Usually I'm all up in international competitions and Team USA, but it's been a busy August for me and I haven't been able to obsess over it as I normally would. But the inaugural FIBA World Cup (inaugural because in years past it has been called the World Championship) is under way, and the US opens their competition today against Finland.
The composition of this Team USA is very different than at any other time under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K has always played small, admittedly with players who aren't exactly small, but simply incredibly skilled for their size. So LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony all have plenty of size to play at power forward, but the skillsets of small forwards.
With so many players opting out of Team USA duty this summer (some like James and Anthony and Chris Paul who long ago prioritized the Olympics over the World Cup, others like Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and the injured Paul George who were expected to be on this team), Coach K just doesn't have the mega-freak players around whom he has built his roster in the past.
With those options not available to him, Krzyzewski has gone with a somewhat more traditional roster -- if one that is still guard heavy. The US took one true center (Tyson Chandler) and two power forwards (Anthony Davis and Kevin Love) to the Olympics in London two years ago. This time around Coach K still has Davis, along with DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried. The decision to go big is somewhat situational: this is not a terribly strong field for the World Cup, with the likes of Tony Parker, Joakim Noah and Manu Ginobili sitting out , and the only team that appears to be able to challenge any version of Team USA, at least on paper, is the host country Spain. Spain has incredible size and quality in their size -- with Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka who are probably their three best players. Cousins and Drummond and Plumlee are around to deal with those guys, on the assumption that the US has little to fear from the rest of the field. Which is probably true.
If a few bigs are there to bang with the Gasols, most of the offense will still come from players under 6'5. Davis will get plenty of chances to score, and might be the most important player on the team. He'll certainly need to be on the floor a lot. But other than Davis, almost all of the shots for this team will fall to players who play in the backcourt in the NBA. James Harden, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving are the elite scorers on this team, and they'll have the ball in their hands most of the time. As with prior editions of Team USA, they'll put a lot of pressure on the ball, they'll score in transition as much as possible, and they'll shoot a LOT of three pointers.
They won't have any issue with Finland today, but it will be fun to watch Petteri Koponen, who remains one of the better players in the world to have never played in the NBA (he's the property of the Dallas Mavericks).
There are no Clippers in Spain for this event -- though there almost was, and I'm not referring to Paul or Griffin. Miroslav Raduljica, who was acquired on Tuesday and waived on Friday, is there with Serbia. In addition, Clippers draft pick Furkan Aldemir, who was then traded to Houston as part of the Lamar Odom deal two years ago, is part of the Turkish team.
The field is missing many established NBA stars of international heritage. There's no Parker, no Noah, no Ginobili, no Dirk Nowitzki (whose Germany team did not qualify), no Al Horford. By my math, the Gasols and Goran Dragic of Slovenia are the only NBA stars who will play for a team other than the USA. But if the established stars are missing, some future stars could still be on display. In particular, I'm excited for a chance to see Dante Exum of Australia, who will be a Utah Jazz rookie this season, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee's Greek Freak.
Today's game tips off at 12:30 Pacific on ESPN. Discuss it with your friends here.