You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who feels bad for Mike Krzyzewski. At Duke, he’s been one of the most successful college coaches of all time. In his summers, he has the privilege and honor of coaching the greatest collection of talent in the world when he takes the reins of Team USA. Add on that he doesn’t look like he’s aged in 25 years and there’s plenty to be envious of.
Coach K is in an unenviable position with at least one set of decisions for this summer’s FIBA World Cup roster. As it stands, there are five point guards in camp: Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving. Sure, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are staying home this summer. But all five in camp are All-Stars. One is a former MVP, one the best shooter in the world, the other three are rising stars just beginning to make their mark on the basketball world. With only 12 roster spots available, it’s hard to imagine Krzyzewski taking on any more than three point guards.
Who should make the cut?
Steph Curry is going to terrorize international competition. He shot 42.4 percent on 7.9 threes per game from beyond the NBA arc. At 22 feet, 1.7 inches, the FIBA line is about a foot-and-a-half shorter than the NBA’s 23-foot, 9-inch line. Every four years, Carmelo Anthony, who is a dead-eye mid-range shooter and an improving marksman from deep, goes absolutely bonkers on international competition, taking advantage of the short line to rain triples down on opponents. Just imagine what an other-worldly shooter like Curry can do with a line 18 inches closer to the hoop.
Last season, Curry jacked up 315 shots from 20-24 feet, according to NBA.com, and hit on 47.3 percent of them, including making 96 of 197 threes, good for a 62.5 effective field goal percentage. Could Curry raise his three point shooting up to 48 percent? Over 50? Melo hit on 50 percent of his threes last Olympics, so it wouldn’t be a shocker if Curry topped that.
Derrick Rose hasn’t been healthy for the better part of two years, and the basketball world misses him. So far, the reports out of Las Vegas have Rose looking as good as new. If he’s as healthy as he looks, there should be no question that Rose will be traveling to Spain in September. With Tom Thibodeau on the coaching staff, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a veteran of his defensive system on the roster. Plus, Rose is one of only two point guards in camp, along with Curry, that’s played in top level international competition. Based on the snippets being tweeted, Instagrammed and Vined from camp, it looks like Rose has his bounce and explosiveness back. Barring a setback, there’s no reason to think he won’t make the roster.
The Final Spot
With the veterans speaking for the first two point guard slots, that leaves the young guns to duke it out for the third and final opening. Irving and Lillard have pretty similar statistical profiles, shot charts and shot distribution. Lillard is a far better shooter, while Irving is a better finisher around the rim. Wall is the outlier of the three, with a devastating drive-and-kick game and a shaky outside jumper.
Where Wall stands out over the other two is his defensive ability. Not that he’s the best defender in the world, but his athleticism and defensive instincts are far beyond that of Lillard and Irving. Dame and Kyrie are pretty widely considered to be damaging defensive players. Both get lost on screens, lose their men off the ball and can’t shut anyone down one on one.
Wall’s length and speed will make him a disruptive force in Olympic play. Andre Iguodala made the 2010 and 2012 teams based off of his defensive ability, and while Wall isn’t at that defensive level he can create just as many problems.
The question is, does Wall’s athleticism give him the edge over Lillard’s shooting or Irving’s play making and explosive scoring outbursts? Well, Wall had the highest assist rate of the four guys who played last year (not including Rose, who was shaky before his season ended early). He was tied for best defensive rating and most defensive win shares with Curry. No one knows if Rose has learned to shoot from deep, so it could be a risk to have two non-shooters at the one with him and Wall.
Irving probably comes in third on the list, due to his mediocre shooting and awful defense. That leaves Wall and Lillard. There are more than enough shooters in camp, making Lillard somewhat redundant. So, even with a late invite, Wall should be the man left standing.
Things could shake out differently, due to injuries or withdrawals. But a final point guard rotation of Curry, Rose and Wall would be as good as it can get with the former Olympians sitting out the summer.