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Team USA: Who Should Make the World Cup Roster?

With a pool of 16 players to pick from, who should make the final cut?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The narrative surrounding the United States roster for the upcoming Men’s World Cup has largely centered around the abundance of top talent that’ll be absent. While this is true, the U.S. still has a bevy of talent and good players to chose from. As of now, the pool of players has dwindled down to 16 after the promotion of De’Aaron Fox from the Select squad to the big-league team.

So, the pool to choose from now includes (left to right, bottom to top): Khris Middleton, Kyle Kuzma, Myles Turner, Brook Lopez, Bam Adebayo, Mason Plumplee, Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Marcus Smart, Harrison Barnes, Thad Young, De’Aaron Fox, Kyle Lowry, Joe Harris, Jaylen Brown, and P.J. Tucker.

Of that group, there are still four cuts to be made. Without the overwhelming top-level talent, these are tough decisions. In a lot of cases, you’re choosing between proven veterans who could fill a specific need and young players who have shown flashes but haven’t quite put it all together yet.

Ever since the disastrous 2004 Olympics experience, Team USA has made a more concerted effort to put together a team that fits together, not necessarily just placing the best individual talents on the team. There’s little reason to expect that to change.

The Locks

Kemba Walker: This one’s pretty easy. He’s the best player in camp. He’s in.

Kyle Lowry: As long as Lowry’s thumb is okay, he’s the second best player there. He’s also a shoe in, and the kind of pass first guard that is beneficial on an international team.

Donovan Mitchell: Mitchell’s the best pure scorer on the team, and Jazz combo guard will be relied upon to create looks for himself, as well as others, in end-of-shot-clock situations.

Khris Middleton: Middleton is the best true wing player in camp. He’s a decent defender, and the FIBA three-point line could really benefit him much in the way it used to benefit Carmelo Anthony. A lot of the long-twos that Middleton will be threes in international play.

Jayson Tatum: The next best player in camp, and a wing with serious two-way star potential. On a team with a lot of really, really good role players, Tatum’s scoring ability will be necessary for Team USA to bring home the gold.

Myles Turner & Brook Lopez: Both of these guys provide elite rim protection and floor spacing. Turner is more comfortable from the FIBA three-point line area than the NBA line, and I’m already dreaming of the idea of watching Splash Mountain bomb away from deep.

The Best of the Rest

With those seven spaces filled up, there are obviously 5 left up for grabs. The current “locks” are comprised of: two point guards, one combo guard, two wings, and two bigs. The nice part about this is we don’t necessarily need to pick players based on positional need moving forward, but more so in terms of talent and fit. Let’s go one-by-one.

De’Aaron Fox: He may be the most recent addition to the talent pool, but that shouldn’t lead anyone to believe that Fox is the worst player in this pool. He’s not, and early returns are that his speed and explosiveness have been on full display.

While Walker, Lowry, and Mitchell are all capable ball-handlers, having another point guard to break down and defense and find open teammates could be extremely valuable. If NBA athletes can’t keep Fox in front, then most of the FIBA competition will be hopeless.

Verdict: Makes the cut

Marcus Smart: Here’s Marcus Smart in a nutshell, he’s going to make life a living hell for the opposition’s best scorer and generally make the winning plays that don’t show up on the stat-sheet. However, his shooting (or lack-thereof) will hurt you on offense. It’s a give-and-take that generally (always) works out to the advantage of the Celtics, and likely would too for Team USA.

Verdict: Makes the cut

Jaylen Brown: The fourth Celtics’ player in camp, Brown is a borderline one for me. In theory, he’s a solid three-and-D wing. However, Team USA isn’t exactly short on players who can fill that role. His low basketball IQ is concerning in a tournament like this, and I believe that Team USA would be better off with players who are elite at a few skills as opposed to Brown who is average-to-slightly-above-average at multiple things.

Verdict: Does not make the cut

Bam Adebayo: Bam is probably the biggest unknown of the bunch, due to his lack of significant playing time in Miami. He’s turned heads at camp though, and the freak athlete looks to be much, much more than that.

While some may scoff at having a third big man on the roster, that still leaves six spots (total) for the wing-ish players. That seems like plenty, given the upside that Adebayo provides, as well as the value added from getting one of the pieces of the future for USA basketball some more experience with the coaching staff.

Verdict: Makes the cut

Kyle Kuzma: This was the easiest cut for me. Kuz provides scoring ability, but the lack of consistent shooting and horrible defense make him an easy pass for me. Maybe the shooting comes around eventually, but for now, Kuz feels like the least likely player to make the final squad.

Verdict: Does not make the cut

Mason Plumlee: Plumlee is a really nice, versatile player who would likely excel in an international setting. It doesn’t make much sense for Team USA to keep four bigs on the roster, and it feels like that third big man spot would be better used on the aforementioned Adebayo.

Verdict: Does not make the cut

Thad Young: Thad is one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and he and Turner formed one of the most fearsome defensive front courts this past season. He’s sort of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type player, but the one position where Team USA could potentially be thin at is the four. Young would fill that position admirably by scoring when he needs to and playing top-shelf defense.

Verdict: Makes the cut

Joe Harris: Harris’ inclusion in camp is for one reason, and one reason only: the guy is a lights out shooter. He doesn’t offer a ton else, but his shooting is so good that it could swing a game or two for the United States. He’s definitely not the most high-profile name of the bunch, but his shooting would be welcome on a team otherwise absent a legitimate knockdown shooter.

Verdict: Makes the cut

Harrison Barnes & P.J. Tucker: This is the most interesting player battle to me, and I really have no idea who’s going to make the team between these two, although I’d be surprised if neither of them made it. Barnes is a little bit bigger (read: taller) while Tucker is stronger and plays more within a defined role. One of these guys will likely backup Thad Young, if I had to guess. Given the other players on the roster, I think it makes more sense to have P.J. Tucker on the roster as another physical defensive presence who can knock down corner threes. Also, Tucker is just the more valuable player on a good team.

Verdict: Tucker makes the cut, Barnes does not make the cut

Final 12-man Roster

Given the decisions made above we’re left with (in some order):

PG: Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, De’Aaron Fox

SG: Donovan Mitchell, Marcus Smart, Joe Harris

SF: Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum

PF: Thad Young, P.J. Tucker

C: Brook Lopez, Myles Turner, Bam Adebayo

And... shoot, that’s 13 players. Out of this group, you could sell me on cutting any one of Fox, Smart, or Harris. Given these recent reports from Marc Stein, it seems like this decision might make itself.

This feels like a really good, balanced squad for Team USA without any glaring holes. The biggest concern could be one-on-one creation, but Kemba should account for most of that anyways, while Middleton has proven to be a dynamite isolation scorer and Mitchell is athletic enough to get a shot off if need be. There’s a good mix of playmaking and shooting, and this group should be stout defensively, especially on the interior. It’s far from the most talented team that Team USA has sent to international competition, but it should be good enough to bring home another gold medal. As an added bonus, we get a nice mix of veterans who have never gotten the shot to play for Team USA along with young guys who are the future of the program.