By Ben Standig and Brian Jackson
Both John Wall and Bradley Beal were among the first cuts to Team USA's FIBA World Cup roster. Which guard has the best shot at making the team in 2016?
Ben Standig: As long as Coach K is coaching Team USA, the answer is Bradley Beal. Even though both were cut from Team USA on the same day, Beal received his invitation months earlier. Probably the biggest issue for the 6-foot-4 Beal stemmed from being about three inches shorter than his wing guard counterparts are. That might not be an issue most years, but on the heels of losing Kevin Durant and Paul George, the roster needed more size on the perimeter. If we can safely assume that the sharp-shooting Beal, who nearly played for Coach K at Duke, continues his upward trajectory, he'll continue to have legitimate shots at making the roster.
As long as John Wall's 3-point shot remains dicey, the answer also remains Bradley Beal. The Wizards' All-Star point guard improved his perimeter shot tons this past season, but let's not call it trusty just yet. Then there is the other numbers angle. Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose are roster locks if healthy and interested in winning another gold medal. Steph Curry will play largely off the ball in the World Cup, but he's another point guard candidate. Kyrie Irving's profile will only go up playing with LeBron James in Cleveland. Damian Lillard lasted longer with Team USA this time than Wall. If Wall keep working on that and cuts down on seeking out home run-type plays with Team USA, his time might come. If Coach K is gone, that is.
Brian Jackson: For the basis of this post let’s assume that Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook choose not to participate (whether age, injury or otherwise). That means Wall would essentially have to beat out Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard to make the squad. While Wall’s shooting has improved he’s still not on the level of Irving or Lillard. With a roster featuring James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant (assuming he returns for the 2016 Olympics), and Derrick Rose, Team USA certainly won’t lack for scoring. In the warm up games to this summers’ FIBA World Cup, Team USA has struggled with keeping opposing guards out of the lane.
"The guards...have to do better in keeping with their marks and scrambling to contest open shots," writes Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney. "The communication was great in certain spots, yet there were frequent breakdowns in defending the pick-and-roll that stemmed from the two defenders involved failing to work in tandem."
That’s where Wall comes in. At 6’4” he’s bigger than both Irving and Lillard and could use that length to cause havoc on the defensive end. During the NBA season most players pick and choose when they want to play tight defense. On Team USA Wall would only be playing 18-20 minutes a game so he could extend more energy on that end of the floor. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski values having a balanced roster and just imagine what assistant coach Tom Thibodeau could do with Wall at his disposal.