Sixteen players to choose from. Only 12 roster spots available. And merely 10 more days of practices and exhibition games to collect sufficient on-court data to break any ties.
That is what coach Mike Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo face starting Aug. 13 in Chicago, up until they board the Team USA plane bound for Spain on Aug. 23, in choosing the dozen players who will represent the United States at the inaugural FIBA World Cup.
Tuesday's release of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap, in the wake of the devastating compound leg fracture that felled Paul George, is only Phase 1. To get you (and the USA Basketball bosses) ready for the tough choices ahead -- four more cuts on top of the various emotional challenges after what happened to the well-liked George -- we've broken it all down here by position:
Any lingering doubt about his athletic explosion or his status on this team was eradicated by the end of the first day of practice in Las Vegas. It's hard now to see Rose as anything other than the starter at the point against Finland in Team USA's first group game in Bilbao on Aug. 30, especially after the early show he put on in Friday's night ill-fated intrasquad scrimmage.
Look for him to spend plenty of time at shooting guard, even though he's listed here with the other 1s. His boundless range, versatility, previous experience in this competition . . . Curry is a franchise player with this group, just like he is in Oakland.
The sight of Irving starting opposite Rose in the intrasquad scrimmage was the latest indication that he has a spot sewn up. He can't yet make the defensive impact that Wall could have, and isn't quite as flammable offensively as a locked-in Damian Lillard, but USA Basketball regards Irving as a big part of this going forward. Hard to see Coach K leaving him home in those circumstances.
ON THE BUBBLE
It's not inconceivable that Krzyzewski keeps all four of these guys after letting Wall go, especially given Lillard's aforementioned flammability as a shooter. But four lead guards on a roster of 12 could well be one too many. If so, Lillard losing out to Irving -- one of Coach K's longtime faves -- is the safest forecast.
There were actual plaudits emanating from Sin City about Harden's efforts defensively last week after his (bad segue alert) borderline sinful showing on that end for the Rockets last season. The Beard, mind you, probably would be in the starting lineup against Finland if he doesn't guard a soul for the rest of the month. He's one of the world's greatest scorers, and in this group of Team USA newcomers, one of the trusted vets.