Monday, July 28, 2014

Andre Drummond, Team USA and the FIBA World Cup

Over the weekend, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin both withdrew from Team USA mere days before training camp began.  While the rest of this nation's basketball fans likely see this as bad news, Pistons fans should be looking up.  With Love and Griffin out of the running, two roster spots just opened up, and Andre Drummond's chances to make the roster went from "longshot" to borderline "sure thing".  With only DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in camp as established big men, Drummond is almost certain to get one of the remaining post spots on the roster.  More on what the roster might look like later, but this is one of the more exciting off-season developments the Pistons have had in a while.  The FIBA World Cup is the perfect stage for Andre Drummond to put anybody in the world who doesn't already know on notice that he's one of the best young big men on the planet.  It looks like he'll be getting the chance to do just that.

Click "Read More" for a breakdown on Drummond's chances to make Team USA...

PG Steph Curry Damian Lillard K. Irving/D. Rose
SG Klay Thompson James Harden
SF Paul George Chandler Parsons Kyle Korver
PF Kevin Durant Anthony Davis
C DeMarcus Cousins Andre Drummond
Left Out: K. Irving/D. Rose; B. Beal; D. DeRozan, K. Faried; G. Hayward; P. Millsap; J. Wall

This right here is my best guess at what the roster will look like for Team USA when they head over to Spain for the World Cup, which begins on August 30th.  The first column contains my projected starters, in bold and italicized, with my other presumed locks simply in bold.  Before I get too deep into the roster, I think that depending on the frontcourt size of the team that the US is playing, you could see Anthony Davis starting at C, or you could see him starting at PF with Durant sliding down to SF and George or Thompson going to the bench.  As it usually is in international play, with so much talent on the roster, the starting five can be constructed in a lot of different, logical ways.  The borderline guys, those not in bold, leave quite a few question marks to sort out in camp and exhibition play. Let's look at the hard choices to make in the backcourt, plus what it would take for Andre Drummond not to make the roster.

In the backcourt, there's no disagreement to be had over the guys I have in bold.  Curry speaks for himself, and you can't argue with Thompson's shooting, which becomes ever more valuable in the international game.  You could say that Harden should be starting, but I think he means more to the US off of the bench.  Lillard has a leg up on the Irving/Rose pairing on a count of being more accomplished than Irving and having, you know, played in the last two years.  Between Lillard and Rose, assuming the committee doesn't push a SF off the roster and take both, it's a toss-up between giving Rose a spot now to placate him for the 2016 Olympics and taking Irving, who's almost certainly going to be more useful now.  I just get the feeling that USA Basketball wants Rose on the roster, because: why even invite a guy who has played 49 games in the last three seasons if you don't want him?  John Wall is a longshot, seeing as he was only invited to fill one of the camp spots opened by Love/Griffin withdrawing.  Bradley Beal could steal a spot with a really strong camp showing, because he's a strong shooter, but it's not something I'd put money on.

Paul George has the starting SF spot on lockdown on days when Durant is playing the 4, which should be most of the time.  International basketball is all about shooting from the PF/4 position, and it doesn't get much better there than Durant.  The backup SF spot is much cloudier, with a variety of options that all appear to be pretty even.  Kyle Korver isn't as well-rounded as any of the other guys, but for the same reason that I have Thompson starting, I have Korver on the roster.  I give Parsons the backup SF spot because of his versatility, but that same argument could be made for Gordon Hayward.  In my book, the nod goes to Parsons because he's more experienced and ready to play the PF spot in a pinch if Coach K wants to go small and give Durant a rest.  DeMar DeRozan offers something that the other SFs don't in that he's a slasher and mid-range player, but I'm not sure how much value that holds in international basketball.  If he makes it, it would be on the back of his mid-range game, because the lack of a three-second rule will probably otherwise hurt his game dearly.  I feel confident that Parsons makes it, and I think Korver's value is safe here, but I won't commit to anything at SF.  Too much room for variety there.

The frontcourt is where things get interesting after the withdrawal of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love.  If those two are there, they start at PF and C respectively, with Durant at SF.  Davis is the backup PF, Cousins is the backup C and the frontcourt is done.  With those two out, the situation is much more fluid.  Davis and Cousins are locks to make the roster, and as mentioned above, I think both will start some games during the World Cup.  This is where Andre Drummond seems like more and more of a lock: With Spain as the US' main competition for gold in the '14 FIBA WC, it seems like the US could really use size and extra fouls off the bench to battle the Gasols and Serge Ibaka.  Spain's roster figures to include as many as four players at 6'10 or taller.  While the US has that even without Drummond, their height is much thinner than Spain's.  Cousins, and to a certain extent, Davis, can hold their own in the post, but Durant and George won't be able to hang with Marc/Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka or even 6'11, 255 lb backup C Xavi Rey.  Drummond, at the very least, is the most useful guy to put on the roster to hammer out six fouls on the Gasol brothers.  On top of that, he offers more rebounding than Millsap and Faried, especially on the offensive glass.

So if it seems like Drummond is the smartest choice to grab the final frontcourt spot (and I believe he is), what will it mean if Andre doesn't make it?  That depends on who grabs his spot.  If the US chooses to take an extra perimeter player, it would suggest that they don't see any way to compete with Spain's frontcourt and are going to try and outgun the Spaniards.  I don't like this option, because if Cousins gets in foul trouble, the Gasols are going to have a field day.  If Drummond loses his spot to Paul Millsap (who was a late addition to camp) it means that Millsap had one hell of a camp and that Coach K and the US coaches see Millsap's shooting as valuable.  With Millsap being a late addition, he's on the outside looking in.  That leaves Kenneth Faried as Drummond's other frontcourt competition.  While Faried has been a solid player in his three years in the NBA, he's realistically three inches shorter than Drummond and he's similarly useless away from the rim.  On top of that, Drummond is the better shot blocker and four years younger.  So what does it mean if Faried makes the roster over Drummond?  It means the US screwed up royally; no other way around it, with all apologies to any Kenneth Faried fans out there.

Training camp concludes on Friday with an intrasquad scrimmage at 6:00 pm PST.  If you're going through Andre Drummond, or just pure basketball withdrawals, that game will be televised nationally on NBATV.  After that, the US has the following scrimmages scheduled:
Aug. 16th - Chicago - v. Brazil
Aug. 20th - NYC - v. Dominican Republic
Aug. 22nd - NYC - v. Puerto Rico
From there, the US travels to Bilbao, Spain to kick off play in Group C against Finland on the 30th of August.  The roster will get finalized at some point in the process, although I haven't seen an official date for when that will happen.  My guess is that they'll do that after the game against Puerto Rico, but I could be wrong.  The US once again enters international competition as the favorites, but the Love/Griffin developments have opened the door for Spain.  This should be a fun tournament, if for no other reason than that it's basketball in August/September.


  1. This is interesting and makes a lot of sense. Also, I hadn't seen this covered anywhere else, so thanks. I do hope Drummond makes the team. Playing with Durrant, Davis, and Curry could be good experience for him. Haven't we seen international play boost the development of several players in the past? At the moment, I can't remember who those stories were about.

    1. Yeah, having any amount of spacing should be great for Andre and the shooting on the roster should allow him to work on the glass. Patty Mills was great at the 2012 Olympics, so I'd say he's in the breakout category. Even though he had already established himself at St. Mary's. Ricky Rubio established played in 2008 when he was only 17, although a lot of people already knew about him before those games. I'm sure there are more, but those two come to mind for me. Thanks for reading!