Team USA will officially begin its quest for a third consecutive FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal when its tournament kicks off on Sept. 1 in China. Before they can do that, however, head coach Gregg Popovich will have to trim his 13-man roster to 12.
This leads to one gigantic question: Who will the final cut be?
Given the makeup of the roster and the level of competition that the rest of the world will throw at the favorites to win the whole thing, we can probably assume a few players are near-locks to make the team: All-Stars Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton, and rising stars like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Myles Turner, and Donovan Mitchell. Assuming this, seven players are left: Joe Harris, Brook Lopez, Harrison Barnes, Kyle Kuzma, Mason Plumlee, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White.
Of that group, Harris and Lopez seem like the safest bets to make the roster because of the shooting they bring to the team. Last season, Harris shot a league-high 47.4 percent from behind the arc on 5.1 attempts per game, while Lopez shot 36.5 percent from 3-point territory on 6.3 attempts per game, the second-most attempts by a center last season. The players that are considered locks in this example can score at will, but none of them are the three-point threats Harris and Lopez are at their respective positions, which is amplified with the shorter three-point line in international play. Lopez will be especially valuable to Team USA in a tournament with few bigs that can space the floor the way he can and even fewer that can defend out on the perimeter.
Then next safe best would be Harrison Barnes, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While he’ll be playing under a different head coach, his experience on the international stage should be enough for him to make the roster.
Along with his invaluable international experience, Barnes can switch between the 3 and 4 spots more seamlessly than the other forwards in the pool, like Kuzma and Tatum. In situations where Popovich goes small, Barnes will be helpful, especially if he can knock down the three-pointer with the same accuracy he did last season (39.5 percent on 5.7 attempts per game).
Speaking of Kuzma, the Lakers forward has shot the ball well (6-for-8 from behind the arc) in his first three games with Team USA and has shown signs of life on the defensive end. Add that to his effort on the defensive glass and he makes as strong of a case as anyone to make the final roster. Plus, Team USA isn’t particular deep at the forward spot, so Kuzma could make the roster out of necessity.