NEW YORK -- Three thoughts from Team USA's 105-62 win over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday in the first of two exhibitions at Madison Square Garden this week leading up to the FIBA World Cup:
• Let's talk about what didn't happen in Team USA's win first. Under different circumstances, the final minutes of Wednesday's exhibition would have given basketball fans chills. As the clock wound down at Madison Square Garden and the U.S. was comfortably cruising to a win, chants rained down from around the arena:
"DER-RICK RO-SE! DER-RICK RO-SE!"
Unfortunately, Rose wasn't coming off a dazzling performance on Broadway. Instead, he was coming off a DNP-CD on the bench. In an all-too-familiar situation, Rose sat out Wednesday's game, watching his teammates pull off the rout.
Maybe it was just a little lingering knee soreness. Maybe it was for only precautionary reasons, as Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and Rose alluded to. But the fact that Rose didn't play in Wednesday's exhibition -- or practice in the two days leading up -- feels a little more stomach-churning than just playing it safe.
"We wanted to look and get [a few guys] more minutes," Krzyzewski said. "You can't get 16 guys in. Thank goodness these guys have great attitudes. I know what Derrick Rose can do. He'll play Friday and we'll figure that out. Sixteen guys won't play Friday, either."
Rose echoed Krzyzewski's sentiments, explaining his decision to not play Wednesday had nothing to do with his injury past.
"I'm fine right now. It's not the knees," Rose said. "You don't have to worry about that."
If only it were that simple.
Rose participated in Wednesday morning's shootaround and was expected to play against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, but it was revealed shortly before tip-off that the former MVP wouldn't be playing as expected. Rose did play in USA's exhibition against Brazil on Saturday, marking his first live game action since November. But any goodwill built up from that 24-minute showing was washed away by his no-show Wednesday. This isn't just any player -- like, say DeMarcus Cousins -- missing a game due to precautionary reasons. This is an explosive guard reliant on his all-world athleticism coming off back-to-back season-ending knee injuries. To say you aren't concerned about Rose's knee right now is to say you aren't paying attention.
Team USA president Jerry Colangelo and Coach K are facing a host of difficult roster decisions -- ones Krzyzewski says they won't make until Friday. Among those choices is deciding what to do with the team's overloaded backcourt. With Rose's knee still an issue -- and the injury to Paul George still looming in the back of everyone's heads -- maybe Rose will help make the decision for them. Taking the next two months to prepare for the upcoming NBA season sure seems to make a lot more sense then testing your surgically repaired knee in a grueling two-week tournament overseas. As Rose admitted after Wednesday's game, this is the most basketball he's played in two years.
Coach K says he expects Rose to play on Friday against Puerto Rico. Then again, he expected him to play Wednesday against the Dominican Republic. Either way, it's fair to wonder whether Rose's body is up for the rigors of regularly playing basketball again.
"We'll find that out," Krzyzewski said. "We'll find that out in the next few days and before the tournament starts. We have time to find out."
• USA's search for trustworthy big men continues. With Kevin Durant abruptly exiting stage right last week, Coach K surprised many by inserting Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried into the starting lineup. U.S fans aren't accustomed to seeing "role players" (or maybe "non-superstars" is a better term) featured prominently in international competition -- but Faried might make more sense for the U.S. than you think.
Even without Durant, George, LeBron James, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love, this U.S. squad is still insanely talented. The team lacks for capable scoring options like Taylor Swift lacks for attention. Faried, to his credit, might be the most unique player on the roster. The 6-foot-8 forward is a phenomenal rebounder, averaging 11.7 boards per 36 minutes over his NBA career, and brings a spark at the beginning of games that's undeniable. His presence on the floor brings an energy to Team USA that no other player can provide, outside of Rose.
Faried made his second consecutive start Wednesday, registering a modest four points and five rebounds in 10 minutes. But you don't start a player like Faried if you're obsessing over a box score -- you play him based off what you see. Judging from Team USA's two first exhibition games, Coach K likes what he sees and the forward with the springbok vertical is here to stay.
• Final roster cuts could come down to perimeter defense. International basketball is dominated by guard play and the U.S. has an embarrassment of riches in that regard -- but what it doesn't have is a plethora of strong on-the-ball defenders. On Wednesday, the U.S. trotted out a three-guard lineup of James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving -- essentially a three-headed doormat when it comes to locking down skilled opponents.
But the team's bench brings a steady supply of reinforcements. Among the stronger options include Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and DeMarDeRozan. Then there's the debate between Gordon Hayward, who played intermittently Wednesday, and veteran Kyle Korver, who didn't play at all. Will both make the U.S. roster? Will one? Will none?
If all else is equal, Team USA might be wise to keep whoever is the strongest perimeter defender. With Paul George no longer roaming the wing and Anthony Davis serving as the team's only talented rim protector, perimeter defense will be at a premium in Spain.
Krzyzewski said there isn't one specific trait he's looking for in the final cuts. Instead he's just trying to figure out how many he can keep.
"There's no criteria," he said. "These guys are top-level pros."