2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup Preview: USA

Photo: fiba.com

After the boisterous FIFA soccer World Cup in Brazil, a different kind of World Cup looms ahead in Spain. The winners of this year’s FIBA World Cup basketball competition in Spain will get an automatic trip to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Team USA, which was victorious in the 2010 FIBA World Cup in Istanbul, will be coached once again by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. The Americans have won four FIBA World Cup titles over the years, and this year could be another win for team USA. Right now, Spain looks like the Americans’ most formidable competitor, so anyone who likes to bet on basketball should keep a close eye on the Spaniards. Right now, Team USA has 15 players, but Coach K and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo have to narrow the squad down to 12 before the August 30 opener in Spain.

Team USA: Most Likely Starters

Coach K told Sports Illustrated that his strategy is to pick eight or nine core team members and then choose three or four more teammates to complement the core. Although they haven’t released an official roster, the starting rotation looks easy to predict:

  • Rudy Gay. After Kevin Durant pulled out of World Cup preparations, citing physical and emotional fatigue, Sacramento’s Rudy Gay called Colangelo and offered to take his place. Gay is a strong scorer who played for Team USA in 2010.
  • Anthony Davis. According to Colangelo, Coach K plans to put Davis at center. Davis is tremendously quick, and he and Gay should have no problem switching screens defensively, and offensively, Davis can easily clean up whenever Gay can’t get to the bucket.
  • Stephen Curry. In a team thick with guard talent, Stephen Curry has emerged as a Team USA lock. He’s a great outside shooter capable of sinking buckets far outside of the international three-point range. He can also create plays inside, averaging 8.5 assists per game during the 2013-2014 NBA season.
  • James Harden. At guard, Harden has an incredible ability to set up shots, and he’ll be happy to reconnect with his former teammate, Durant. Like George, he’ll have the luxury of being one of many scoring options, not the only hope for his team’s offense.
  • Derrick Rose. Despite two seasons of knee problems, Rose looked good at Team USA’s camp in Las Vegas. He’ll have to stay healthy enough to play a schedule that crams nine games into 16 days, but Coach K and his fellow players have raved about his performance.

Filling Out the Rotation

Sports Illustrated recently reported that Coach K had cut Paul Millsap, Bradley Beal and John Wall from the competition, and Paul George is out after breaking his leg on the first day of camp. Sixteen players remain on the squad, with ridiculous talent around the backcourt but slimmer pickings on the inside.

DeMarcus Cousins has played well during camp. Coach K praised his attitude during camp, but reporters also spotted him punching a wall pad in anger after a ball got away from him during a scrimmage. Most observers think he’s the best match for Marc Gasol, who’s playing for the Spanish squad this year, but Coach K might go with Mason Plumlee, a Duke alumnus, if he’s worried that Cousins is just too volatile.

Other questions include how many big guys Team USA wants to field. Kenneth Faried, a big guy who should fare well against Gasol, also fulfills Colangelo’s stated wish for an “energy guy” to enter the game and ignite a quick burst of scoring. In the end, Coach K seems to care less about size than agile movement, so it’s tough to say whether he’ll go with Andre Drummond or Damian Lillard. Lillard is a good outside shooter but a soft defender; Drummond is big, but he’s not the fastest guy on the court.

The Rest of the World

After Spain, Team USA’s biggest threat is Argentina, although Manu Ginobili’s injury is a huge setback for that team. 2010 finalist Turkey is ranked seventh, which means that a repeat of Istanbul is unlikely this year.

Looking ahead to the 2016 Olympics, Team USA’s roster should get a big boost when LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Jabari Parker and Kevin Love volunteer to play for their country. FIBA World Cup play isn’t the same as Olympic glory, but expect plenty of fireworks if Spain ends up hosting Team USA on its home court.