Kyrie Irving to start at point guard

ByMarc Stein ESPN logo
Monday, August 25, 2014

GRAN CANARIA, Spain -- Kyrie Irving will start opposite Goran Dragic at point guard Tuesday night when Team USA plays Slovenia in its final tuneup game leading into the FIBA World Cup.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, in tabbing Irving as his starter against the Dragic-led Slovenians, told that one option under consideration is letting Irving and Derrick Rose trade off as the starter throughout the tournament, which opens Saturday in Bilbao with the Yanks facing Finland.

"We'll see as thing goes on," Krzyzewski said after Monday's two-hour practice. "We might alternate 'em. Both of them are going to play significant minutes."

Krzyzewski says he can also envision Irving and Rose playing together once the tournament starts as Rose continues to acclimate himself to full-speed basketball after two major knee injuries limited him to just 10 games over the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

"I asked him today, and he said, 'I feel great,'" Krzyzewski said of Rose. "He did everything. He's full go. I think there's a part of him that's like: 'Quit asking me how I feel. I'm good.' So I'm not going to ask him anymore."

Team USA arrived in Las Palmas early Sunday morning and held a two-hour practice Monday after voluntary workouts on their first afternoon in Spain. Going forward, Krzyzewski said, all practices will be noncontact amid a schedule that calls for five group games in a span of six days. The focus from here, when Team USA can get on the practice floor, will be on offensive and defensive execution and working on new wrinkles like starting center Anthony Davis' cameos at power forward.

In electing to keep Brooklyn's Mason Plumlee and Detroit's Andre Drummond as two of the last three players on the official 12-man World Cup roster, Krzyzewski has the ability to give Davis spot minutes at his preferred NBA position next to a more traditional big man in DeMarcus Cousins.

Having relied heavily on small-ball lineups in its last two major competitions, USA Basketball officials wanted the ability to play big lineups in this tournament when needed. The tag team of Davis and Cousins won't necessarily be unveiled against a Slovenian squad that shoots 3-pointers as liberally as anyone in the field, but Team USA is sure to bust out that alignment on occasion en route to the Sept. 14 championship game, where host Spain and its hulking front-line trio of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka could be waiting.

"It's not like we're making this wholesale change, because [Kenneth] Faried and [Rudy] Gay are playing well at the 4," Krzyzewski said. "It's a secondary look."

Coming off a breakout season with the Phoenix Suns in which he was unlucky not to earn a spot in the All-Star Game, Dragic is joined by brother Zoran Dragic on a young roster featuring no other current NBA players.

Despite the pullouts of Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook, as well as the emotional injury loss of Paul George, Team USA remains a heavy favorite to cruise through Group C play with no real resistance. Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine are the Yanks' other opponents in pool play after the Finland game.

"Our biggest [question mark] is how close we can become," Krzyzewski said. "That's where the other countries have the advantage. They've been together for years. We've been together for days. But these guys will do anything to help. They really want to be here. It's a group that wants to work."

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