Examining Team USA's cuts of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap
As Team USA moves to Chicago in its continued preparation for the FIBA World Cup, four members of this year's tryout pool will not be making the trip. One of them is Paul George, who suffered a broken leg in USA Basketball's open scrimmage on Friday and won't likely play basketball for the next year. The other three exclusions represent the first roster cuts of this tournament cycle: John Wall, Paul Millsap and Bradley Beal.
The field then narrows to 16, meaning four cuts are still to come in establishing a 12-man roster for competition in Spain. Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Derrick Rose look to be locks for the final 12, leaving just seven available spots between Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, DeMar DeRozan, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee. Talented players will be cut from the team, as was the case with Wall, Millsap and Beal in this first trimming of the roster.
Wall, despite his standout performance in the NBA, has never been prominent in USA Basketball's plans. He wasn't even included in the original 28-player pool announced back in January, a group that included several younger guards of a lesser pedigree. He came to be included on the initial roster only after several guards had already dropped out, including Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. Working against Wall, in part, is his position; he plays at Team USA's most crowded spot, fighting against Curry, Rose, Irving, and Lillard for point guard duties this year. Those are terrific players, all, but with only 12 roster spots in total and less security at other positions, there was no need for five point guards in the mix. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski preferred those four to Wall, marking the end of the 23-year-old's stint with Team USA this summer.
Fair or not, Wall's exclusion was not a surprise. Were he valued more highly by USA Basketball he would have been brought into the program sooner. Wall was a participant in the program's mini-camp last summer and still left off of the initial 28-man roster, which didn't exactly bode well for his making the final cut this summer. There is some reason for stylistic concern regarding Wall, as the rules and style of international basketball make it difficult to lean on perimeter players without reliable shooting tough. Wall fits that description. Even after making big strides as a standstill shooter this past season (Wall upped his long-range accuracy to a nearly average 35.1 percent overall), he's nowhere near the floor spacer that Curry, Irving or Lillard would be. That matters greatly when opponents are allowed to camp in the lane and play true zone defense on a court design pulled inward by the shorter three-point line. Things can get crowded when playing under FIBA-style rules, and Wall's lack of shooting and iffy decision making in tight quarters pose a legitimate problem. Colangelo and Krzyzewski clearly see it as enough of one to take a collection of other guards -- each with their own weaknesses -- instead.
Beal faced an even tougher road to making this year's team, as his primary value (three-point shooting) is eclipsed within the roster by Thompson and Korver among others. Among this lot Beal would be a specialist of sorts, used as a pressure release on the perimeter when some initial action was crowded or broke down. Within that specialty, though, Beal runs up against a better defender in Thompson and a more potent pure shooter in Korver. Even before accounting for more versatile wings like Hayward and Parsons, that status put Beal at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of making the roster this summer. The leaders of USA Basketball understand this, and I suspect his inclusion on the roster has more to do with future international competitions than this one in particular.
Millsap, like Wall, was not included on USA Basketball's initial training camp roster. According to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, Millsap volunteered for Team USA specifically in response to the 11th hour withdrawals of Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, which in tandem left the national team short on versatile bigs. Colangelo and Krzyzewski took Millsap up on his offer -- which came just a day before the first pre-camp meeting, per Schuhmann -- only to include him in the first wave of cuts. This was the likely result all along given Millsap's walk-on status, although he seemed to have some slight chance of sticking around based on his unique comfort level in shooting and operating from the perimeter. That differentiation wasn't enough to earn Millsap a ticket to Spain, leaving some combination of Cousins, Drummond, Faried and Plumlee to fill in reserve minutes behind Durant and Davis.