LAS VEGAS – Damian Lillard sized up Bradley Beal on the left wing on Wednesday, the shot clock winding down as his jab step rose up.
It came in a flash, the right foot of the Portland Trailblazers point guard lashing out at the Washington Wizards shooting guard and forcing him onto his heels. With Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo just a few feet away – his legs crossed at center court as he sat in his folding chair – Lillard rose up through that space he had created for a 3-pointer that left the many onlookers inside UNLV's Mendenhall Center amazed and entertained. And this, mind you, is the guy who may not even make this star-studded team.
The Team USA roster that currently stands at 18 players will eventually be trimmed down to 12 for the FIBA Basketball World Cup that begins on Aug. 30 in Bilbao, Spain, and no spot is more loaded than the point guard position. From Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) to Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers), John Wall (Washington Wizards) and Lillard, this elite competition for limited spots is a necessary evil that comes with having so much talent.
As Colangelo detailed in an interview with USA TODAY Sports, the most likely plan would be to have two pure point guards and three shooting guards who also have the ability to play the other wing positions. If that tentative plan holds true, then – per Colangelo's descriptions of the roster that he'll form with coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff – it appears that Wall or Irving are likely to be on the outside looking in.
Rose, who has played 10 games in the past two seasons because of ACL and meniscus tears in his knees, has looked like his former MVP self thus far and is looking very much like a lock.
"It's hard to create more than two pure points (on the roster)," Colangelo said. "Kyrie is a pure point. John Wall is a point. Derrick is a point. Curry can play point, but he's a two (shooting guard). Harden is a two-three (shooting guard-small forward). Damian is a tweener also – he goes both ways.
"It's hard to carry three pure points unless we felt we were very unsure. For example, if Rose had come in and hasn't looked the way he has, we would've said, 'Geesh, maybe we have to carry three points, but it appears that we don't have to.'"
USA Today Sports NBA writer Sam Amick shares his observations on Derrick Rose, who is returning from a torn meniscus in his right knee and at Team USA training camp.
The fact that Curry and Lillard are such good shooters who play off the ball so well will clearly have a ripple effect on the shooting guard spots, with James Harden (Houston Rockets), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Beal, Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks) and Klay Thompson (Warriors) in that lot. Team USA experience is always taken into account, so it's worth noting that Curry and Rose are the only guards who were part of the 2010 team that won gold in the FIBA Tournament in Istanbul.
"We're talking about a couple of points and maybe three twos that also play three and also play one," Colangelo explained.
As for the personnel pecking order and where the players may stand, Wall said there are no daily updates from the Team USA decision makers. They simply compete, pushing each other at every turn while often marveling at the exploits of the contemporaries around them, and hope for the best.
"It's great man," said Wall, who took part in the 2013 Team USA training camp as well. "It's like being at a LeBron (James) camp or a Reebok All-American camp with all the top guys there and you're competing. But this is different. We're all trying to come together as a group and build the chemistry and have great camaraderie and try to come together as one and have one goal and that's winning gold and putting the United States of America across your chest.
"If they choose me and they feel like I fit with the group of guys they're trying to bring together, then it works out. If not, then it's still a great opportunity and it's still a great experience to be here."
Curry, like Rose, is looking like he'll be on board for the long haul. Still, nothing is guaranteed at this point.
"This is what it's all about," he said of the star-studded point guard battle. "The beauty of USA basketball is you bring the best talent, and you've got to compete and work together but there's always that competition too. We're all getting better because of it. That's the beauty of why we're here."
Irving will be playing with an all-world teammate who also likes to handle the ball soon enough, what with James coming back to the Cleveland Cavaliers and all. But even that can't compare with this.
"You have some of the greatest players in the world coming here and competing, and that's how it should be; it should be tough," he said. "Yesterday, I'm running up and down with KD (Kevin Durant), Paul George, Anthony Davis. I don't necessarily get to play with guys like that, so the opportunities are endless for offense and defense. You've just got to figure it out. You're playing with tremendously great players.
"I hope (he makes it); I hope so. I really hope so. I'm just going to continue to work towards it, and if I have the luxury of playing on the USA team I'd be honored and blessed and be giving my all for the USA."