Statistic of note: Eight of the 15 players still in play for Team USA’s 12-man FIBA roster have yet to be selected for an NBA All-Star Game — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 8, 2014
With Durant unavailable, James Harden is the only player left on the roster who made the All-NBA first team last season. Stephen Curry made the second team, while Damian Lillard made the third team. Notice a trend? Not only are there only three All-NBA players left on the roster, but none of them are forwards or centers. Let’s take a look at the top 20 leaders in win shares last season and see how many players on the roster made the list.
But is this year’s team that much worse than the 2010 squad that took home the gold medal at the world championships? Actually, no.
That 2010 team looks more impressive in hindsight due in large part to what those players accomplished after the 2010 world championships. Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love propelled the young team, but none of those players had made an all-NBA team at that point in their careers.
The 2010 Team USA roster only featured one 2009-10 All-NBA player. Granted, it was Durant, but you could argue that Anthony Davis in 2014 is close to where Durant was in 2010— even Durant said as much. Tyson Chandler was coming off a disappointing season with Charlotte and hadn’t yet won a championship for Dallas. Curry had just finished his rookie season. Love had just finished his second season, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game, and was a year away from making the leap. Ditto for Rose and Westbrook.
Just look at their win shares from the previous season.
Going into the tournament, Billups and Odom were the two proven commodities and while they had an impact, you wouldn’t argue that they were the team’s second- or third-best players by the end of the tournament.
Instead, the young guys stepped up and proved their value on the international stage. That’s not to say the 2014 team doesn’t have holes — it obviously does. But even without the star power, some of the young players could seize the opportunity and use the tournament as a springboard into next season.
For what it’s worth, my money would be on second-year point guard Damian Lillard, who proved his late-game confidence last season; Klay Thompson, who’s shown flashes in recent playoff runs; and Kyrie Irving, who has more than his share of individual motivation.
And of course, you can’t forget 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. Granted, Rose looked shaky in his failed comeback attempt last season, but if his explosiveness in scrimmages this summer and quotes from teammates are anything to go by, Rose could wind up being the breakout player of the tournament.
Finally, although there is a glaring hole in the front court, let’s remember that the center simply has to defend and not get in the way on a team with so much perimeter talent. In this regard, even Plumlee would be serviceable.
Without Durant, the challenge is more daunting, but Team USA should be fine.