LAS VEGAS – Team USA’s training camp ended disastrously with the gruesome leg fracture suffered by Paul George. Team leaders Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski postponed indefinitely any decisions on the makeup of the roster, which was the right thing to do.
For the time being, our thoughts and prayers should be with Paul George and his family.
With that being said, the U.S. national team will eventually move forward. And after having been with them for a week, up close and personal, I am here today to tell you three things about this version of Team USA that you probably did not know.
No. 1: James Harden is better than advertised defensively
I spoke to several members of the USAB staff, and behind the scenes they were amazed at how good James Harden has become as an overall player since his last tour with Team USA two years ago. The fact that he came in and was focused on being a lockdown defender blew them away.
When he wants to play defense, Harden is very capable. We already know he is one of the premier offensive players in the game. I love him as a player (I have always loved lefties) for his unorthodox moves in the open court that allow him to get to the rim, and also knowing how to draw fouls. But now I am being told Harden is getting it done on the other end, which has always been the major complaint about his game.
No. 2: This may be the quickest Team USA ever
The overall speed and quickness of this team and their ability to get out on the break and score the ball is exceptional. It will be every bit as good as great USA teams of the past, and maybe even better. This was evident early as Derrick Rose appeared to have turbo jets attached to his sneakers as he got to the basket early and often in scoring six first-quarter points.
Team USA’s ability to shoot the 3-ball will be a very under-the-radar strength. We still do not know who will make up the final 12-man roster, but there are shooters galore to choose from, including DeMar DeRozan, who totally boosted his chances with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Chandler Parsons is no longer expendable because he has the size to shift over to the 4 spot in emergencies — something George was going to be asked to do – and Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson are all very capable zone busters.
But back to the quickness. Kyrie Irving is without question the best layup creator in the entire NBA, in my opinion. He reminds me of a faster, stronger version of Rod Strickland with his ability to finish all kinds of tough layups with either hand from any angle. He has the uncanny knack of finishing everything around the hoop, with or without contact, and has all kinds of flip shots and runners to go along with very good acceleration to the basket.
No. 3: Mason Plumlee is a very strong candidate for the final 12-man roster
Plumlee came to camp as a member of the Select Team. He was added to the intrasquad scrimmage as the 20th player, partially to balance out the rosters but also to see if he could be an impact player on a team in desperate need of size. And in the first four minutes of the third quarter Friday night, Plumlee had a pair of vicious dunks and a couple of hustle plays that no other big man came close to matching.
Since Andre Drummond did not have a good scrimmage whatsoever, it would appear to me that the other five bigs will make the cut – and Plumlee will be one of them. Anthony Davis can start at center or power forward, DeMarcus Cousins is too good to cut, and Paul Millsap and Kenneth Faried give Coach K a pair of big bodies in reserve for those nights when the opposing team sends out a front line of big, burly brutes. The Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka of Spain come to mind, but the U.S. will only see them if the teams meet in the gold medal game.
Five bigs equates to 25 fouls. And Kevin Durant will be playing some 4, too. Chris Sheridan is predicting that Drummond, John Wall, Bradley Beal and Gordon Hayward will be the four cuts, which along with the injury to George gets the roster down to 15.
True tales from Las Vegas:
I have always had a cool friendship with one of my all-time favorite players, Kevin Durant. I actually recruited his half-brother, Cliff Dixon, who I understand now is dating Rihanna.
Anyway I got to know both KD and his mom during the recruiting, so when I happened to be walking by the high-limit room in the Wynn one night, I got summoned in to come over to see KD by his business manager, Charlie Bell, who I also coached against when I was at Manhattan College and Charlie played at Loyola in Maryland.
Well, I’m not saying I was KD’s good-luck charm, but he did get draw four blackjacks in the next six hands. I also won’t say what color chips he was playing (except they were not red, green or black), but let’s just say he has high-fived me a few times since hanging out that night.
For a basketball lifer like myself, that would normally have been an unbeatable highlight, but the very next night while also walking through the Wynn I ran into and recognized a young actor named Calum Worthy, who only a father with a young daughter would recognize as he plays Dez in Disney’s very popular TV show Austin & Ally.
So, the only photo I took all week was not with Kevin Durant but with Calum Worthy, to impress my little girl. Can you believe how life changes when you have a child? Who would have thought.
I will be back with Team USA in three weeks when it comes through New York to play exhibitions against Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In the meantime, Sheridan will pick up the coverage in Chicago as the team plays Brazil, and he will be embedded with the Americans in Spain for the World Cup. Thanks for reading my columns this week. Hope you enjoyed them.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former Division I head coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall. He has been writing columns for SheridanHoops since March.
MORE FROM GONZO IN VEGAS:
DAY ONE: Derrick Rose looks great for Team USA, But there is a PG Glut.
DAY TWO: DeMarcus Cousins Finding a Different Groove for Team USA
DAY THREE: Shall we call this team “The Unknowns?”
DAY FOUR: What to watch for in Team USA Intrasquad Scrimmage