SALT LAKE CITY — USA Basketball is gearing up for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, a two-week international tournament featuring 32 teams, being played in China from Aug. 31 through Sept. 15. The Utah Jazz will be well represented, with Rudy Gobert (France), Joe Ingles (Australia), and Donovan Mitchell (USA) all representing their home countries in the tournament.
While Gobert and Ingles are locks to play and be featured stars amongst their roster, Mitchell joined Team USA with some uncertainty on whether he could make the final roster. That quickly changed. After receiving an invite to join Team USA in early June, Mitchell faced an uphill battle to make the final roster, competing with fellow guards Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, James Harden, Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. However, since June, all guards but Walker and Lowry have dropped their commitment to Team USA, leaving Mitchell with not only a spot on the roster, but likely a starting job.
Now, what can be expected from Mitchell when the team gets underway with an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday?
The first thing to examine is what the rest of the roster looks like. After Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond dropped off the roster last week, Mitchell will likely be joined by Walker and Lowry, with guards De’Aaron Fox and Jaylen Brown filling out the backcourt. The forward spots will likely be occupied by Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Harrison Barnes, and Kyle Kuzma, and centers Brook Lopez and Myles Turner. Center Mason Plumlee is also currently on the roster, which must be trimmed down to 12 names before the team heads overseas in late August.
Unlike most years, this grouping lacks the usual firepower found on Team USA. Without Harden, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James, this roster will have to find its go-to bucket getters. The best scorer on this roster is Walker, who averaged 25.6 points per game last season for the Charlotte Hornets and is the only player on the roster who bested Mitchell’s 23.8 points per game. The next highest scorer on the roster is former University of Utah forward Kuzma, who averaged 18.7 points per game with the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s a major dropoff between the team’s two top scorers to their third option and may give Mitchell a significant leg up in playing a starring role.
The roster also lacks true knockdown shooters. Barnes is the team’s best shooter, knocking down 39.5% of his threes last year for the Dallas Mavericks, followed by Middleton (37.8%), Tucker (37.7%), Tatum (37.3%), Fox (37.1%), and Lopez (36.5%). Of those six, only Fox is a true ball-in-hand guard and is highly unlikely to start. That may force Mitchell into a premier role as a starter, adding much-needed shooting to the backcourt, where Walker is a near-lock to start. Mitchell’s 36.2% 3-point shooting is seventh best on the roster but may end up as the second or third best in the starting lineup, assuming Middleton and either Barnes or Tucker starts in the frontcourt.
Historically, while James, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant have been thought of as scoring leaders for Team USA, in the 2008 Olympics in China it was combo guard Dwayne Wade who led the roster in scoring at 16 points per game. Mitchell’s game has long been compared to Wade’s, and he could find a similar role as a go-to scorer with the ball in his hands.
Friday, Team USA will make its 2019 Fiba World Cup debut in an intrasquad scrimmage. And where Mitchell once looked like a longshot to make the roster, he’s a near-lock to travel with the team internationally once it gets trimmed to a true 12-man roster.
Now the question becomes whether Mitchell can become one of the team’s stars and set himself up for an invite to the Team USA roster that will play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Looking at Mitchell’s role, skill set and the history of international scorers for Team USA, he appears primed to take a starring role.