Olympic Basketball 2012: 10 NBA Players from Other Countries Who Will Shine

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIJuly 17, 2012

Olympic Basketball 2012: 10 NBA Players from Other Countries Who Will Shine

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    Although there's certainly no lack of swagger on the 2012 USA Olympic basketball team, there are plenty of solid international stars who can also prove they'll shine on the big stage.

    It's easy to feel confident with LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant running the show. Bryant even said he believes the 2012 team could beat the 1992 Dream Team roster that included Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the best player ever, Michael Jordan, according to Kurt Helin of NBC Sports.

    The USA basketball team is loaded with talent from top to bottom, even after losing some of the team's biggest stars, such as Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and most recently Blake Griffin, who tore the meniscus in his knee prior to the start of the Olympics.

    Bryant and company appear poised to capture a gold medal for the United States, but they aren't the only NBA players set to play in London this summer.

    Here are ten NBA players from other countries who will shine during the 2012 Olympic games.

10. Rudy Fernandez, SG, Spain

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    Rudy Fernandez may not be a popular choice as a guy who will shine during the Olympics this summer, but there are some factors at play that could allow him to have big performances.

    Spain has arguably the best frontcourt in the Olympics via the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka. Because of that, Spain will look to pound the ball inside with Pau and Marc Gasol, who are most effective working in the post.

    Teams will have to be aware that if they throw double-teams at those two guys down low, they're still two of the best passing big men in the game.

    Fernandez, a gunner from beyond the three-point arc, could have a field day from downtown if opposing teams choose to double the Gasol brothers in the paint. Both Pau and Marc are great passers who will dish out of double-teams to three-point threats.

    Fernandez will get a lot of looks this summer with teams game-planning to stop Pau and Marc Gasol. What sets Fernandez apart, however, is his ability to drive and finish strong at the basket if defenders recover in time to stop the three-point attempt.

    In addition, Fernandez has decided to leave the NBA this summer to play with Real Madrid overseas. He can prove to every NBA team just how valuable he would have been had he stayed.

    Fernandez never found the right situation to succeed in the NBA, which is a shame because he truly is a gifted athlete.

9. Kevin Seraphin, PF, France

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    The injured Joakim Noah will not be able to play in the Olympics this summer as the French team's starting center, according to Sporting News. Because of that, someone will have to step up big in his place.

    Insert Kevin Seraphin.

    Although Seraphin may not be a name you've heard of, the 6'9" power forward who plays for the Washington Wizards in the NBA has a chance to shine this summer.

    The 22-year-old big man didn't put up huge stats last season, but the final month of his season is when he was truly impressive.

    After spending time as an afterthought on a lowly Wizards team, Seraphin got more playing time in April (32.7 minutes per game) and blossomed.

    During that month, Seraphin averaged 15.5 points and seven rebounds for the Wiz. He has a chance to turn some heads this summer if he continues that great play on the big stage of the Olympics.

    France will need him to step up in Noah's absence. I think Seraphin is up to the task.

8. Nic Batum, SF, France

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    Although Nic Batum's NBA future has yet to be decided considering the Portland Trail Blazers are mulling an offer sheet the 23-year-old signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, his defensive presence on the French Olympic team will be a huge X-factor.

    Batum's defense is reason enough that he'll shine in the Olympics. However, his offensive game is coming around nicely as well.

    Although his offensive game is still mostly potential-driven at this point, Batum's play style favors international competition.

    The game is quicker and more fast-paced, which caters to lanky, athletic players.

    Playing well in the Olympics could be a first step for Batum to prove he's worth Minnesota's four-year, $46 million offer sheet.


    Update: According to ESPN, the Portland Trail Blazers have matched the contract offer for Batum.

7. Jonas Valanciunas, PF/C, Lithuania

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    If you don't yet know the name Jonas Valanciunas, chances are pretty high that you will know him at least by the start of the next NBA season.

    Valanciunas, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors, will play for Lithuania during the 2012 Olympic games and for the Raptors when the NBA season starts later this year.

    The 6'11", 20-year-old big man is proving to everyone that stereotypes are not always true.

    The applicable stereotype here is that European basketball players are "soft." It's a label that has hounded Pau Gasol for years, but it's a title that doesn't fit with Valanciunas.

    The Lithuanian center is tough as nails in the paint and proves it with his interior play. If the Lithuanian team manages to turn some heads this summer, Valanciunas will be a huge reason why.

