Olympic Basketball 2012: The Top 10 International Players in the Summer Games
Although Team USA is routinely expected to field the most complete Olympic basketball roster, the game continues to blossom overseas. We'll witness some of the world's most gifted players during competition in London, as NBA stars from near and far trade in their pro jerseys for the uniforms of their homeland.
You're aware of who will be paving the way for the red, white and blue (LeBron, Kobe, Melo, etc.) but you would be wise to know the road to gold won't be easy. Foreign standouts present mighty obstacles along the way, as NBA teammates become heated rivals with national pride at stake.
From Spain's mighty frontcourt, to France's powerhouse point guard, the international hoops scene is teeming with talent. Let's take a look at the top 10 players among the 12-team Olympic basketball field who could lead their country to a giant upset by securing Summer Games gold.
10. Nenê, Brazil
The baller formerly knows as Nenê Hilário has proven himself to be a balanced big man since he was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. The 6'11" Brazilian holds career averages of 12 points, seven rebounds per contest.
The 29-year-old teams up with Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao to give Brazil a talented interior tandem. Expect to see Nenê play with more assertiveness on offense in Olympic competition, as he must shoulder a larger load as a formidable member of his national team.
9. Luis Scola, Argentina
Scola has averaged double-digit scoring totals in each of his five NBA seasons, including a career-high 18.3 points per game during the 2010-'11 campaign. The 6'9" power forward has garnered increased respect in the league lately, although that wasn't enough to convince the Houston Rockets to retain his services.
Scola, 32, is an underrated rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass. He consistently steps back and buries mid-range jumpers, which should draw opposing defenders away from the rim throughout the Olympics.
A strong performance from Scola is paramount for Argentina if the team hopes to duplicate its 2004 gold-medal run.
8. Anderson Varejao, Brazil
Once considered a goofy-looking supplementary piece on the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers of old, this 6'11" center has blossomed into one of the league's top rebounders. He provides Brazil with a major presence in the paint.
Varejao posted career-highs in points (10.8 per game) and rebounds (11.5) last season. He is among the world's best at hauling in offensive rebounds.
Although Varejao played in just 25 NBA games last season due to a wrist injury, his 4.4 offensive boards per game represented the highest total in the league. Clearly, at 29 years old, he has taken his place among the game's most effective post players.
7. Nicolas Batum, France
The 23-year-old swingman has the size and athleticism to match up with the world's best shooting guards. Batum averaged nearly 15 points per game with the Portland Trail Blazers last season and is a very versatile offensive threat.
He uses his 6'8" frame to rise above defenders on the perimeter, where he is highly effective. Batum shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc during the 2011-'12 NBA season.
Defensively, France needs him to match up against the likes of Kevin Durant, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala during the Olympics. NBA teams have become believers in Batum's skills and he can continue to improve his stock at the 2012 Games.
6. Serge Ibaka, Spain
Ibaka burst onto the scene, along with many of the Oklahoma City Thunder's young stars, during the squad's impressive Western Conference onslaught in the 2012 NBA playoffs. The 6'10" Spaniard led the league in blocks with nearly four per game, well ahead of anyone else.
He finished second in voting behind Team USA center Tyson Chandler for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Offensively, he continues to mature.
Ibaka's freakish athleticism and emerging mid-range game make him a matchup nightmare for most opponents. Add his skills to those of Olympic teammates Marc and Pau Gasol, and it's apparent that Spain brings a fearsome frontcourt to London.
5. Manu Ginobili, Argentina
The three-time NBA champion became a national hero when he led Argentina to an unexpected gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Although he is now 34 years old and doesn't possess the same athleticism, expect Ginobili to once again lead his national team toward medal contention.
Argentina secured a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and is still viewed by some as the prohibitive "dark horse" team in a sport historically dominated by the Americans. Ginobili's production with the San Antonio Spurs has dipped in recent years, but he is still Argentina's alpha dog.
His 34-point outburst against Oklahoma City in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals serves as a reminder that Ginobili can still carry a team when necessary. This is likely the last Olympic appearance for one of the game's truly great international players.
4. Luol Deng, Great Britain
The former Duke star is one of the NBA's most productive small forwards, putting up career averages of 16 points and more than six rebounds per contest since turning pro in 2004. As a member of the Chicago Bulls, he is often Derrick Rose's No. 2 scoring option.
The Sudan-born Deng became a British citizen in 2006 and he takes the reins as team leader in front of a home crowd in London. He will be counted on to contribute at least 20 points every game as Great Britain's primary offensive threat.
Deng, 27, is a capable three-point shooter, takes advantage of open driving lanes and is among the NBA's top perimeter defenders.
3. Marc Gasol, Spain
The 7'1" center is no longer known as just Pau's little brother. Gasol led the Memphis Grizzlies to another playoff appearance this spring and is undoubtedly among the NBA's top-tier big men.
Physically, he is an imposing force with solid rebounding abilities. Gasol has great touch around the rim and is a gifted passer, much like his big brother.
He earned his first NBA All-Star nod in 2012 and could continue a breakthrough year by solidifying Spain's strong interior. The 27-year-old's stock is trending upward.
2. Pau Gasol, Spain
After winning two titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol has become a household name. The Barcelona native has long been a superstar in Spain, where his early playing career set the stage for him to be the third overall selection in the 2001 NBA draft.
Gasol is the leader of his national team and anchors a frontcourt that features little brother Marc and prolific shot-blocker Serge Ibaka. The seven-time European Player of the Year led Spain to a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics and could add to his impressive trophy case with another world-class performance in London.
1. Tony Parker, France
Parker's summer began with a scary eye injury suffered during a skirmish between hip-hop artists Chris Brown and Drake. Initially, some thought the strange misfortune would cost him a chance to suit up for France in the Olympics, but Parker has since been cleared to participate.
The 6'2" speedster finished fifth in voting for the 2012 NBA Most Valuable Player award. A tremendous season indicates the 30-year-old isn't ready to slow down just yet.
Parker averaged 20 points and seven assists for the San Antonio Spurs, a team he's helped win three league titles since 2003. He may have less-talented teammates than some of his international contemporaries, but you can be sure Parker will get the most out of France's roster with exceptional play at the point.