Saturday night’s intra-squad scrimmage only re-confirmed some conspicuous truths regarding Team USA: They’re athletic, they can shoot, and they’ve got pure scorers all over the place.
But while Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon were busy dropping buckets from beyond the arc and above the rim, Team USA’s lack of depth among big men was also a glaring reality. The box score doesn’t tell the whole story, but it can’t go ignored: Brook Lopez had 2 points and zero rebounds, Lamar Odom had 2 points and 6 rebounds, Gerald Wallace had 4 points and zero boards, and JaVale McGee pitched in 7 points and 3 boards. Tyson Chandler (13 pts, 9 rebs, 4 blks), Jeff Green (11 pts, 8 rebs) and Kevin Love (8 pts, 7 rebs) had solid stat lines, but overall, the bigs in this game were mostly just there to rebound and throw outlets. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when it seemed both the White team and Blue team made a conscious effort to pound the ball into the middle.
As Coach K works to cut the roster down to 12 before the World Basketball Festival (August 12-15) and the FIBA World Championship, choosing the right combination of centers and power forwards will be crucial. Lopez was reportedly sick with mono, lending to his subpar performance at last week’s training camp. Chandler and Odom both came into camp out of shape, Green and Wallace aren’t natural power forwards, Love lacks the ideal athleticism, and McGee is just a baby. Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince didn’t exactly tear the house down in the ’08 Olympics, but I think they’d be a welcome addition to this version of the USA team.
Fortunately for the U.S., several other countries in the WC field will be without their top big men as well. Andrew Bogut is out for Australia, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman won’t play for Germany, Mehmet Okur is sitting out for Turkey, Darko won’t suit up for Serbia, Yao Ming is sidelined for China, Joakim Noah may not play for France and Luis Scola may not play for Argentina, and Pau Gasol is out for Spain.
In a perfect world, USA Basketball could identify the trouble areas and call up some reinforncements from outside the program — Carl Landry, Troy Murphy, Kenyon Martin (if he weren’t injured) and Paul Millsap come to mind — but one reason they put together this program in the first place is to avoid the thrown-together rosters and lack of continuity that plagued USA squads in the past. Assuming there will be four bigs on the final roster, does Coach K lean toward experience, size, athleticism, skill, or just go with who’s playing well right now?