Former Duke Basketball players Kyrie Irving and Mason Plumlee have advanced pass the first round of roster cuts for the Team USA Men’s National Team. 20 players were practiced at a training camp in Las Vegas to try and make the final roster, which has now been trimmed down to 16 after practice, training camp, and an intrasquad USA Basketball Showcase scrimmage that was cut short due to an unfortunate and gruesome leg injury to Indiana Pacers star Paul George.
Only 19 players were invited to training camp, but Mason Plumlee was promoted from the USA Select Team, playing with his brother Miles, to join the USA Basketball Men’s National Team and compete for a spot. Team USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski made the decision to add Plumlee to the National Team roster after the first practice. This decision was made to add Plumlee for several reasons: because of his promising All-NBA Rookie season, his size and athleticism, his performance during the training camp, as well as more practically to make the teams even for drills and the scrimmage (two teams of 10 players) and to add to the frontcourt depth after LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love all backed out of the FIBA World Cup for various reasons.
Plumlee had a strong showing after starting off slowly in the Blue vs. White exhibition game finishing as the second leading scorer for the Blue team with 10 points, all in the 3rd quarter, to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 15 minutes of playing time off the bench. Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks is the first frontcourt player to be sent home, however Plumlee is still competing with NBA stars Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets), and Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons) for a spot at power forward/center on the final Team USA roster.
Nearly all reports seem to have Anthony Davis, the only big with any Team USA experience, as a lock to start at center for the FIBA World Cup team. Davis was a part of the US Men’s Team that won the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics. Many other sources have also noted that the backup center position will ultimately boil down to Mason Plumlee vs. DeMarcus Cousins, some experts arguing that Mason would be the better fit for the up-tempo and small-ball style that the US plays in international competition if they even choose to use another center (Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony both spent time playing center behind Tyson Chandler for the 2012 Olympic team, even though Anthony Davis was on the bench. He totaled only 53 minutes of playing time the entire tournament). Both players are 23 years old, but Cousins has much more NBA experience.
DeMarcus Cousins did also had a very strong scrimmage game, finishing as the only player to earn a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds as the starting center for Team USA White. Although Cousins is one of the best centers in the NBA, he has earned a reputation of having a bad attitude, being lazy defensively, and it’s tough to tell how effective he can be when he’s not the focal point on offense. However, if he is used as a go-to option on offense, then Cousins will definitely be able to succeed and has shown he can be the most efficient center in the NBA in that role.
I also won’t count out adding Kenneth Faried to use as the center off the bench, who is smaller but is well known for his energy and extremely high motor on both ends of the floor and not needing the touches offensively to be effective on that end of the court. He finished with 6 points and 7 rebounds for the Blue team.
When asked about finalizing the roster, Coach Mike Krzyzewski had this to say: “Then it’s just a matter of finding what chemistry that we can develop with the entire group and I don’t think we’ll know that until we play some exhibition games. The 16 guys give us a chance to look at a way of playing in a number of different ways and we just have to figure out what those ways are and then the 12 who will fit best”. There has been somewhat of an uproar made about the fact Plumlee is even being considered over Cousins, and comparing their statistics side-by-side it’s no contest that Cousins’ wins, but Coach Krzyzewski is simply looking for the best team fit and not necessarily the best talent. Mason Plumlee definitely has the advantage in terms of familiarity with Coach K from his time at Duke, but I don’t think that was the reason he was brought up from the Select Team nor should it be a major factor into why he should or should not make the team.
Plumlee would be a better fit for someone to come off the bench, bring energy and hustle into a game, play without the ball, pick-and-roll offense and defense, and be content to be the 11th or 12th man if needed. Cousins will be more suited for controlling the paint, bringing toughness, drawing double teams and create spacing for shooters, and getting to and converting at the free throw line. I believe Plumlee will have a good chance to make the team, but a lot will depend on who else Coach K and Jerry Colangelo choose to add to the bench, since the styles of play between Cousins and Plumlee is so different. Plumlee would be better suited to play with a dominant play-maker (especially if Coach K decides to use someone like James Harden off the bench instead of in the starting lineup), whereas Cousins could be the first option and and play well with role players off the bench. The debate will continue to go on until the final roster is released and it will be interesting to see who Team USA will choose between Plumlee and Cousins for the backup center position as they move on to the next training camp in Chicago.