Drummond doesn’t get his shot to crack Team USA roster – will he in NY games?
Andrew D. Bernstein (NBAE/Getty)
CHICAGO – Andre Drummond didn’t play in Team USA’s 95-78 exhibition win over Brazil, but we likely won’t find out if that means anything until they play their two final exhibitions in New York this week in the run-up to the FIBA World Cup that opens in Spain in 13 days.
Mike Krzyzewski said earlier this month that the goal was to identify a rotation core of seven to nine players sometime soon. It’s a slam dunk that two members of Saturday’s starting five – sons of Chicago Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis – are safely in that group. Davis was first on the marquee Saturday with 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots in 26 minutes, while Rose captivated the United Center sellout crowd with two devastatingly explosive drives that allayed fears his knee injuries would be permanently debilitating.
Given the scoring void created by Kevin Durant’s withdrawal and Paul George’s injury, it’s likely that two other Saturday starters, Steph Curry and James Harden, are as good as on the roster already. The fifth starter vs. Brazil, Kenneth Faried, was likely there for matchup purposes against a frontcourt of Nene and Tiago Splitter, but he responded well with 11 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes and offers unique hustle and offensive rebounding.
Rudy Gay, added to the roster after Durant withdrew, was first off the bench Saturday and likely is safe, too. Ditto for Kyrie Irving, a Krzyzewski disciple whose speed nearly matches Rose’s. He’s his backup but also will play alongside Rose in spurts when Team USA wants to dial up full-court pressure. That’s seven.
We get to eight with Klay Thompson, first name off of Coach K’s lips in Saturday’s postgame when he was asked who besides Davis jumped out at him. Second was Irving. And third is where it gets interesting – and problematic – for Drummond. That’s when Krzyzewski mentioned Mason Plumlee, another Duke disciple who went to Las Vegas two weeks ago as part of the Select Team but was promoted to national team candidate and carried his momentum over to Chicago. Plumlee played 15 minutes, the same as Irving, and finished with nine points and four rebounds. He did nothing spectacular, but ran the court and made all three point-blank shots when the ball found him.
“I thought Mason really did well,” Krzyzewski said. “He shouldn’t even be here, really. He was on the Select Team and he did a good job.”
It’s entirely possible – likely, even – that Plumlee loses his spot inside what was essentially a nine-man rotation against Brazil once DeMarcus Cousins is ready to play. Cousins went down hard in Thursday’s practice here and was held out Saturday, but he dressed and warmed up after an MRI showed no structural damage to his knee. Krzyzewski told me Friday that he’d already begun to tinker with the offense even before Durant’s withdrawal to run plays for Cousins.
Drummond wasn’t the only Team USA member to dress and not play on Saturday. You can’t really play 15 players, so it wasn’t unexpected that not everybody got in. Neither did Gordon Hayward or DeMar DeRozan, while Damian Lillard and Kyle Korver got token first-half minutes.
Will those players get their shot in the Wednesday and Friday exhibitions in New York? Assuming Cousins is OK to go by Wednesday and takes Plumlee’s 15 minutes, will that leave any chance for Drummond to make his case for a berth? If Cousins is, in fact, safely on the roster, will Krzyzewski then play Cousins backup minutes in one game and Drummond in the other to give him a fighting chance?
We’ll see. Krzyzewski said earlier this month that Drummond is a player USA Basketball most certainly wants in its program for future competitions. The present is a little murkier for him. Saturday, with Cousins unavailable, seemed like the time to make his case. But he couldn’t make it from the sideline.