LAS VEGAS, August 20, 2007 --
With the start of the FIBA Americas tournament just two days away, the only thing we really know for sure about Team USA's roster is that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will start every game. Coach Mike Krzyzewski wants continuity with his two, three and four positions, because those three, in playing with each other, have to make the most adjustments to their game.
The point guard and center positions have less adjusting to do, so while Jason Kidd and Amare Stoudemire have spent most of camp playing alongside Kobe, LeBron and 'Melo, you could see Chauncey Billups or Deron Williams starting at the point, or Dwight Howard starting at the five, during the tournament.
Still, by observing camp and listening to Coach K talk to the media, you can get a pretty good idea of how the roster will shake out. The absence of Chris Bosh is a tough break, but it makes things a lot simpler when it comes down to selecting the 12-man squad that will begin play on Wednesday.
There are still two more days of training camp left (including another scrimmage against the Select Team on Monday), but now is as good a time as any to take a look at the 14 guys who are healthy and break down how they fit in.
Kidd has been the starting point guard throughout camp. His leadership and ability to find his teammates in scoring position has been invaluable to this team. He might not start every game, but he's just an important an addition as Bryant is. He will need to push the tempo as much as possible, because getting easy baskets on the break will be key to the Americans' success.
Mr. Big Shot has also taken on a leadership role and should see plenty of playing time (along with a start or two) throughout the tournament. He will be asked to hit shots from the perimeter, because the wings will draw defenders, leaving him alone beyond the arc.
Even though he's the third point guard on the depth chart, D-Will is a lock for this roster. Coach K has talked about playing two of the point guards together in the backcourt in order to take advantage of all the skill he has at that position. Williams is one of the best shooters on this team, so they may need him to knock down shots as well as run the offense. Kidd has taken his "son" under his wing during camp, and that will not only benefit Williams, it will also benefit USA Basketball down the line.
As Coach K said, KB24 will start at the two throughout the FIBA Americas tourney, and you can probably guarantee the same for next year's Olympic Games. He will be the go-to guy down the stretch of close games, but he'll probably draw multiple defenders in such cases, so he will need to make the right decision with the ball. He'll also be asked to defend some of the better shooters in the tournament, so keep an eye on his defense as well.
Like Kobe, LeBron is the starter at the three. He will be the primary option on the fast break, because he runs the floor well and of course, nobody wants to get in front of him when he has a head of steam. In the half court, LeBron will be asked to use dribble penetration to create for his teammates.
Redd has shot the ball pretty well in camp. No one on the roster can get a shot up quicker than he can, so he's obviously a key weapon off the bench. If there weren't as many injuries, he might be battling with Mike Miller for the designated shooter's role, but with only 14 healthy bodies, there looks to be room for both of them on the roster.
Miller has been just as good as Redd from downtown, and he's also filled the boxscore in other ways. In fact, Redd and Miller have often assisted on each other's baskets during camp. The two of them could see time together on the second unit, to really make defenses pay for packing it in the lane.
Prince's shooting has been a bit inconsistent, but he's the best defensive player in camp. There's probably room for him on the 12-man roster, but he may not see significant playing time.
When asked about Durant on Friday, Coach K said that the rookie was getting better every day, but then added, "For us, it will just be a choice of who we need right now." That seems to indicate that Durant is not likely to make the roster. But of course, he'll be a big part of the USA Basketball program down the line.
With the lack of skilled bigs, Coach K will go with Anthony at the four in order to have his best players on the floor. That gives Team USA some extra offense in the starting lineup, but 'Melo will need to guard some bigger opponents, and he'll need to help out on the boards.
First of all, it's just great to see Amare at 100 percent this time around. Secondly, it's great to see how much his shooting has improved in the last couple of years. His offensive game is more complete than it has ever been. He'll start most games at the five, he'll get some easy baskets playing with the playmakers listed above, and he'll be asked to clog up the middle defensively.
Howard could start a game or two at the center spot. He's not nearly as good a shooter as Stoudemire is, but he'll grab his share of offensive boards and there's not a player in this tournament who can out-muscle him. He's a beast and if he puts himself in position to score, the guys handling the ball will find him.
If you assume that Durant isn't going to make the roster, then the last spot probably comes down to Chandler and Nick Collison. Chandler gives Team USA their biggest shot-blocking presence, should that be a need. The guy can go from one side of the lane to the other in a split second in order to erase any mistakes the perimeter defenders may make. But he's a true center, and the team may be want their fourth big to be able to play the four, since both Stoudemire and Howard are centers as well.
If Bosh was here, then there would probably be no room for Collison on the roster. And with Anthony starting at the four, Team USA probably feels it can go into this tournament with just three true bigs (although next year, they will most certainly go with four). Overall, Collison's play has been solid, and he's the best shooter of the true bigs. So, don't be too surprised if he makes the team over Chandler.
So that gives us a depth chart that looks something like this:
PG: Kidd, Billups, Williams
SG: Bryant, Redd
SF: James, Miller, Prince
PF: Anthony, Collison/Chandler
C: Stoudemire, Howard
That should be good enough to qualify for the 2008 Olympics (by finishing first or second in FIBA Americas). The Olympics, of course, will be tougher. So the presence of Bosh, Carlos Boozer and-or Elton Brand around would help tremendously next summer. Having Dwyane Wade come off the bench couldn't hurt either.