The Celtics may enter the 2019-20 season also going by the name Team America. Team USA is getting set for this year’s FIBA world cup. The squad led by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was slated to mop the floor against the rest of the world. Just like the Pro Bowl in football however, some of the top names in the game have elected to pass on this tournament. Anthony Davis, James Harden, Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal are among those that have passed on the FIBA tournament in September. Beal will skip the tournament for the birth of his child, so that’s a good reason to miss the world cup.
While those players are not on the team, there are some additions that should intrigue green teamers. Kemba Walker was already named to the team along with Jayson Tatum. Part of the wholesale roster changes for Team USA include Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown being added to the squad of 20 that will be cut down to 12 before the end of training camp in Vegas. Four members of the Celtics will at least practice together for Team USA, Daniel Theis will play for Germany and newly signed center Vincent Poirier will play for France. Focusing on the red, white and blue; this opportunity is big for these four Celtics players with a little over two months to go until training camp.
Marcus Smart may be the best kept secret in the NBA. Averaging 1.8 steals a game, and 143 total steals in the 2018-19 season, Smart provides a team the defensive grit that is important in basketball. Diving for loose balls and getting physical with opposing players was his niche in prior seasons, but offensively last year Smart had a career high FG% (42.2%) and a career high 3-pt FG% (36.4). His offense may come in spurts, but if he can get into some games off the bench, Team USA could win another World Cup with big play opportunities for Marcus Smart.
Jayson Tatum is 21, but people have him slated to be a top ten player down the road. Tatum was the talk of the league in his rookie season, helping lead the green team to an unlikely eastern conference finals appearance. This year however, Tatum started to come back to earth shooting just 37% from the three-point line and 45% from the field, a season after shooting 43% from the land of the three and 48% from the field. I understand that it’s difficult to step up from a great rookie season like that but Tatum had lapses that made it maddening to watch the former blue devil have the ball in his hands or take the floor. He’s had one good year and one alright year, year three for Tatum with an appearance playing for Team USA could be an epic kickoff for a player with all the potential in the world.
Jaylen Brown in many opinions was the voice to stand up against the vets in the locker room. He’s now gone from the bench to a key contributor for the upcoming season. Brown, if he makes Team USA could play a big role. Most of the players have their role solidified 1-5. Jaylen can easily be a second, third or fourth scoring option for both Team USA and the Celtics in the 2019-20 season. At 6’7” and 220lbs, Brown can fight for boards, get streaky with the three and of course throw it down. Something to be weary of this year however, is will Brown try and put the team on his back and attempt to shoot the lights out. Brown averaged 5-11 from the field every night and 1-4 from the 3-point line. Number 7 for the Celtics can be key in provided some high pick and roll opportunities potentially for Team USA point guards and of course for the Celtics point guard Kemba Walker.
Speaking of the newest asset for the Celtics, Kemba Walker. The key for him is don’t get hurt! There are four talented players for the Celtics potentially playing on the world stage, but one bad elbow or turn could be bad news for Boston. Walker is going to have talented players around him for the FIBA tournament. Players like Khris Middleton, Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell and others. Coming from a nightmare situation with little promise in Charlotte, leading a talented team on paper like Team USA has, could be the early test for a guy who is expected to pick up where Kyrie left.
Are all four Celtics going to make Team USA? Probably not. But for guys like Tatum and Brown who are set for free agency in the next year or two, this could be a very important opportunity on a global stage to cash in. From a team building experience, what better place to practice than Vegas?
First game of the FIBA World Cup is September 1st in China.
-John Luck (@jluck_89)