Posted Jul 26 2010 6:23AM
LAS VEGAS -- USA Basketball's week in Las Vegas had a rough start, but a strong finish.
It won't be until Sept. 12 when we find out just how well the U.S. can withstand the absences the 2008 Olympians (who all chose not to play this summer), Amar'e Stoudemire (who the Knicks' removed from the roster because of insurance issues) and David Lee (who injured his finger on Tuesday). But Saturday's USA Basketball Showcase was a strong indication that the players that are here can still form a team with a strong identity and a shot at winning the World Championship for the first time since 1994.
The most positive sign from Saturday's game, won by Kevin Durant's White team 114-96, was the perimeter shooting. In the international game, with no defensive three-second call and a shorter arc, a lot more 3-point shots are attempted than in the NBA. Over the years, the U.S. team's opponents have consistently packed the paint and dared them to shoot from the outside. And their success has often come down to their ability to knock down shots.
This team doesn't have the most high-profile shooters in the league, but it does have some young players that can take advantage of the shorter 3-point distance. And on Saturday, the Blue and White teams combined to shoot 24-for-51 (47 percent) from beyond the arc, with 11 of the 20 players connecting on at least one three.
"They're going to be able to shoot the ball a lot better than people think they can," USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said of his team afterward.
Saturday's game was also played at a high pace, with the two teams combining for 182 possessions in just 40 minutes. That's a reflection of the identity that head coach Mike Krzyzewski wants his team to have. With a lack of size and a plethora of quick point guards and athletic wings, the U.S. wants to pressure their opponents and run at every opportunity.
"We don't think the international game wants to see that kind of pressure constantly," Colangelo said. "And so we're going to utilize that to our benefit."
Derrick Rose proved he be the engine of the high-paced attack, out-quicking everyone else on the floor Saturday night to the tune of 15 points, eight assists and five steals. On a roster full of quality floor generals, Rose clearly stood out from the rest.
"I thought Derrick just played a beautiful game," Krzyzewski said. "It was easy playing with him tonight, because he gave you the ball in rhythm."
Kevin Durant was the star of the week, of course. He's on a level above everyone else on the roster, and he proved it with a game-high 28 points on Saturday. But Rudy Gay showed that he can be the team's secondary scorer, leading the Blue squad with 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
With the team desperate for an anchor in the paint, the most critical performance might have come from Tyson Chandler. The center struggled in the first couple of days of camp, but improved as the week went on and shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field on Saturday, finishing with 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds in just 20 minutes of action.
Colangelo, Krzyzewski and their staff will cut the list of 19 players down to 15 over the next 24-48 hours and inform all the players by Monday.
Those 15 will reconvene in New York on Aug. 9 for the next phase of training. With a final roster of 12 not needed until two days before the World Championship begins in Istanbul, Turkey on Aug. 28, it's possible that all 15 will remain with the team when they leave for Europe on Aug. 16.
Some of the decisions Colangelo and Krzyzewski need to make will be easy. Others will be difficult. But the last five days have helped them not only form a team identity, but also get a better idea of who their core players will be in Turkey.
Though veterans Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom had underwhelming performances on Saturday, they'll join Chandler, Durant, Gay and Rose as the players Colangelo and Krzyzewski build the rest of the team around.
"We're getting to have a personality for our basketball team right now and anxious to get down to 15, go to New York and try to personalize the team a little bit more," Krzyzewski said. He added that it's not about choosing the 12 best players, but rather "how we see them coming together as a unit."
"We have to try and project who fits and who doesn't," Colangelo added. "This team will be marked by playing a certain pace. Some may fit and some may not."
Though it's been together for just five days, the U.S. team has established both an identity and a core. Now, it has five weeks to work out the rest of the details.
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