Unexpected USA departures leave paint to Anthony Davis

by Jim Eichenhofer

LAS VEGAS – Months of planning and best-case roster scenarios went out the window over a 48-hour period last week for USA Basketball, when Clippers power forward Blake Griffin and Minnesota power forward Kevin Love withdrew from consideration for the national team. Just like that, the American team went from boasting an embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt, to potentially having to rely on a few big men who are untested on the international stage.

For Anthony Davis, however, the sudden exits of Griffin and Love may actually have made it more evident what many have been saying all summer – that the 6-foot-10, 238-pounder is a vital member of the American squad. With Griffin and Love out of the picture, there are only three USA roster candidates 6-10 or taller, including Davis, Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins and Detroit center Andre Drummond. Neither Cousins nor Drummond are considered locks to make the final USA roster (though their chances probably have now increased).

“We lost two big guys in the last 48 hours, so we’re going to have to have active bigs,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Monday’s initial training camp practice. “Our main guy is Anthony Davis. (We will) see who else fits in. But also see how they fit in with the other guys.”

Krzyzewski will spend part of training camp evaluating lineups and beginning the process of determining the team’s optimal style of play, which could go in several directions. It could be incrementally more difficult now for Team USA to score easy baskets, the high-flying Griffin’s forte. Love is a multi-dimensional offensive player, perhaps the most well-rounded American big man, with the ability to dominate the backboards, but also step out and drain three-pointers.

Krzyzewski explained that he and his coaching staff will have to adjust to the roster situation, something they’ve done in the recent past in international competition.

“You get a core group of eight or nine guys, and you hope another big (in addition to Davis) is one of those guys,” said the longtime Duke University coach. “Or you can go a little bit smaller. We’ve done both. At the last world championship, Lamar Odom started at center, (Kevin) Durant started at four and (Andre) Iguodala started at three. Our backup bigs (were) Rudy Gay and Tyson Chandler. In the Olympics, we didn’t have a big after Tyson went out. So we can go both ways. That’s part of learning about our team.”

“I think Coach is trying to figure out some things,” Pelicans Coach and USA assistant Monty Williams said of Krzyzewski, who may be required to use Davis at center. “Certainly in the international game, guys are not as big, except when you play against Brazil and Spain – those teams have bigger guys. But for the most part, most of the (international) guys who play inside are AD’s size. Coach is experimenting with some things and we’ll try to figure it out as we go.”

For his part, at this early stage Davis hasn’t had an in-depth conversation with USA coaches on the specifics of how his role may have changed. Much like during the Pelicans’ 2013-14 regular season, he’ll have to adjust on the fly. One silver lining of New Orleans’ rampant injuries last winter was that it allowed Davis to fully brandish his ever-expanding and improving game. That led to his first All-Star appearance.

“I haven’t really talked to them yet,” the 21-year-old said. “But I’m going to go out there and try to showcase my skills. Hopefully we’ll have a sitdown. It’s a good thing I have (Williams) here, telling me what I need to do. I’m just trying to go out there and play.”