5 International Basketball Stars That Would Excel in the NBA
The NBA may be the highest level of professional basketball, but by no means is it the exclusive home for the game's finest players.
During the buildup to the London Olympics, dozens of international stars have shown that they have the credentials to excel on a global stage. The original Dream Team was the catalyst for basketball's intercontinental growth, and 20 years later, the 2012 Olympics is proof positive that there is literally a world of untapped talent out there.
So, as the Olympic basketball tournament draws to a close, here's a look at five international players who have the potential to star in the NBA.
Twenty-seven-year-old Bo McCalebb is an explosive scorer who has starred for several European teams since going pro in 2008. The six-foot point guard was the Euroleague scoring champion last year as he averaged 16.9 points per game for Italian club Montepashi. Following the season, he was named the MVP of the Italian League.
With 2,679 points to his credit, McCalebb is currently 22nd on the all-time Division I scoring list. But while McCalebb will never be chosen to represent the United States in international competition, he recently became a naturalized citizen of Macedonia and nearly led his new home country to the 2012 Olympics.
McCalebb averaged 26.3 PPG and 6.0 RPG during July's FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela. Yet despite McCalebb's best efforts, Macedonia's 86-76 loss in the quarterfinals to the Dominican Republic prevented the team from earning a spot in the London Games.
Lithuania gave Team USA a scare on Saturday, and one of the reasons that the game was so close was the play of point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius.
ACC basketball fans may remember Jasikevicius from his time with the Maryland Terrapins in the mid-to-late 1990s when he starred alongside Keith Booth and Laron Profit. But aside from a two-year stint in the NBA from 2005 to 2007, the lion's share of Jasikevicius' pro basketball success has come overseas.
Not only is Jasikevicius the Euroleague's winningest active player, he was also named to the Euroleague's most recent All-Decade Team back in 2010. Unfortunately, at 36 years of age, it's clear that Jasikevicius' better years are pretty much behind him at this point. That said, he did just win the MVP award at the Greek Cup and will soon be re-joining a powerhouse Barcelona club that he led to a Euroleague title back in 2003.
Brazil's established NBA stars—including Anderson Varejao, Nene Hilario and Leandro Barbosa—attract most of the attention from opposing teams, but point guard Marcelinho Huertas is the driving force behind his country's success on the basketball court.
Huertas had a coming-out party of sorts back on July 16 when he scored 11 points and dished out 13 assists in Brazil's 80-69 loss to the United States in a pre-Olympic exhibition game. The 6'3" Huertas finished with more assists than the entire U.S. team as he routinely attacked the soft spots in the American defense.
While it would be intriguing to watch the 29-year-old Huertas compete against NBA talent on a regular basis, that isn't likely to happen any time soon. A buyout of seven million Euro (roughly $8.67 million) will undoubtedly keep him with current club FC Barcelona for at least the next three seasons.
Jonas Valanciunas was the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors, but a hefty buyout ($2.5 million) kept him in Lithuania for the past 12 months.
His final season in Europe was nothing short of impressive: The seven-footer was named both the Lithuanian Player of the Year as well as the FIBA European Young Player of the Year as he averaged 14.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 1.9 BPG for Lietuvos Rytas.
With the buyout no longer an issue, the Raptors recently signed Valanciunas to a two-year deal—expect for him to start in the Toronto frontcourt alongside Andrea Bargnani sooner rather than later. The 20-year-old Valanciunas is an extremely proficient scorer whose blend of size and skill has led some to compare him to Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler.
Russian combo guard Alexey Shved has had an impressive showing in the London Olympics, and appears to be well worth the three-year, $10 million contract that he signed last month with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Shved has spent the last six years starring in Russia, and was a key figure in CSKA Moscow's run to the Russian National Championship last season. In the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament last month, Shved scored 22 points, dished out six assists and grabbed four rebounds as he helped Russia clinch a berth in the 2012 Olympics.
Shved is a silky smooth player who is very adept at creating both for himself as well as for his teammates. With his ability to play both guard positions, the 6'6" Shved projects to be a nice complementary player in a loaded Timberwolves' backcourt that boasts Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea.