NEW YORK -- Three thoughts from Team USA's 112-86 win over Puerto Rico in the U.S.’ final exhibition before cutting its roster to 12 ahead of the FIBA World Cup.
• Derrick Rose should be on Team USA -- just not as a starter. Rose played as expected in Friday’s final stateside exhibition, but he didn’t start. In fact, he wasn’t even the first man off the bench, checking in shortly after Klay Thompson and Rudy Gay entered the game with 4:29 left in the first quarter. The U.S. brain trust of Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo has repeatedly gone out of its way to support Rose the last few weeks -- but actions speak louder than words. And despite being healthy enough to play Friday, Rose wasn’t deemed ready enough to start.
Make no mistake, this isn’t an instance of tough love. The U.S. desperately wants Rose to make the trip to Spain and contribute. But as its starting lineup indicated against Puerto Rico, the U.S. isn’t willing to sacrifice winning games just to accommodate Rose. Why’s that? Team USA currently has better options at its disposal. Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving are both talented enough to be ahead of Rose on the depth chart if the latter is still recovering, and that’s exactly the case. The U.S. wants Rose on its team -- but most likely as a sparkplug reserve, not a leading man.
At Thursday’s practice, Rose told reporters that he sees the FIBA World Cup as an opportunity to "knock off some rust." That residue was still apparent in Friday’s game. Rose showed flashes of brilliance, but he also was caught huffing and puffing after just a few trips up and down the court. As Rose admitted himself at practice Thursday, he's still fighting to get his legs back under him, marking the final step in his road to recovery.
Krzyzewski said he was pleased with Rose’s performance on Friday and feels good about having the former MVP on the team -- as long his knee is willing.
“I feel very confident about Derrick. I think Derrick feels very confident,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought he played great tonight. These guys want to play with him. That’s part of it. Part of getting back is being around a group of your peers. These guys are his peers, who want (him) to be really good.”
In all, Rose played 13 minutes, scoring six points (2-of-3 FG) and adding four assists and two rebounds with no turnovers. If the Rose of old was an unstoppable force, Friday’s version capped out at a controlled push. Still, even a recovering Derrick Rose might be too good to keep off this team.
Coach K said he plans to bring 12 players to Spain -- not 13 with an alternate essentially serving as insurance for Rose. That means barring a setback for Rose following Friday’s game, the Bulls point guard will be heading to Spain as a member of Team USA.
• Big men, big problems. No one was ever going to confuse Team USA's frontcourt with the second coming of Bird, McHale and Parrish -- but getting out pushed around by guard-dominated Puerto Rico? No one saw this, either.
The U.S. was out-rebounded in the first half and only won the battle of the boards 35-30 when the final horn sounded. The U.S. outscored Puerto Rico by 21 in the second half, but concerns about its frontline are not only warranted, but pressing. Anthony Davis is as advanced as any 21-year-old can be, but his slender shoulders might have to carry an even heavier load than expected in Spain. And unfortunately for the U.S., he can’t guard both Gasol brothers.
Outside of Davis, Team USA's big man options are Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee. Faried appears to be firmly cemented in the starting lineup and has looked like a nice complement to Davis. As for the rest? They've only shown flashes of competitiveness amid lengthy stretches of incompetency.
Krzyzewski said he plans to bring at least five “bigs” over to Spain, with the preference of bringing six. But Coach K said he’s keeping his options open when it comes to formulating his roster.
“If there is someone that can play a stretch four on the perimeter we try and look at (them as a big), too,” he said.
Due to injuries, excused absences and late withdrawals, this is the hand Team USA has been dealt. Coach K will make the most of his cards -- but you can only do so much when you're dealt 2-7 off-suit.
• Final predictions for Team USA's 12-man roster. The sixteen players currently on the U.S. roster won’t find out until Saturday morning whether they are making the trip to Spain. Here are my final predictions based off the last few exhibitions and what Krzyzewski and Colangelo have said in the last 48 hours:
Guards: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Derrick Rose
Centers: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee
I wrote on Thursday that I don't think Rose should be playing in the FIBA World Cup, but all parties who actually matter (sorry, me) sound dead-set on the recovering point guard playing in Spain. Due to Rose's injury past, Team USA's depth at the point and the rigorous FIBA schedule, I just don't think it makes a ton of sense for Rose to test his surgically repaired knee in Spain. This is a player who has already been robbed of several years of his prime -- why risk missing any more time for a team that can win gold without you?
Unlike Kevin Durant or Paul George, the U.S. has a wealth of riches to replace Rose, although no point guard is quite like Rose when healthy. Still, Curry, Irving and Lillard are all All-Star point guards fully capable of leading the U.S. in Spain.
Should Rose decide to bow out at the last minute -- he didn’t speak with reporters after Friday’s game -- Damian Lillard is a logical replacement, having a similar game and the versatility to help out as a bit contributor.
Coach K has said he envisions an eight- or nine-man rotation in Spain, with the other players on roster serving complementary roles and rounding out the team. Under these projections, my eight "core" players would be Curry, Irving, Harden, Rose, Thompson, Faried, Gay and Davis. Cousins and Plumlee would likely split time as the first true "big" off the bench, pending on the matchup.
“Obviously with 16 guys, it’s a little unsure for each guy about what’s going to happen going forward,” Curry said. “So (Saturday) will be a big day. Once we get to Spain and allow that chemistry and growth as a team, we’ll be ready to go once the ball tips against Slovenia.”