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Who will be Team USA 2019 leader in China?

A little bit away from NBA, FIBA 18th World Cup tournament will take place this summer in China from 31st of August to 15th September. Unfortunately, some of the best European teams failed to qualify because of the bad timing of the qualifying games. Yet the World Cup will offer us some good level basketball until we eagerly wait for the new NBA season to start.

Team USA will miss the biggest stars, as traditionally they pass these tournaments and reserve their efforts for the national glory for the Olympics. NBA is a league so deep in talent though, that it can easily produce 5 or 10 teams to compete with the rest of the world. The Americans are low favourites to win the tournament, but let’s put that aside for the time being and take a look at their training camp roster at this time. A few players will be cut from this list as the final roster of every team consist of just 12 players.

Team USA 2019 training camp roster:

Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics, F), Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets, C), Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics, g, questionable with minor injury), Thaddeus Young (Chicago Bulls, F), Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings, G), Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers, G-F), Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks, C), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors, G), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks, G), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, G), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, G-F), P.J. Tucker (Houston Rockets, F), Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers, C), Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics, G), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat, C), De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, G).

What catches the eye at first sight in this broad roster? Forward and especially guard lines are somewhat thin and lacking depth. Team USA have never really relied and played around a dominating center player since Shaq days, so the center position is ok. The forward rotation is still very decent, albeit lacking superstar names. Probably Middleton, Barnes, Tucker and both Celtics youngsters will utilize the bulk of the minutes in frontcourt. It’s not a bad mix of players for these positions actually, they got enough two-ways skills to prevail any opponent’s line.

 

And we come to the backcourt. There were some question marks around Kemba Walker’s willingness to participate in the tournament. For now, the player is still committed though. Even this way, the load should be carried by the three of them: Walker, Lowry and Mitchell. Kuzma and Tatum can play some minutes at shooting guard position, but still. It’s way better to have one more natural guard in the roster, which will give them 4-men rotation.

The most obvious candidate is the young and upcoming Kings’ star De'Aaron Fox. Fox has put himself in legitimate contention for a final roster spot that he wasn’t initially considered for. That situation quickly changed when player after player at the backcourt positions from the established pool turned down the chance to compete for USA in China. With James Harden, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, and Eric Gordon no longer in play by their own choice, Fox was called up from the program’s large select team roster. It would be up to his commitment and readiness to convince Popovich and the rest of the training staff that he deserves the spot.

A few reporters have been quite impressed with Fox’s performance in the team’s practices and scrimmages in Las Vegas. The player evidently wants the spot in the final roster and the chance to emerge as the next Team USA young star in the making, as many superstars before him. Since USA Basketball took steps to change its selection program after a shocking loss in the 2004 Olympics, the World Cup competition has been largely fulfilled by younger stars in the making. In 2010 USA sent Kevin Durant (then 21 years old), Russell Westbrook (21), Derrick Rose (21), and Stephen Curry (22) to Turkey. In 2014 it was Harden (24), Anthony Davis (21), DeMarcus Cousins (23), and Andre Drummond (21), who joined a team led by Rudy Gay (28) as its oldest player. 2019 team has a few grizzled veterans in Lowry and Lopez’ faces of course, yet there’s more than enough spotlight for the young players to take center stage.

Well, let’s not jump overboard here. Even if he makes the final roster, Fox will hardly be in a position to dominate the way that Durant did in 2010 or Harden and Davis did in 2014. He will be in a position to grow though. The expansion of USA National Team Basketball as a program has been possible mainly because of its value as a staging area for the upcoming NBA stars in the making. This is where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh sketched out the plan of a super-team. It may not be quite the same without the program’s full range of superstars, saving their efforts for the bigger Olympic games stage, but the national team remains a high-value training ground for the professionals to meet and compare notes. Even more so now, under Popovich reign, as Pop is widely considered the best NBA coach in the last 2 decades, at least. The World Cup is a kind of longer All-Star event, lighter on the star’s part but heavier on the basketball side of things. For what it takes, China games will provide a lot of entertainment for all the basketball fans around the globe.

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