The Team USA Blue vs. White scrimmage is live tonight from Las Vegas at 6 PM PT on NBA-TV. Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers has been the point guard of Team USA in the past two Olympic games, and Blake Griffin has been in camp for Team USA only to miss out at the last minute for both the Worlds in 2010 and the Olympics in 2012 because of injuries. Neither of the Clipper superstars are in Vegas with the young team trying to make an impression on Coach K and Jerry Colangelo and the rest of the powers that be in USA Basketball. This group can only hope to be included on a World Championship or Olympic roster, and there are only two NBA All Stars in sight (Kyrie Irving and Paul George).
But there is a Clipper in camp we can watch tonight: DeAndre Jordan. Is it something of a surprise that Jordan would be among the 28 players invited to Team USA's mini-camp this summer? Sure, a bit. But the last three starting centers to play at a major competition for Team USA (Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler and Lamar Odom) may all be done with international play for one reason or another, and frankly, there aren't a huge number of American centers (not true centers anyway) to choose from. Some of the best centers in the NBA are from elsewhere -- guys like Marc Gasol of Spain and Joakim Noah of France and Nikola Pekovic of Bond-movie-henchman-land -- which presents a double challenge to the US. They have to find guys to play center, and they have to ask them to match up with some pretty tough customers.
In London Team USA had success trotting out Chandler as a defensive anchor who didn't need shots, surrounded by four hyper-athletic scorers -- so maybe it shouldn't be such a shock that Krzyzewski and Colangelo might be looking for a center to replicate that formula in the future. We've long said that Jordan's NBA analog/role model/best case scenario is Chandler -- apparently we're not the only ones who see the comparison.
Team USA has gone not just small but teeny tiny in recent years -- using LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala among others as small fours and literally never playing two traditional bigs together. As such, it's difficult to imagine them carrying more than three true bigs at the World Cup (the new name of the erstwhile World Championships) in Spain in 2014. With Kevin Love already committed and Blake Griffin still eager for his first taste of international play, there won't be a lot of room on the roster assuming Coach K follows a similar game plan.
But even if Jordan never sniffs a Gold Medal, and let's face it, it would be highly unlikely, there's little question that four days in Vegas with top level coaching and top level competition will be good for him. A few days with Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers' former assistant who helped create Boston's signature strong side pressure defense that transformed the NBA, will be a crash course in what he needs to be doing for the Clippers next year. It's also a chance for Jordan to continue to rebuild his confidence after a season in which former Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro did much to destroy it last season. Squaring off against DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis is a great chance for Jordan to measure himself against other young NBA centers. There's a ton of buzz around Drummond right now -- but it's not as if he does anything that Jordan doesn't do.
Rivers has already started the work of building up Jordan's confidence and challenging him to be a more dominant force next season. Doc has taken every opportunity to talk about Jordan's length and quickness and the nearly unlimited defensive potential that comes with it. The talks have already hand an impact on DJ. Speaking with NBA.com's Sekou Smith in Vegas this week, he said:
Once I talked to Doc, I knew what kind of season we were going to have because Doc is definitely a player's coach. He definitely gives you that confidence. I talked to him on the phone for about 15 or 20 minutes that first time and I hung up and I was confident. I was like, ‘yeah, we're going to win it.' He's such a great motivator. I can't wait to get to work with him.
DJ's off-season work has long been an important part of his development. It may be only four days, but there's really no better big man camp than the one he's in this summer. The odds are against him ever getting to wear USA on his chest in anything more than a scrimmage, but just having a chance to work with those coaches and players will give him a much better chance of playing really significant games at some point in the near future.
Use this post as an open thread during the scrimmage.