Posted Jul 23 2010 11:40PM
LAS VEGAS -- It has quickly become clear that if Team USA is going to win the 2010 FIBA World Championship, it's going to do it playing small and quick.
Through four days of camp, many of the lineups that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has put on the floor in scrimmages against the Select Team of college players have lacked a traditional center. Forwards Lamar Odom, Kevin Love, Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green have all been the biggest guy on the floor at times.
The absences of Amar'e Stoudemire and David Lee have made playing small for stretches a necessity. But against teams with big frontlines like Brazil and Spain, a traditional center or two will be needed to avoid getting beat in the paint and on the boards.
At this point though, it's still unclear how many centers the U.S. will carry on its final 12-man roster, and who they will be. It's very possible that the number will be just one, as it's becoming clear that the staff is comfortable with center-free lineups. Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski noted Thursday that the international game "lends itself to big guys being able to play on the perimeter and shoot."
Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and JaVale McGee are the three centers left in camp. And through four days of training, none of the three have greatly distinguished themselves from the other two.
Chandler has the most experience of the three and was a member of the team that won the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament, but he gives the team the least offensively and has missed 68 games over the last two seasons with foot and ankle injuries.
Lopez has the best offensive game of the three, but he's the least mobile. And he's also dealing with conditioning issues, having just gained all his weight back from a bout with mononucleosis earlier in the summer.
McGee is young and raw, but he's an athletic freak and has brought energy and activity to camp. He was a last-minute addition to the roster and his skill set is very similar to Chandler's, but he became a dark horse pick to make the team when Chandler looked rusty early in the week.
Chandler has begun to shake off the rust though, and he has played better every day. That not only helps his own standing, but probably hurts the chances of McGee making it to Turkey.
"I had a great summer, as far as training," Chandler said Thursday. "But coming here in basketball shape is totally different. So the last couple of days, I've been able to get my legs under me. And every day I've progressed."
Where Lopez fits in is unclear. Without Stoudemire, Lee and his brother Robin, it was assumed by some that Lopez was a lock to make the team as the most skilled center left. But his skills don't necessarily match what Krzyzewski is looking for.
"We don't need our big guys to be scorers," the coach said Tuesday. "We need our big guys to be shot-blockers, rebounders and screeners."
Lopez is certainly willing to do the dirty work, but that description better fits the other two centers. Defense and mobility are the priorities.
"I'm getting the ball in positions where I can succeed," Chandler said of his offensive role. "But my job is not going to be to get the ball on the block and make post moves. My job is to free up shooters, run the pick-and-roll, cut, slash and offensive rebound. And if I get the ball that way, my job is to finish."
It's possible that the center situation will become clearer after Saturday's USA Basketball Showcase (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2), but so far, none of the three centers have guaranteed themselves a spot on the roster or eliminated themselves from consideration. Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday that each of the three "has had their moments."
Colangelo plans to cut the roster down from 19 to 14 or 15 players for the next phase of training, which begins Aug. 9 in New York. And at this point, the plan is for all three centers to be there.
"Don't hold me to it, but that's what we're thinking," he said. With the injuries that the team has already suffered, taking all three may be as much about insurance than about the inability to make a decision.
Right now, Chandler looks like the most likely of the three centers to make the team. But the final roster doesn't have to be set until two days before the World Championship begins on Aug. 28. And both Lopez and McGee will have more opportunities to make their case.
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