Paul George‘s leg injury Saturday night was a lot of things. It was horrific. It was incredibly upsetting. It was unlucky. It also was something that will radically chance the way Team USA is going to be built.
With George going down the team immediately lost someone who seemed locked into a starting spot and the team’s perimeter stopper. The move obviously affects a lot of players on the team, but one of the people whose role could most drastically be changed is Anthony Davis.
Before the injury the Team USA starting lineup seemed to be set with Derrick Rose and James Harden in the backcourt and George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis providing a long athletic starting front line around them. The lineup maximized space and athleticism like Team USA has consistently done under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
George would have started at the small forward spot with Durant functioning as a stretch-four, making an already unguardable player even more of a match-up problem with the smaller international three-point line. The key to that group would have been Davis, who would be asked to not do much besides finish offensively while flying around and protecting the rim and hauling in rebounds defensively to protect the small front line.
With George’s injury though things change drastically. It seems likely now that Chandler Parsons has as good a shot a to make the roster if Team USA wants to continue to play with a small forward playing the role of a stretch-four. George and Durant were by far the team’s best options to play that role before the injury and as much as Kyle Korver probably belongs on the roster he can’t do that job. If the decision makers don’t feel that Parsons could handle that role there becomes a real possibility that Davis sees a bit of time at power forward, something that seemed almost impossible to imagine early on in the Team USA camp.
Out of the other bigs on the roster (DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, and Paul Millsap) only Millsap has range that could extend to the three-point line like Davis. Before the scrimmage came to an unfortunate end on Friday night Davis had attempted two three-pointers and while both missed, they looked good. If Parson’s doesn’t cut it as a stretch-four it seems possible that Millsap could make the roster and come in when Durant needs a blow early in the game to at least keep the four-out spacing.
From there it would be easy for Coach K to stagger the return from the bench of Davis and Durant, pairing Davis with someone like Plumlee or Cousins to space the floor at power forward until Durant comes back in and pushes Davis back down to center. The move would be great for Davis, who despite being on another level than every other center in the competition besides Marc Gasol, would be spared some of the pounding he will take from the big beefy fives he will have to play.
Really though the main thing the George injury does is put a bit more pressure on Davis in his rim protector role. Team USA is now down their best perimeter defender and while Durant is above average at that end he will be asked to carry the offensive load so it seems unlikely he will be tossed onto the opposing team’s best perimeter weapon. Parson’s isn’t anywhere near the defender of George and is actually a below average player at that end right now. Korver is a great team defender but asking him to go through a tournament as a stopper is a bad idea and neither Gordon Hayward, Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan or Klay Thompson (the other wings on the team) are stoppers in the mold of George or even Durant, though Thompson is the closest. What that all could mean is that Davis just went from second most important player on the team into a tie with Durant as the most indispensable player on the entire roster for the World Cup.
Obviously there is still a lot of time to go before final roster decisions are made and we see exactly how Davis’s role changed after George went down but there is a lot of things that probably just became different from originally expected for Davis. Watching him rise to the challenge in the coming weeks should be an incredible time.