Team USA is preparing for the FIBA World Cup, which begins at the end of the month in Spain. Reports are flying out of the Las Vegas camp about the projected roster, with the big news Thursday that Mason Plumlee is likely to make the roster, while DeMarcus Cousins is not. This news has specific implications for one of the stars of the Team USA camp: New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis.
USA is in Group C in the upcoming tournament, along with the Dominican Republic, Finland, New Zealand, Ukraine, and Turkey. Of particular interest in the group is Turkey, the team with the most recognizable talent in the group. Turkey will be bringing a wealth of talent from the Turkish league and the NBA with them, headlined by Davis’s new frontcourt partner with the Pelicans, Omer Asik.
Both Pelicans players will have the chance to be the centerpieces of their respective teams, which makes FIBA action must-watch for Pelicans fans. Davis and Asik will get plenty of chances to impress on the international stage, and this should make for a nice teaser for what the Pelicans’ starting frontcourt could do next season.
Davis’ role on Team USA is particularly interesting due to the lack of frontcourt depth the squad will have. LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin have all pulled out of the camp for various reasons, although Love could rejoin the mix. DeMarcus Cousins appears to be on the chopping block for coach Mike Krzyzewski. The current big men left in Team USA camp: Davis, Plumlee, Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap, and Kenneth Faried.
Davis is clearly the best player left among that group. A long, athletic combo post who can block shots, score in transition, and stretch the floor with a mid-range jumper is fairly ideal for international basketball, and Davis is one of the top five players in the league in terms of pure athleticism. Davis’s ability to play the 4 or 5 next to any of the other posts on roster, or as a small-ball 5 with Kevin Durant or Chandler Parsons at the 4, is perhaps his most intriguing quality.
Davis will be especially important because of this versatility, especially because he will likely be the best two-way post on the roster, in addition to being able to play both spots. Davis will likely have to be more of a scorer if paired with Drummond or Plumlee, and shoulder a brunt of the defensive load if paired with Faried or placed in a small-ball lineup. He can capably play both roles, but will definitely be a focal point for the team, as they will not have the talent level they are used to surrounding a player like Davis with in the post.
Turkey, meanwhile, has the opposite issue. Turkey’s two best players are arguably Asik and Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter, both post players with similar styles of play. Asik will likely get a majority of the minutes, but it will be interesting to see if Turkey attempts to play Asik and Kanter together, and what that could do for the team.
Asik’s talents will readily be on display for Pelicans fans to get familiar with. He is easily the best defensive player on the team, and might be the best defensive center in the tournament outside of Marc Gasol. While he’s a little slow to be a dominant force internationally, Asik should still be able to make a big impact as a rim protector for the team.
Offensively, Asik’s strengths and limitations should also be on prominent display. Turkey should get a decent pick-and-roll game going between Asik and Galatasaray point guard Ender Arslan, which should be tough to stop.
The Turks should also have very good ball movement between Arslan and Fenerbahce small forward Emir Preldzic, so Asik should get plenty of chances under the basket off looks from these two. Turkey should also have one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the tournament due to Asik and Kanter. Their main issue will be outside shooting, as Preldzic is basically their only real outside weapon, and that could really hurt Asik’s ability to score. However, he should still be able to be a force on the inside, something he rarely gets to show at the NBA level.
Davis and Asik will likely be the two most important players for the Pelicans in 2014-15, and they will be crucial for their respective FIBA World Cup squads as well. This tournament will be a great chance for Pelicans fans to see the two on prominent display, especially on Aug. 31, when the United States plays Turkey. There’s a fun closure to this game; after all, Asik and Davis have faced off plenty of times over the past two years as division rivals for the Rockets and Pelicans; and on Aug. 31, we will get to see the two represent their countries as focal points in one last duel before they become focal points for the same team in New Orleans.