Washington Wizards all-star point guard, John Wall, has accepted his invitation to participate in the USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas next week. His addition to the Team USA hopefuls brings the number of participants to an even 20—five of which play the point guard position. Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving are the other four. Some of these players will be cut as the roster is trimmed down to 12 players for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Lillard is not expecting to make the team as a starter, but hopes to find a place on the final roster as a role player. In an interview with Trail Blazers Beat Writer Casey Holdahl last week, Lillard explained his preparation and expectations:
“I think I’m prepared. I’ve been working out really hard. I want to be in shape because I’m not going to have the responsibility that I have for the Trail Blazers. I’ve been shooting a lot of shots, making sure my jumper is as tight as it can possibly be, because I know I’m going to have to be able to knock down shots if I want to give myself a chance to make that team. And I’ve got to be able to “D” up. Without having the same responsibility I do with the Trail Blazers, I’m going to be able to pick up full court for my eight, nine minutes or however long I’ll be on the floor and play those eight or nine minutes as hard as I can to give something to the team and be able to make shots. I’ve been preparing myself for that.”
Lillard alludes to having different responsibilities with Team USA than he does with Portland. While he is speaking primarily of his role reduction, there is a good chance that the role he is reduced to will be entirely different than what we’ve come to expect. When Lillard competed in an equally loaded point guard rotation in last year’s mini-camp (Wall, Irving, Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Kemba Walker), he played an ambiguous guard role; sliding between the 1 and 2 as Coach Krzyzewski blurred the lines. He could benefit from the same undefined role this year.
The shooting guard position is the weakest among USA Basketball camp invitees, including only James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, and Klay Thompson. If Lillard is focusing on knock-down shooting and defense, he probably realizes that his best shot to make the team is to squeeze out one or two of these guys. A big part of whether or not this happens depends on how he is used in camp. Of course, Lillard is competitive enough to make a formidable push for point guard as well, but we will have to wait and see how things shake out. I appreciate that he remains both ambitious and realistic in the face of worthy rivals and, possibly, teammates to-be.
Lillard can draw from experience in the two point guard system he ran with Mo Williams on occasion last season. Few young point guards have as much experience spotting up for shots as Lillard has, so he has the upper hand in that regard. He is certainly a versatile player, so while his chances of making the team shrink statistically with the additional competition Wall offers, his adaptability keeps a Team USA berth well within the realm of possibility. If he does indeed pursue a slot at shooting guard, he will only gain valuable experience for the upcoming season. Resourcefulness is an oft overlooked talent. Training Camp opens July 27th.