LAS VEGAS — The first week of U.S. Senior Men’s National Team training for the FIBA World Cup concluded on Friday with a scrimmage against the Select Team and a little bit of roster reshuffling.
After the Senior Team beat the Select Team 97-78 in the scrimmage, two players on the Senior Team were replaced by two players from the Select Team for the next phase of training camp — three practices and an exhibition game against Spain in Los Angeles.
Sent home from the Senior Team were center Bam Adebayo and forward Thaddeus Young. The 22-year-old Adebayo was one of the best rebounders in camp, but was probably a little too raw in comparison to the other bigs. Young, meanwhile, didn’t provide the shooting that the remaining power forwards on the roster do.
Added to the roster in their place were Marvin Bagley III and Derrick White, who impressed as members of Jeff Van Gundy’s Select Team. However, after being promoted to the Senior Team, Bagley decided to withdraw from the competition to focus on the upcoming NBA season.
White will join the 13 other healthy players from the Senior Team, along with Kyle Lowry (who is recovering from thumb surgery and missed all of this week’s camp) and Marcus Smart (who missed the last three days with a sore left calf).
From those 16 players, a 12-man roster will be selected for the World Cup. That roster doesn’t need to be finalized until a two days before the tournament begins on Aug. 31, a fact that USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has brought up multiple times this week. So he and the rest of the staff clearly won’t rush a final decision and it’s possible that the team will take more than 12 players with it from Los Angeles to Australia, where it will play three more exhibition games before heading to China.
“We’re going to be patient with the rest of the squad, because we have plenty of time,” Colangelo said Friday. “We want to make sure everyone gets a real shot, and I think the staff is sorting through all that. There’s something we like about every one of the players.”
Both Lowry and Smart are likely to make the final roster if they’re healthy, but the status of both is still very much in the air. Lowry is expected to be reevaluated by his doctor before the start of the L.A. camp, and Smart will see how he feels after a few days off.
Other sure things to make the final roster are Jayson Tatum (Friday’s leading scorer) and four of the five starters from the scrimmage: Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown and Khris Middleton, though Senior Team head coach Gregg Popovich said afterward that inferring too much into the starting lineup would be “an incorrect assumption.”
“We’re still trying to figure out how people fit together,” he continued. “You don’t always necessarily play your most talented guys together. It’s got to be a good mix. You got to have something coming off the bench also. What we’re doing now is just mixing and matching and taking a look at everybody.”
The status of guards De’Aaron Fox (who had 12 points and three steals on Friday), Joe Harris and White could depend on the health of Lowry and Smart. The frontline may have more questions than answers. Harrison Barnes is a pretty safe bet to make the roster, maybe leaving one roster spot between Kyle Kuzma and P.J. Tucker. The competition at center features Brook Lopez, Mason Plumlee and Myles Turner, who was the Senior Team’s starting center on Friday.
“There are going to be some players that are more talented than others, but a lot of jobs have to be filled,” Popovich said. “Overall, we’re looking for people who are committed defensively and are totally unselfish and are willing to move the ball and move themselves at the offensive end.”
With the Senior Team scoring just once on is first six possessions and with the Select Team bigs feasting inside, the young guys jumped out to an 8-2 lead on Friday. But the Senior Team got some stops and the second unit — Fox, Harris, Tatum, Kuzma and Lopez — took the lead for good with a 9-0 run to close the first quarter. The Select Team scored just 28 points over the second and third periods and it was a 30-point game going into the fourth.
Credit the Senior Team defense (which mixed in some 2-3 zone), though it should be noted that the Select Team was lacking shooters (it finished 3-for-26 from 3-point range) and running plays that they’d seen all week.
Tatum was the offensive star, scoring a game-high 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting in just 15:44 off the bench. His biggest highlight on Friday was a late-third-quarter spin move to a left-handed scoop in traffic. But he has shot well most of the week, looking to be in midseason form despite not having played an NBA game in almost three months.
“I just tried to come in the best shape as I could,” he said. “I just tried to get in a rhythm before I got out here.”
Though Popovich was quick to dismiss Friday’s starting lineup as non-news, it’s easy to see Tatum staying in that sixth man role, where he could provide some scoring punch off the bench.
“He was very aggressive tonight,” Popovich said. “We really like that about him and need that from him.”
A foundation has been set. But there’s still a long way to go before this team is ready for real competition. Developing chemistry, so that the talent can really flourish within the system, takes time.
“Everybody here is really talented and has a high IQ,” Tatum said. “We all know how to play basketball. We did a lot of great things on the fly today, but it’s going to get better with time.”
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