Forecasting Team USA without Durant

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Losing Kevin Durant (don’t worry Thunder fans; he’s fine) is a serious blow to team USA’s goal of winning a gold medal in the newly minted FIBA Basketball World Cup. Not only was KD the best player in the entire tournament, he was also the focal point of Coach K’s offense and according to reports out of the Las Vegas training camp, the heart and soul of the team. He’s the guy everyone else looks up to. It’s a big loss to drop your most talented, most central, and most respected player.

Quick list of all the players that team USA expected to be available for this tournament who for various reasons are not:

Kevin Durant
Paul George
Kevin Love
LaMarcus Aldridge
Blake Griffin

That’s a full complement of big men, less Anthony Davis, and it is the two best wings on the team. Love, Aldridge, and Griffin have been out of the picture for some time now, but George and Durant comprised the team’s starting forwards as recently as last Friday. How will Mike Krzyzewski and his staff adjust their game plan, and who will make the final roster?

No one in the player pool or the rest of the world for that matter can approximate what Durant does. He’s a 6′ 10″ quick forward with guard skills and limitless range and possibly the best one on one scorer in the game today. You don’t just replace that skillset. In 2010 KD undressed the rest of the world with his combination of length, quickness, and shooting touch to the tune of 33 points per game (in a 40 minute contest). Without him the team will need to leverage athleticism for transition buckets and maybe use Duke’s motion offense to a higher degree. Thankfully the team is loaded with great point guards. Overloaded maybe.

Speaking of point guards, let’s take a moment to figure out that position and how losing Durant and George, two playmaking wings with range and speed, might impact which PGs make the final roster. The available pool contains: Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, John Wall, and Damian Lillard. The team has 12 roster spots, and it will need at least 4 bigs and 4 wings, leaving no more than four available slots at guard. At least one of these All-Star caliber guards is off the team. Rose is a lock. By all accounts he’s been the best of bunch since day one at training camp. Rose will function as a penetrating creator off the dribble and in the pick and roll. He’s also a quick-footed defender who can harass opposing ball-handlers in the open court. The most obvious candidate to back-up Rose and possibly pick up some minutes beside him is Steph Curry. Curry is the premier shooter off the dribble in the league and another strong pick and roll distributor. With the loss of Durant, shooting will be at a premium, and Curry seems like a sure thing.

If you consider minute distribution, there are only 80 total guard minutes in a 40 minute game. Rose, Curry, and presumed starting big guard James Harden could split those minutes equally between them and play less than 30 minutes per game each. If Harden picks up some minutes at the small forward slot, a move made more likely with the injury to George, that would make a little space for one of Irving, Lillard, and Wall. Of the three Lillard is the best shot-maker, Irving is most familiar with Coach K’s offense, and Wall has the most size and thus the best chance to defend big guards alongside another PG. Personally I think taking Wall is a no-brainer here. His size and speed add versatility to the position. Irving and Lillard both have their merits at the double secret reserve guard spot, but Coach K will probably go with the more trusted and familiar Kyrie.

Reports had the staff favoring energy bigs like Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee playing short minute bursts off the bench. Faried may have to start now. There are other options. Chandler Parsons has enough size to play a small-ball power forward in place of Durant, but he’s a poor substitute for the MVP, and the skills he brings may not make up for his lack of size defensively and on the boards. The team could also choose to play a bigger brand of basketball and pair Anthony Davis with either DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. Drummord shoots free throws worse than Dwight Howard on horse tranquillizers, so he’s probably out as a crunch time player at least.

Replacing Paul George is less of head-scratcher though the drop in talent is still an issue, and the damage to the team’s depth is incontrovertible. George’s role was to be the team’s wing stopper on defense, to finish on the break, and in the half-court to play off the ball with hard cuts and space the floor with spot up shooting. Klay Thompson, who seemed like a lock to back up both the shooting guard and small forward positions, is the obvious replacement. Klay is a good on-ball defender, has good size, and he’s a deadeye shooter. He’s not the athlete that George is, but he’s a good fit. Starting Thompson depletes the bench of one of it’s best two way players. Those extra minutes will be picked up by the combination of Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons, and Gordon Hayward. None of them is a proven defender at the wing, but I’d lean towards Korver who is the NBA’s premier distance shooter and smart enough to use Coach Boeheim’s zone defense principles to his advantage.

Final Roster Prediction:

G – Derrick Rose
G – Stephen Curry
G – James Harden
G – John Wall
G – Kyrie Irving
F – Klay Thompson
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Kyle Korver
F – Chandler Parsons
F – Mason Plumlee
C – Anthony Davis
C – DeMarcus Cousins

I would anticipate starters of Rose, Harden, Thompson, Faried, and Davis, but that PF spot could go a lot of different ways. I think team USA will still be favored to take the gold, but the roster and game plan have been compromised in some serious ways, and it will be a real test for some young guys who are unproven in international play.

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