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Will this Team USA be good enough?
Just two years from reasserting America’s hoops supremacy, the prospective squad that will compete in the FIBA World Championship later this summer threatens to bring us back to the pack. That’s because the All-NBA stars of the Redeem Team have been mostly replaced by second-tier players.
With all of the 2008 Olympic gold medalists sitting out the worlds and Amar'e Stoudemire unable to play because his $100 million knees aren't insured, let’s take a look at the possible composition of this latest Team USA and reconnoiter its possible weaknesses and strengths.
The 20 players who entered minicamp Tuesday will be pared to 12 in five weeks. The United States hasn't won gold at the World Championship since 1994, finishing third in 1998 and 2006 and sixth in 2002.
At center, Brook Lopez is virtually guaranteed a spot. He’s tough enough to compete on equal terms with his power-oriented international rivals, but he’s slow afoot, an inferior defender and gets discombobulated when he has the ball in a crowd of defenders. Unfortunately, the opponents’ defensive game plans will most likely feature zones of all shapes and sizes that will greatly reduce Lopez’s effectiveness.
Expect JaVale McGee to also make the team because of his quickness off the floorboards and his outstanding athleticism.
Tyson Chandler lacks the self-confidence he needs to survive a poor performance.
PROGNOSIS: Not much scoring or reliable defense at this spot and questionable rebounding in the almost-anything-goes-in-the-paint style of international play.
Kevin Durant may shoulder a heavy scoring load for Team USA.Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
At forward, Kevin Durant is a shoo-in and represents the most consistent perimeter shooting Team USA can muster.
Lamar Odom has the international experience and the versatility to be a standout. Look for LO to get plenty of time in the middle.
David Lee’s intensity, eager board work and steady mid-range jump shooting would have made him a lock until he injured a finger on the first day of minicamp. He'll miss the worlds, exacerbating the team's size deficiency.
Gerald Wallace can defend, run and finish. If his long-distance shooting is erratic, Wallace could still be one of the most important players on the team.
Kevin Love is an excellent spot shooter who has difficulty getting his shots off in the NBA, but should find more time and space against lesser competition. Despite his atrocious defense, his passing ability and his glue-handed rebounding will be key factors.
The other forwards may not make the cut. Rudy Gay will have some trouble learning to play the kind of disciplined ball that Coach K will demand and is a lost soul on defense. Andre Iguodala can’t shoot, and Danny Granger can’t guard.
PROGNOSIS: Poor defense and erratic shooting here. Durant, Odom and Wallace will have to come up big.
The guard positions offer more choices.
Chauncey Billups will bring maturity, poise, resilience, leadership and excellent decision-making — all of which will supercede the diminishment of his quickness. Derrick Rose can drive and dish, but can’t consistently make shots from beyond mid-range. Still, for the sake of future international teams, Rose will be allowed to get his feet wet. Ditto for Tyreke Evans.
Mike Krzyzewski won't have as much talent at his disposal in Turkey as he did in Beijing.Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Either Stephen Curry or Eric Gordon will be the designated zone buster, with the former having the edge because of his quickness and quicker release.
Russell Westbrook can play both backcourt spots and has the dynamic qualities that could easily make a difference.
Rajon Rondo is the X-factor here. Though he’s a totally inconsistent shooter, his rebounding, ball-hawking and mercurial speed could be invaluable.
PROGNOSIS: Not enough knock-down shooters or defenders.
In addition to Team USA’s personnel shortcomings, only Billups and Odom have extensive experience in the international game. Given that the other top-notch teams in the tournament will have several holdover players from the Beijing Olympics, this is a factor that should not be minimized.
Where’s the Kobe-caliber player who can unilaterally boost the team to a win — as Bryant did in the gold-medal game against Spain? Where’s the shot-smothering interior defense? Where’s the immovable physical presence to clog the middle and protect the rim?
Coach K has about a month to make his cuts, instill a defensive mind-set and develop an offense that can create open shots for what shooters he will have. This team can’t run as much isolation offense as the Beijing squad did, so look for more passwork and more off-the-ball movement.
All told, winning the gold in Turkey is a distinct possibility — about a 50-50 chance — but to accomplish this task, the good guys will have to meet and overcome many more serious challenges than their predecessors.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and he may respond in a future column.
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