Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown are in action at Team USA training camp this week, but their time together is not guaranteed to last beyond next week. Head coach Greg Popovich will have to cut down the 17-man USA training camp to a final 12-man roster for World Cup play on August 17th as the team heads to Australia for a few exhibition tuneups. That gives players two weeks to earn their spot on a relatively even roster in training camp.
"Thank goodness we're blessed with the depth of talent we have in this country," managing director Jerry Colangelo told reporters in Las Vegas on Monday. "You find guys that want to play and you go with them."
We are highly likely to see at least two Celtics on the final roster. Walker is a lock as arguably the team’s best player. Tatum isn’t a complete shoe-in, but his early invite in June cements him in the top-half of the roster hierarchy. After that? It’s going to be a free-for-all for the final few openings as Smart and Brown battle a number of talented teammates to secure spots in China.
So what are the odds that we see three Celtics on the final roster? How about all four? Will a strong training camp by Smart and Brown be enough to ensure a spot for each? Let’s take a closer look at the training camp group and some potential roster construction options for Popovich to get a sense of how likely it is that the four Celtics will be playing together for the next month.
Team USA training camp roster
Kemba Walker (lock)
Kyle Lowry (lock if healthy)
Khris Middleton (lock)
Harrison Barnes (lock)
Myles Turner (lock)
Lock: On original training camp roster
*: Invited to training camp in June
**: Invited to training camp in July
Locks: (5) Walker, Lowry, Middleton, Barnes, Turner
Analysis: These guys were all invited as part of the original training camp roster back in February. They are established veterans or All-Stars. While someone like Barnes could be outplayed by other wings on this roster, it’s hard to see him getting passed over given his past experience with Team USA.
Second round of camp invites: (5): Kuzma, Lopez, Tatum, Mitchell, Tucker
Analysis: These were the second round of invitees to training camp after a lot of stars dropped out initially following the season end. Not everyone in this group is a lock but, again, based on the timing of their invites, they should have a leg up on their competition in making the team. Lopez is a key stretch big and rim protector while Tucker should be crucial for his defensive ability as an undersized 4. Mitchell’s shot creation should be welcome as a reserve in the backcourt while Tatum/Kuzma both provide scoring and versatility on the wing. That final pair will have to earn a spot based on the competition at their positions but both should feel pretty secure. At worst, one of them probably doesn’t make the cut if they aren’t bringing it on the defensive end (Kuzma would be a likelier candidate there).
A closer look at the depth chart if we assume those 10 guys are going to make the team.
PG: Walker, Lowry
SF: Barnes, Middleton, Tatum
PF: Kuzma, Tucker
C: Turner, Lopez
Analysis: There is a lot of versatility at the forward spots. Barnes can play both positions and the same goes for Tatum. Middleton can slide down to the shooting guard spot as well, even though he would be a liability against quicker guards. The good news here for the remaining Celtics (Smart/Brown) is that there is a definite need for wing defenders. Middleton, Mitchell and Kuzma aren’t known for their defense, while Tucker will probably be tied up with slowing down bigger guys instead of wings. At the least, one more perimeter defender will be needed here to help out and potentially more than that.
The Final Roster Battle
Seven players are in the mix for two probable final open spots
Guards: De’Aaron Fox, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Joe Harris
Bigs: Thaddeus Young, Mason Plumlee, Bam Adebayo