Posted Aug 12 2010 10:58AM
NEW YORK -- USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski will tell you that his team's guards are its strength.
But then of course, forward Kevin Durant, the NBA's leading scorer last season, is its star. Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala is the one player who has been getting the most unsolicited praise from Krzyzewski in training camp for both his defense and for his efficient offense. And the second best scorer in camp has clearly been Rudy Gay.
So, in addition to his deep and talented stockpile of guards, Krzyzewski has come to realize that he has a pretty good group of forwards to work with.
"They're three of our best players," the coach said Wednesday. "And they're definitely three of our best athletes. So we have to see how they complement one another."
In every game that the U.S. Team plays, 80 minutes will need to be distributed at the two forward positions. And by listening to Krzyzewski and observing the lineups he has put on the floor, it has become clear that the trio of Durant, Gay and Iguodala will get most of those 80 minutes.
The three have been playing a lot together in scrimmages against the Select Team, both in Las Vegas and here in New York, a trend that will continue. With the World Championship just 16 days away, it's time for the team's core group to really get to know each other on the floor and develop the chemistry that will be needed to compete with the international teams that have been playing together for years.
"You have to figure out those three guys in particular," Krzyzewski said. "They need reps together."
As the Senior Team's best player, Durant has been the one on the floor the most, teaming with either Gay or Iguodala. But the other two got to run together at the end of Wednesday's scrimmage.
Krzyzewski liked what he saw from the Iguodala-Gay tandem. And while Durant won't be spending much time on the bench in critical games, it seems that the coach will be comfortable with pairing the other two when his star needs a breather.
"They looked good," Krzyzewski said of Gay and Iguodala. "So what does that mean to everyone else? Well, everyone else has to adjust."
If Durant, Gay and Iguodala get most of the forward minutes, Kevin Love and Lamar Odom will need to compete for time at center with Tyson Chandler. Playing a small forward at the four could be an issue on the glass, but opponents will also have a tough time dealing with the U.S. Team's speed.
Playing two small forwards together is nothing new for Krzyzewski. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, both threes for their NBA teams almost exclusively, started together from 2006 to 2008. And the length and athleticism that Durant, Gay and Iguodala all bring to the table is exactly what the coach wants for his high-pressure defense this summer.
Durant and Iguodala seem to complement each other best. And come Aug. 28, they very well may be the starting forwards for the U.S. If you look at the pairing simplistically, it's an offense-defense combination. But Durant has made great strides defensively over the last year, and Iguodala has the ability to put points on the board, both on the break and as a secondary scorer in the half court.
"He's a great teammate, a great guy to play with," Durant said of Iguodala. "We're just helping each other out. He's such a dynamic player and can play multiple positions. On the break, it's just easy for me to throw it up and for him to go get it."
And Iguodala is clearly comfortable playing the Pippen role.
"I'm kind of like that utility guy that can do everything for our team," he said. "Put me in there and whatever void needs to be filled, I can fill that. I think that's what Coach K likes about my game the most. I don't have to have the ball to be effective out there. One game, I might not shoot the ball at all and be a big help to this team. I'm satisfied with that. Another game, I might have to score. I just try to pride myself on being a basketball player without any labels."
Gay has earned an important role as well, likely that of the first forward off the bench and primary scorer on the second unit. He scored 23 points in the USA Basketball Showcase at the end of the first phase of training in Las Vegas, and was the team's leading scorer in Wednesday's scrimmage action at John Jay College.
The shorter 3-point line is well within Gay's range, and also he has the size to score in the paint. Of the three small forwards, Gay is best suited to play the four in international competition.
But when two of the three are on the floor together, there's no need to differentiate between the two forward positions. All three have the size, speed and versatility to play both the three on the floor, as well as the basketball IQ to adjust to each other on the fly. Krzyzewski even mentioned Wednesday that, at some point, we may see all three on the floor together.
With a lack of true big men on the roster, the coach wants to play to his team's strengths. And the versatility at the forward position is clearly one of them.
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