In light of the gruesome injury sustained by Paul George in Friday’s USA Basketball Blue-White scrimmage, the debate within NBA circles has been dominated by international competition and whether our stars should participate in future events.
The Warriors have two finalists for the FIBA World Cup team, one with previous injury concerns and another that hasn’t missed one game during his three-year career due to injury. At least one is assuredly making the final roster, and there’s a solid chance that both end up making the team.
Stephen Curry is one the most marketable players in the league. He’s reached superstardom with his stellar play, he’s stayed out of trouble and is the unquestioned leader of a rising franchise in a flourishing market. He’s invaluable to the organization, a personality and talent that they can’t afford to lose. He is the franchise, and with his steal of a contract on the books the numbers will certainly not do him justice.
Klay Thompson, formerly known as Curry’s sidekick, is building quite the career of his own as he enters his fourth season. Previously known as simply a sharpshooter with size, Thompson has learned to harness his skills to become of the best two-way guards in the league. He’s the other Splash Brother, but make no mistake: with the team opting not to include him in a deal for Kevin Love, the pressure on Thompson will never be greater.
The injury to Paul George shed light on how dangerous any non-team basketball activities bring to players, in this international play. Mark Cuban is the loudest voice in this defense. Players are investments to these owners, and some investments are worth more than others. Curry and Thompson are the cornerstone of the Warriors, and there is serious risk associated with having them compete in the FIBA World Cup.
But, those risks aren’t enough for us to suddenly clamor for their resignation from this summer competition. The rigor of international play will be greatly beneficial to both Curry and Thompson, and while George’s injury raises every white flag possible, it was merely a troubling anomaly in what is normally a hub for the highest of talent development.
Not every star decides to play in the FIBA World Cup, however: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge and most recently Kevin Love have all decided against playing for one reason or another. Whether it was previous injury concerns, prior commitments or trade rumors, these are legitimate reasons.
Many, if not all of those names will compete for the United States in the Olympics, but FIBA is simply not on that level yet. The World Cup — formerly the World Championships — have now become the ideal tournament for those wishing to improve their own game with higher stakes and a grueling decision process. Instead of practicing in the gym or competing in exhibition games they’re playing Brazil, France or Spain; professional players who aren’t household names in America but provide our players with enough talent to challenge them to strive to be better players themselves.
This is why Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shouldn’t even entertain the idea of withdrawing from this summer’s contest. Paul George’s injury shouldn’t dissuade both Splash Brothers from competing at the highest level. Even with Curry’s history, the risk of injury is present any time a player laces his shoes. Thompson, an evolving talent, can only benefit from playing against the likes of James Harden, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and others. As we know, Thompson guards those type of players on a regular basis during the season, so why not continue to improve on that aspect of his game for two weeks during the summer?
Curry has proven himself to be a force as a point-guard, elevating himself to the elite for the position. He’s competed in international competition before, but never as the focal point. With a guard-heavy lineup on deck for this particular team, Curry has the opportunity to flourish in two positions. This team will play small, and with Curry a near-lock to make the team his versatility will be a welcome sight for Mike Krzyzewski.
Their profiles as players and personalities are growing, and Team USA is the perfect arena to grow in both. The austerity of international play will only help both players for the development of their own games, presenting them with a challenge they wouldn’t normally see during this time of the season. It’s not just improvement, but maturation. Both are ready to contribute to the program in different ways, and this wouldn’t be the case had they been invited simply by merit.
Team USA is an honor for any player, and neither Curry nor Thompson should let this opportunity slip away.