On just about every team competing in the 2014 FIBA World Championships, losing its top two players would be a crippling blow to its chances of competing in the medal stages.
Lucky for USA Basketball, it isn't most teams.
Still, head coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted during this week's practice in Chicago that the team has been forced to adjust on the fly following Paul George's gruesome leg fracture in Las Vegas and Kevin Durant's decision to opt out of competition last week. Gone are arguably two of Team USA's best performers, and more importantly two players Krzyzewski admitted were the focal points of the offense he had installed over the summer.
"We had a whole camp building what we were doing around (George), so that’s the very first thing. You have really one of the great scorers, so how does that change your offense? It changes your offensive immensely," Krzyzewski said. "You have to do more to get your guards shots. These guards are really good. We’re complementing those guards with an inside game. We have to look at developing our inside game and getting our bigs more involved.
"That’s a concern for me because we were pretty far along; we had our best camp ever in Vegas since I’ve coached. And Kevin deciding not to play, it’s concerning that hopefully we’ll be good enough on Saturday (against Brazil), and then we use New York to get better and get better during pool play."
The good news is that Team USA is still loaded in the scoring department, the biggest void left by George's and Durant's absences. James Harden, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins and DeMar DeRozan are still on the roster and ranked in the top-10 in points per game a year ago, while Derrick Rose's superb Team USA camp gives the Americans another option at the point to use Curry off the ball.
They also have Anthony Davis, a gold medalist at the 2012 Olympics in London, on board, along with 2010 Team USA forward Rudy Gay, who was added to the roster following Durant's decision to leave.
In terms of the offense coming around, the "who" isn't as important as the "when" and "how," but Harden said Friday he's confident the group of remaining players will be able to reshape the offense, reassess roles and progress in advance of pool play beginning in less than two weeks.
"We have so many guys that can come in and contribute in any aspect of the game, from Klay Thompson to Kyle Korver to Damian Lillard," he said. "So many guys can be effective in what they do. You have so many guys that can be effective and make an impact on the game that it’s going to be a collective effort."
Harden also noted that Team USA's tenacious defense will help the offense, where fast breaks following turnovers will negate having to play through half-court sets where, as of now, they may be vulnerable because of the changing roles.
"We’re so quick so our defense is going to make our offense getter," he said. "Getting steals, rebounding the basketball, getting out in transition. We should be faster."
The aforementioned depth will also play a key role in attempting to replace George and Durant.
Though Krzyzewski and the USA Basketball staff will continue to tighten its roster and rotation as pool play nears, assistant and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said the offense will be better off because players will be able to exert themselves more, knowing there's a strong bench behind them.
"We’ve got a ton of scoring, and every team is going to have to sacrifice for the team, so I don’t think anyone is going to be taxed with heavy minutes or anything like that," he said. "There’s great value having the type of depth we do have. We don’t have to pace ourselves. You can go out there and play hard and then the next guy comes in, he does his job."
Harden agreed, saying that the most important aspect of team success will be players buying into their specific, potentially new, roles.
"It’s all about your mindset. If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to impact the game, and as soon as you get out there you’re going to make your presence on the game, then you’ll be more effective and your team will be better off," he said. "We don’t have that problem on this team, I’m sure guys will be mentally prepared."