As a University of Maryland fan there will always be a simultaneous respect and disdain for Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils, but the news release of last night’s Team USA roster is a travesty unto itself. Coach K (or Rattigan as I like to call him) has decided to retain the services of James Harden, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Rudy, Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and MASON PLUMLEE. Yes, you read that correctly. Mason Plumlee is on the Team USA roster!!!!
So we look at this one of two ways, Krzyzewski knows something we don’t know or he has since gone senile and the supergroup of assistants at Duke added to the recruiting efforts have masked Coach K in his old age. I’m hoping for the first one to be true, but I just don’t know anymore. I wasn’t quite sure why Plumlee was even invited to the camp in the first place. Mason Plumlee is just a shade under 7 feet tall and is highly athletic. There’s no denying that. But the NBA isn’t a place simply for highly athletic guys with some savvy on-court (assuming Mason is as intelligent as Duke grads persist to be), these players have the technical ability as well. Plumlee is still a raw guy, even after 3 years in Durham and 2 years in the Association. One can even argue that out of a talented trio of brothers (if you consider the youngest, Marshall, to have talent of any kind), Mason isn’t even the best. Brother Miles Plumlee is actually the best player currently in the NBA. Playing for the Phoenix Suns, Miles went from a surprising first round draft pick to a surprising above average contributor for a surprising Suns team that exceed all expectations. Surprising, huh? So if you’re going to play favorites with the Dookies, wouldn’t it have made sense to take the guy that was averaging a near double-double when inserted into the starting lineup this past season over the brother that average a paltry 4 points and 3 rebounds a game?
The national team roster is also about need, who fills it, and what it is. If we look at any national team roster ever there’s going to be a surplus of one position every time, point guards. While the USA has plenty of big men that could be dominant that actually wanted or were eligible to play for the team, the European game isn’t quite the same and thus doesn’t suit a player like Roy Hibbert or DeAndre Jordan. Dunking and sitting in the key waiting to back down an opponent isn’t rewarded with the international rules. Rather, constant ball movement and team dynamics added to bigs with extended range is what makes the game the most different. Still, having an athletic center that provides enough girth on top of a defensive presence is what this national team gets out of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Andre Drummond. That doesn’t leave much time or touches for Plumlee. And if you think there’s going to be time at the 4 spot, then you would be mistaken. Kenneth Faried might not be a big name in the NBA, but he’s a very capable player with high-energy/effort. The intangibles are the biggest reason this guy is on the team. So there’s no need for Plumlee to add anything like that. Unless you need intangibles (i.e. cheerleading from the bench) from other places as well. Because the European game is so different, it’s given Team USA the opportunity over time to use a stretch 4 (the one that eventually led to LeBron almost exclusively playing for the Miami Heat). That’s a position we can expect to see possibly from a player like Rudy Gay when a guard-dominated lineup is used to get the best ballhandlers on the floor.
Next, we look at the guys that didn’t make the cut and why they were a better fit than Mason Plumlee. Damian Lillard, the point guard of the Portland Trail Blazers and one of the most dynamic scoring points in the league didn’t make the cut largely because of the large amount of PGs already on the team (Rose, Irving, Curry). At 6-3, Lillard likely could have passed as a 2-guard, but would have struggled to defend most players on the wing and 4 point guards on a 12-man roster just doesn’t make enough sense as is. To add to that, there is some debate as to how useful a player like John Wall may have been defensively, though Wall likely would’ve been a much bigger help distributing than Lillard. Gordon Hayward was a late addition fill-in spot for a USA roster that needed wings. Hayward is a solid young player with a great deal of potential who just signed a big contract that was match by the Utah Jazz and originally offered by the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets. The kid has decent hops and a good range for a guy about 6-7 who happens to be a decent if unspectacular defensive option. So while he might be have been helpful as a shooting guard in a big lineup or another option at the 3 (where Rudy Gay is the only true small forward), he didn’t really make sense in the general context of what they are looking for and was the first of the final 4 to find out that he was cut. Kyle Korver was this year’s version of what Mike Miller was several years ago for the early years of the resurgent USA Basketball model. Korver is a shooter through and through. He doesn’t handle the ball much and he won’t scare anyone on the defensive end. He’s 6-7 with a decent bit of muscle and sparse athleticism, but the guy is as much (if not more) of a pure shooter than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. So it’s obvious what he could have been for this team. The only guy that I really don’t understand not making it was Chandler Parsons. The small forward that recently signed a big contract in the offseason with the Dallas Mavericks is surprisingly athletic and can handle the ball even better than advertised. His height (6-9) would have also been a big help to play a combo forward position and help defend on the wings. Most of the 3-spot speed is found in the NBA, so worrying about his ability to guard on the wing isn’t as big of a question mark. The guy can flat out shoot it and plays tough all the time. What’s not to like?
In summation, this argument isn’t really even all that big of a deal because it’s the inaugural World Cup of Basketball (formerly the World Championships) and the players that are either injured or simply opted out for the competition easily would have been the best team at the tournament on its own. So let’s say for a second there was a team comprised of such players. It would include Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Chris Paul before many of these other guys. Where it sits now, there’s a chance Leonard wouldn’t make it due to the amount of 2-3 guys in the fold. And with two more options at point guard it would be tougher to choose who goes and who stays but Westbrook and Paul would absolutely make it. Kobe Bryant is the perfect prototype for international competition as he is tall enough, athletic enough, and smart enough to guard several positions. He was also unselfish enough on the Olympic team to sit back and defend without worrying bout scoring. Even at his age, I wouldn’t not take him. And Dwight Howard, he’s fallen off his MVP performances of previous years only because of the systems he’s played in. With Houston, Howard has been able to thrive. Davis may have a little more range, but I would still take Howard if it came down to choosing between the two shot-blockers. Griffin may be an interesting choice over keeping a guy like Harden or Irving or even Thompson, but Curry would struggle to make it as well as anyone else. Rudy Gay is a shoe-in now that Paul George is hurt. Gay was a late addition to the roster early on but just isn’t on the same level as these other guys. With that said, there’s no guarantee Paul George would have seen tons of minutes on the floor with this loaded group. And that’s just discussing the guys that declined, not including the guys that were never asked in the first place! USA is so talented and deep that we can get away with putting someone at the level of Mason Plumlee on our roster and not give any fucks. Cherokee Parks did it years ago as part of the Dream Team, but if this is an excuse to add a young guy then perhaps the Duke guy that I would actually support would be Jabari Parker. That actually makes sense for what this team needs! But who am I? Apparently Mike Krzyzewski knows what he’s talking about. All I can do is laugh and smh.