On Friday night, basketball’s worst nightmare became a reality. Toward the end of a meaningless scrimmage, Paul George, one of the game’s brightest stars, suffered a catastrophic leg injury, likely ending his 2014-2015 season and putting his career in question.
The Team USA scrimmage during which this injury took place was stopped out of respect to George, and the entire basketball world offered its support to the Pacers’ All-Star. The FIBA World Cup is creeping closer, though, and Mike Krzyzewski and his staff need to regroup to get the Yanks ready to go for gold in Spain.
George was a lock to make the team and would almost certainly have been a part of Coach K’s best crunch time unit thanks to his lockdown defense and expanding offensive game. A frontcourt of George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis would have been a defensive purist’s dream come true, but the USA Basketball brain trust is going to have to choose someone from the player pool to fill that spot.
The options are varied and present some interesting choices. A few of the players on the list, like James Harden and Klay Thompson, were highly likely to be heading to Spain before George’s injury. Without George to man the wing, it seems pretty likely that those two will be on the floor late in games, along with Durant and Davis and whichever point guard earns the nod from Krzyzewski. Thompson is a solid defender and a top-notch shooter, while Harden possesses more offensive creativity than just about anyone on the team.
Who will claim George’s roster spot? It’s not an easy hole to fill, obviously. George is a player capable of guarding shooting guards through power forwards, especially in the international game. He probably would have struggled trying to contain one of Marc and Pau Gasol against Spain, but only one country has the Gasol brothers.
In terms of versatility, Parsons or DeRozan are among the best choice’s. Like George, both spent the majority of their playing time at small forward, while Chandler has some experience playing at power forward and DeRozan at shooting guard, where George occasionally shifts down to. While Chandler is not a good defender, he has the length to at least cause some issues for opponents. DeRozan and Chandler both have some off-the-bounce ability on the other side of the floor, averaging 7.2 and 6.2 drives per game last season, respectively, according to NBA.com’s player tracking. Those are defined as a play starting 20 or more feet from the hoop with the player dribbling to within 10 feet.
As Russell Peddle mentioned in his homage to George, PG is an excellent catch-and-shoot player. hitting 43.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot three pointers and registering a 60.8 effective field goal percentage on all catch-and-shoot attempts. Thompson and Korver are two of the most prolific CNS players in the league, shooting 43.6/59.9 percent and 49.9/71.4, respectively. Having that kind of shooting will definitely come in handy, even if it’s not what PG is known for. Korver is nowhere near as one-dimensional player as his public perception, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe detailed last week, so his screening and passing would likely play just as big of a role as his shooting would in Spain. Beal is a notch below Thompson and Korver here, at 44.3/58.2, but could still very well slide into a bench role.
It’ll be difficult to match George’s athleticism, an area where the USA nearly always has the edge. DeRozan is the high-flyer remaining in the wing group, although none of the others are known for their outstanding athleticism. Beal is a blossoming star, Hayward would likely thrive in an environment where he’s not counted on to handle too much responsibility, but neither has the size or versatility to make up for PG’s absence.
Of course, Coach K could always go the other direction and try to get bigger without George. That matchup against Spain looms large, and having more bodies to throw out the host nation's hermanos isn't a bad idea. Paul Millsap probably doesn't have the size or defensive chops to hang with the Gasols, but his shooting ability makes him an intriguing option at the 4. It could also allow the team to bring along whoever of DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond or Mason Plumlee would have originally been cut.
It seems likely that Coach K is going to use a committee of wings to fill the spot. If I have to choose, I would say Parsons is a distinct possibility for his size and playmaking ability, while Korver could now find himself with a roster spot thanks to his shooting and unstoppable motor.
No matter who makes the trip, there’s no doubt that Team USA will sorely miss George’s presence.