Was Cutting Paul Millsap a Mistake for Team USA?

Bo Churney —  August 8, 2014

On July 27th, Paul Millsap was added to Team USA’s provisional roster due to players like Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and LaMarcus Aldridge deciding to forgo participation in the FIBA World Cup this summer.

Little more than a week later, Millsap was announced as one of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s first round of cuts, along with Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal. Among those selected over Millsap were Denver’s Kenneth Faried and Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee.

At the time, there was not too much of a problem with this. Even with Paul George’s gruesome injury, the lynchpin for Team USA seemed to be one thing: they still had Kevin Durant. The problem with this thinking today is that the team no longer has Durant to rely on.

It was announced on Thursday that Durant would withdraw from Team USA participation, citing mental and physical exhaustion. While there is some speculation that this might have something to do with Durant being offered a $300+ million endorsement deal with Under Armour, there is plenty of merit for Durant needing some time off.

Both LeBron James and Durant have played significantly more minutes than every other NBA player over the last four seasons. Since both players expect to play deep into the postseason every year, their decisions to bypass the lesser of the two major international basketball tournaments (the Olympics being the other) should not be too surprising.

So how is this all related to Paul Millsap? While Durant has usually played at small forward in the NBA, the consensus was that he would likely log a lot of minutes as a big man — a stretch-4 — in international play due to his significant height advantage. As noted by the Washington Post’s Michael Lee, and by most watchers of Durant over the last several seasons, Durant’s listed height of 6-foot-9 is completely a joke at this point.

Putting aside his status as the second-best basketball player in the world, Team USA lost its best perimeter oriented big man with Durant’s withdrawal. In international ball, big guys that can play from the perimeter are a huge advantage. (see: James, Durant, and Carmelo Anthony) While his potential fill-in Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward can somewhat replicate Durant’s skills at a lesser level, neither of the two have the size that made Durant’s advantage (and in turn, James and Anthony when they played) so significant.

This is why Millsap will now be missed. With his addition of the 3-point shot to his game this past season, Millsap could essentially play a stepped-down version of Carmelo in international ball: a stretch-4 that, in addition to his shooting abilities, he can put the ball on the floor from the perimeter and can post up. While very talented, Parsons and Hayward do not match Millsap’s offensive abilities playing the 4 position.

Millsap would also fill a defensive need that Team USA is currently lacking. Millsap has been a superstar in the plus-minus metrics over the past few seasons, where his defensive impact is given significant value. Anthony Davis will likely dominate on that end of the floor, but after Davis, Team USA’s potential stretch-4s and big men are not guys who are known for their defense. DeMarcus Cousins has size, but he has not been an impactful defender over his NBA career. Andre Drummond and Plumlee are both young guys with size and defensive potential, but they still have a lot of developing to do. Hayward and Parsons do not really have a size advantage in either height or strength to likely have an impact at that position, even in the usually smaller-sized international play. Faried is a dreadful defender regardless of position.

Finally, Millsap would have been a good veteran teammate to help mentor the young big men on the roster. Among guards, one of Kyle Korver’s valued assets has been that he’s seen as a veteran leader in the locker room. Outside of Korver, the guard rotation has guys like Derrick Rose and Steph Curry who have a good combination of NBA and international experience, with both Rose and Curry playing for Krzyzewski in the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

With Durant gone, the bigger guys on the roster do not have that veteran guy. Of the forwards and centers left on Team USA’s provisional roster, all are 25 and under, with only the 21 year old Davis possessing big-time international experience from having played in the 2012 Olympic Games. Contrast this to Team USA’s roster for the 2010 FIBA World Championship that had veterans Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger, Lamar Odom, and Tyson Chandler mixed in with a group of younger players. The ever-steady Millsap, who will be entering his ninth season in the NBA this year, would have been a good complement to Team USA’s youth.

Even without Durant, George, James, Anthony, and Love, Team USA still has a talent superiority over the rest of the teams participating in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The team is led by Mike Krzyzewski, who is one of the most valuable basketball minds on the planet. But as Coach K will likely tell you, he’s not perfect; he’s made mistakes and has suffered upset losses. (Mercer anyone?)

The chances of Team USA getting upset are small. But going forward with Faried and Plumlee on the roster instead of Paul Millsap provide an increase to those chances. While Team USA fans should trust Coach K, this move could prove to be one of his few mistakes.

Bo Churney

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