    However, he's still extremely young, so don't be surprised if he disappoints under Olympic jitters. Even so, I think Valanciunas will play very well.

6. Luis Scola, PF, Argentina

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    Argentina has consistently been one of the surprise teams during the Olympics.

    In 2004, their team, led by Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili, won the Olympic gold medal.

    Only three players remain from that 2004 roster (Leonardo Gutierrez joins Scola and Ginobili in that category), but nevertheless, Argentina needs to be considered a threat to make some noise.

    Scola is now a 32-year-old veteran when compared with the 24-year-old pup who won Olympic gold.

    His leadership will be a huge key for Argentina moving forward. He'll need to step up and use his Olympic pedigree to guide younger players on the roster.

    Scola is a gritty post presence just a year removed from the best NBA season of his career, when he averaged 18.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest.

    Look for Scola to put up big numbers for his home country of Argentina, regardless of whether the team ends up with another medal.

5. Serge Ibaka, PF, Spain

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    Believe it or not, Serge Ibaka will be playing for Spain this summer in the Olympics.

    Although Ibaka was born in the Republic of Congo in Africa, according to ESPN, Ibaka played three seasons for Spanish basketball clubs and was granted Spanish nationality this summer.

    The NBA's leading shot-blocker from a year ago will be a huge difference-maker for Spain this summer, as his defense is rivaled by very few.

    It will be interesting to see how much playing time Ibaka gets playing behind Pau and Marc Gasol, but if Spain is feeling particularly feisty, they could conceivably play all three simultaneously, going with a gigantic lineup.

    Whether Ibaka ends up playing 30 minutes or 10 minutes per game, he'll certainly make his presence felt by altering shots.

4. Manu Ginobili, SG, Argentina

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    In addition to Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili is another Argentinian player who will shine in the 2012 Olympics as a veteran leader.

    Although Ginobili is 34 years old and will turn 35 later this month, he's the best player Argentina has at their disposal.

    A two-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion, Ginobili will undoubtedly have the greatest influence in Argentina's locker room.

    Ginobili has struggled to stay healthy out on the court recently, which has to be seen as a concern. However, if he's out on the court without injury, he'll be one of the most skilled players in the 2012 Olympics.

3. Tony Parker, PG, France

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    Luckily for the French Olympic basketball team, the eye injury Tony Parker sustained at a nightclub in June, which threatened whether he'd be able to compete in the Olympics this summer, won't keep him off the team.

    However, the French team will be without Joakim Noah this summer, so there's added pressure on Parker to play well.

    Parker is no stranger to pressure though, and he's arguably the best point guard in the Olympics who doesn't play for Team USA.

    The French point guard is coming off his best statistical season with the San Antonio Spurs, so it's believable that he'll continue his stellar play this summer.

    France will lean on his abilities to lead the offensive charge as they hunt for an Olympic medal.

2. Marc Gasol, C, Spain

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    Marc Gasol has emerged as a top-five center in the NBA, and he has improved dramatically since his last Olympic stint.

    Not only is a Gasol a great post scorer, but he's also a very capable defender and a brilliant passer for his size.

    As the Gasol brothers go, so go Spain's gold medal chances this summer.

    Spain is extremely confident (for good reason), but without Ricky Rubio's majestic passing skills as Spain's floor general, there's more pressure added on the post players this year.

    If Spain can manage to slow the game down and allow their big men to wreak havoc inside, they'll likely make a deep run this summer in the Olympics.

    However, they need Marc to step up not only on the court with his play, but also on the sidelines with his leadership.

1. Pau Gasol, PF, Spain

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    Although Marc Gasol is a tremendous basketball player, he's still not taking over the top spot from his older brother Pau.

    For all the negativity, trade rumors and scapegoating that has surrounding Pau recently in Los Angeles, he's still the unquestioned leader of Spain's Olympic basketball team.

    Approximately 90 percent of power forwards in the NBA today would love to call averaging 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game a "down year." That's the intriguing reality for Pau following last year's lockout-shortened season.

    Because he has become the Lakers' scapegoat for any and all failures, Pau has actually become an underrated talent, which seems ridiculous given how gifted he is out on the basketball court.

    Pau Gasol should once again embrace his leadership role with Spain this summer and put up fantastic numbers while leading the Spanish team to big wins.