It’s been a big week for basketball in Chicago, with Nike’s World Basketball Festival and Global Challenge in town, and it’s all built up to this game, as the United States continues its preparations for the World Championships. The location holds special significance for four Chicagoans with the program: head coach Mike Krzyzewski, chairman Jerry Colangelo, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis. Look for big performances out of the two South Siders, who should start the game against Brazil.
The excitement surrounding Rose’s health and prominent role on this team has been palpable, and he appears to be operating at full physical capacity and mentally hyped to get going. Though his minutes shouldn’t be too heavy, as Krzyzewski rotates guys in and out and will try and keep legs fresh, expect Rose to put on a positive display at the United Center.
“He’s one of the best guys in the whole world,” said Krzyzewski of Rose. “He’s so easy to coach and wants to please. It’s very neat to see how excited he is about being here in his first game back. As a Chicagoan, I’m ecstatic about him and what Tom [Thibodeau] has done for the Bulls.”
Colangelo echoed Krzyzewski's sentiments.
“For [Derrick] now to come back tomorrow night in front of a sellout crowd, looking like he’s on the way back in a big way, that has to be really exciting for him," said Colangelo. "It should be a self-confidence builder for him and a big self-confidence builder for the fans when they see him, too.”
Davis took it easy during Friday’s practice with a sore neck, but is expected to play tonight and start at center. Davis was hurt both times New Orleans traveled to play Chicago during his first two years, so this will be Davis' first time playing at home since the 2011 McDonalds All-American Game. Given the frontcourt depth issues Team USA has had, he's now the most important member of the team and will be the key to the American defense.
“We’re expecting a lot from Anthony,” said Colangelo. “He’s coming into his own, he’s already established himself in the NBA, but this could be a big tournament for him and also a confidence-builder going forward. He could be one of the dominant players in the NBA in a couple years.”
Who steps up?
You’ll see a lot of different looks from Team USA tomorrow night, with 15 players available and roster decisions still being made, so don’t read too much into who gets how much playing time. The takeaway here comes from the look of the offense, which required tinkering after Kevin Durant left the team on August 7.
“We don’t have a lot of time together, we have a four-day training camp,” said Krzyzewski, regarding Team USA’s stay in Las Vegas. “You put in something to really showcase Kevin — which he should be — and then you don’t have that, and have a two-day preparation to start your tour. Putting new things in, it’s not what you would want, but that’s what you have. Hopefully we’ll find out some things by trying some new things that will help us.”
Krzyzewski mentioned that prior to the knee injury DeMarcus Cousins suffered Thursday, he’d begun installing packages to feature the Sacramento Kings star in the low post. Reading between the lines, if Cousins is fully healthy — he says he’ll be back on the court next week — he’ll be a part of the rotation. In the interim, watch how the post players are used. Without Cousins, the formidable American backcourt will be relied upon to create offense. Look for Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kyrie Irving to take turns doing the heavy lifting.
“With [Durant], you did a lot offensively, he attracts so much attention,” Krzyzewski added. “When he’s at the four internationally, he’s hard to guard anyway, but he creates spacing that opens things up for everybody. The court shrinks a little bit with him not being in, and we’ll have to rely a bit more on our perimeter — and our perimeter’s outstanding.”
Brazil poses a legitimate challenge to the United States, with a veteran group of players that know how to work together. Krzyzewski reiterated Friday that he considers them one of the toughest teams in the upcoming tournament. Brazil head coach Ruben Magnano guided Argentina to Olympic gold in 2004, defeating the U.S. in the semifinals. Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter have all had solid NBA careers, and with USA Basketball still working out some kinks, the Americans could be in for a fight.
“We’ve gained a very healthy respect over these last eight or nine years for the international community,” said Krzyzewski. “That’s why we prepare as hard as we do.”
Men in the Middle
With Cousins sitting out, the game presents a major opportunity for Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond to prove themselves as they battle for one of the final spots. It should also mean more playing time for Kenneth Faried, who likely has some work to do if he wants to stay around and will get a chance to demonstrate his value against taller opponents in the international game.
At the moment, it seems like Plumlee may have a slight edge on Drummond as the third center. Reports that he was ahead of Cousins prior to Kevin Durant leaving the team — which necessitated some restructuring of the offense and increased the value of Cousins’ skill set — can only be a good sign. Having played under Coach K at Duke and understanding what he wants to do helps his case, Plumlee should be able to step in if needed and play a role after a solid rookie campaign with the Nets.
If selection was based on raw talent, Drummond would be well ahead here. He’s a physical specimen and a load on the inside. He’ll be a big part of the team in the future and the national team experience can only help him. A strong performance Saturday could make the backup center decision a lot tougher. And remember, Davis stuck around during the 2012 Olympics as the national team groomed him for the current World Cup. Perhaps there could be similar reasoning with the Pistons center, who turned 21 just last week.