Posted Jul 23 2010 9:24AM
LAS VEGAS -- Through three days of USA Basketball camp, just two roles have been defined among the 19 players looking to make the 12-man roster for the FIBA World Championship. Kevin Durant is the go-to scorer. Chauncey Billups is the veteran leader.
Everything else is TBD.
Progress is being made, but the process of choosing a team and forming an identity is a slow one. This is not the 2008 Olympic team, where the 12 players were chosen before camp began, and where most of them had played together for a year or two already.
"In '08, we knew exactly who we were as a team and everybody played off each other," USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said after Thursday's camp session. "Right now, people are trying to learn to play with one another. It's way too early to know who we're going to be.
"We have a month [to prepare], and we really think it's going to take us a month. It's not a matter of a week or 10 days of getting ready. So we're going to take the time in New York, use the exhibition games as part of our process. But we'll be ready for Turkey."
Part of an identity has already been forced upon them. Amar'e Stoudemire's insurance situation and David Lee's injury mean that they're going to have to play small at times and out-quick their opponents, with guys like Lamar Odom, Kevin Love and Gerald Wallace (if they make the team) playing some minutes at center.
Most of the roster's talent is at the point guard and small forward positions. So ones will also play the two, and threes will also play the two and four.
The staff hasn't put in much of the offense yet, but what has been incorporated takes the roster's versatility into account. Multi-dimensional players will be asked to grab the rebound and go, in order to take advantage of transition opportunities. In half-court situations, Team USA will run multiple ball screens using whatever combination of players is in position.
"When Rudy [Gay] and I are in or when [Durant] and I are in, we're pretty much interchangeable, depending on where the point guard wants us," Andre Iguodala said. "We're just playing off each other. We're making the right reads."
"Whoever's down the floor first plays the four and whoever comes up is going to play the three," Durant added. "Guys like me, Rudy, Andre, Lamar, we all can play multiple positions. I think that's what's going to make us unique on the floor, how everybody can get the rebound and go, pass, shoot and score."
Versatility will also be critical defensively. Not only can athletic forwards like Gay and Iguodala help the guards put pressure on the opponent in the backcourt, but with interchangeable parts on the floor together, screens can be switched without creating mismatches.
Odom epitomizes the versatility theme. At 6-foot-10, he's almost exclusively a four with the Lakers, playing alongside Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum on the frontline. But his skill set is not that of a prototypical power forward.
"I'm a basketball player," he said. "I don't have a true position. Whatever you need me to do. If this was baseball, they would call me a utility guy.
"I've always looked at basketball like that. Do as many things as possible. That way you can help the team. What about if you're off shooting? You've got to rebound, still defend. That's the game of basketball."
Of course, there's a downside to all this versatility. Colangelo and Krzyzewski are going to have a difficult decision in sending seven guys home. Some cuts will be made after Saturday's intra-squad scrimmage, but how many there will be and at what positions is still very much up in the air.
"It's too early to say how many we bring [to New York for the second phase of camp] in numbers," Colangelo said. "Is it 15? We're not sure. We're fluid on that also, and that would include how many bigs."
Even without the stars of the '08 team, this team has plenty of talent in addition to its versatility. But before Aug. 28, chemistry and some defined roles are going to have to develop.
"Once we get down to 15 or once we get down to 12, that's when it's really going to sink in and guys are going to know their roles," Durant said. "Right now, it's just a feeling-out period and guys are getting better each day."
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