With the 2014 WNBA Finals concluding on Friday night — and congrats to my beloved Phoenix Mercury on their third WNBA Championship — the focus moves towards the 2014 World Championships.
For a long time, I’ve dreamed about holding a key position in the entity that is USA Basketball.
I’ve always talked about how I’d love to see the USAB program transition toward hiring a dedicated coach and building a sense of continuity, essentially improving upon the program that we’ve seen become a reality for the US in the last two Olympics.
This season, most teams have already set their rosters, even those including players participating in the WNBA Finals as Australia made their selections with Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips amongst them. The United States women head into the championships as the heavy favorite, aided by the withdrawal of Seattle Storm F-C Lauren Jackson from Australia. It’s also been joked that the players this team cuts are the second favorites but with humor being placed aside, the roster has to be cut down.
So here’s my take on how the roster breaks down at this point and who I, personally would select for this year’s roster. This is NOT a prediction article; the USAB committee can do no wrong in selecting this team and I’m sure they’ll do a fantastic job.
The full 2014 USA Basketball roster
3-time Gold Medalist Tamika Catchings, 2-time Gold Medalist Candace Parker and Minnesota Lynx guard Monica Wright pulled out prior to training camp leaving the roster to look like this:
New York Liberty
Elena Delle Donne
Los Angeles Sparks
San Antonio Stars
Los Angeles Sparks
San Antonio Stars
Who should definitely be in?
In the first group, which I’d call locks for the World Championship, there’s ten players:
Point guard: Whalen, Robinson
Shooting guard: Taurasi, Augustus
Small forward: Moore, McCoughtry
Power forward: Dupree, Delle Donne
Center: Griner, Fowles
There’s not a lot of surprises here.
I like Taurasi on the wing and being aggressive at all times which leaves a hole at the lead guard spot. Lindsay Whalen had a fantastic 2014 season and is the best point guard in the world if you don’t consider Taurasi a true point guard, although the REAL problem would be that you’re trying to classify Taurasi after she’s shown us that she can reinvent herself time and time again. But, that’s a story for another time.
Moore was the MVP of the 2014 WNBA season and Griner is the biggest game-changing force we’ve ever seen with her athleticism at 6-foot-8. Dupree was robbed of All-WNBA recognition and is an admitted late-bloomer. Having not picked up a basketball until high school, CanDu is playing the best basketball of her career and is likely just hitting her prime.
Augustus still has a fantastic mid-range game and one of the most lethal crossovers in the world. McCoughtry changes the tempo defensively for this team and should continue to flourish in whatever role Geno chooses to use her. She could slide into the starting lineup, moving Moore to the four. Delle Donne is the epitome of a strech-four in the international game at 6’5″ and proving to be a better shot-blocker than expected; she could start as well.
Fowles showed that the other person outside of 6-foot-6 that could “stop her” was a healthy Brittney Griner and even that didn’t help the Sky win a game in the WNBA Finals. Danielle Robinson slides in at the backup point guard spot here. A fantastic distributor and a great shooter from mid-range, D-Rob is extremely disruptive defensively and can pick-up players in the back court as shown in Thursday’s Red-White scrimmage, with Team Red winning 95-87.
Who should definitely be out?
This essentially leaves two spots on the team which makes things extremely difficult. Moving on, Group 2 is a much smaller group and this is the group of players that I would say are essentially out at this point. Players usually remain in the pool and grow with the national team, unless it’s Fashion Week, of course. So this isn’t a lasting no, just a determination of the talent on this team.
Dolson Charles January
Dolson, Hartley and Sims are all rookies and will definitely be in the mix for 2016. Dolson and Hartley are probably just the least talented players in camp but they both have extremely high upsides. January’s defensive pressure and strength give her a fighting chance at a spot but guard has long been the USA’s strongest position depth-wise and numbers just don’t work in her favor.
I’ve yet to hold my tongue on my feelings about Charles and that doesn’t change for USA Basketball. Regardless of past play, potential or any other reasons, I’m not rewarding Charles for shooting 40% in 2013 as a center, demanding a trade and then turning around to shoot 46% and still not make the playoffs. Griner and Fowles alone are enough but it doesn’t help that other players are representing themselves very well.
Who’s on the bubble?
So that leaves 9 players likely battling for two spots:
C. Ogwumike N. Ogwumike
I spoke in the thread about Chiney Ogwumike making the team ahead of her sister as a better finisher but the numbers from mid-range show that Nneka’s range proves more valuable. From 6 feet out, Nneka finishes at a higher rate than Chiney. Nneka’s activity on the offensive boards makes up for what she loses on the defensive end to Chiney. Lavender’s range is impressive as well to get her through to final consideration.
Vandersloot ranks as the best distributor of the point guards left beating out a poor defensive effort from Diggins and a declining and potentially injured Bird. McBride is a fantastic spot-up shooter and has a strong mid-range game.
Stewart is the baby and has amazing versatility. A willing defender, she is the future of UConn and USA basketball. Bonner’s length and versatility on both ends of the floor makes Stewart seem unnecessary. She can guard positions 1-4 and is comfortable in the international game.
But my final two spots go to Nneka Ogwumike and DeWanna Bonner. With Catchings and Parker out Ogwumike brings depth at the power forward position and an ability to take advantage of openings on the offensive end. Bonner’s ability to knock down the three-pointer as well as defend the opposition’s best player could be extremely valuable going forward. The one concern for Bonner being that the players that she would be best suited to guard are on Team USA’s roster with her and Stewart or Bird could find their way into the twelfth spot. Lavender also showed well for herself, garnering the start in the scrimmage and finishing with 14 points.
Potential Injury Replacements
There’s also the possibility of at least two of these players who just completed the WNBA Finals choosing to opt out.
Considering Griner missed Game 3 and was allegedly going to be prepared for Game 4, I’d expect her to be ready for the kickoff of the world championships. After missing out on the 2012 Olympics as well, I highly doubt that eye will hamper her as she seemed fine on the sidelines. If she does happen to decide to miss the Championships, I’d take Chiney Ogwumike in her place. She’s the same height as the alternative C in Tina Charles but shoots a better percentage and is a more effective defender.
Elena Delle Donne, on the other hand, could potentially sit out the World Championships as, according to the ESPN crew, she was effective in Games 2 and 3 due to heavy amounts of drugs to aid her ailing back. In the instance that EDD misses this tournament, the heir apparent and someone who plays a similar style is UConn junior G-F Breanna Stewart. If Delle Donne pulls out it creates a perfect scenario: similar to the US Men carrying Anthony Davis on 2012, Stewart could take the NCAA game by storm if she gets the opportunity to matchup with the professionals during this stretch of ball.
Next up: Canada
Team USA moves forward to face Canada in a scrimmage Monday, September 15th in Bridgeport Connecticut where decision are looming after the matchup with the North American neighbor.