Olympic Men's Basketball: 20 Best International Stars in London

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2012

Olympic Men's Basketball: 20 Best International Stars in London

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    Team USA's dominance grabbed most of the basketball headlines at the 2012 London Olympics, but there were a slew of international stars who delighted the fans at North Greenwich Arena.

    Some of these international ballers are well-established NBA players, but several of them do not play their professional hoops in America.

    The African teams, Tunisia and Nigeria, both boast non-NBA talent that shined in London. Spain and Argentina, on the other hand, trotted out NBA mainstays battling for medals. 

    Each of these players excelled this summer and launched international basketball to new heights.

Joe Ingles, Australia

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4.2 assists

    One of the key pieces to Australia's winning record in group play was left-handed forward Joe Ingles.

    The 6'8" playmaker could be counted on to score double digits while also getting his teammates the rock.

    Ingles is no sniper from distance, but he's got a nice, relaxed stroke for a tall forward. He's not afraid to let it fly, and he notched multiple triples in three different games in London.

    Alongside Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and company, Ingles will be a featured part of Australia's quest for gold in 2016.

Luol Deng, Great Britain

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 15.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists

    Great Britain proved to be more than just a token host country at these Olympics.

    Sure, the team was near the cellar of its division and was never a threat to medal, but it still scared some teams and finished strong by pounding China.

    The British have Luol Deng to thank for much of their success, especially in their games against the silver and bronze medalists, Spain and Russia. 

    Deng scored 26 on both countries, but he wasn't one-dimensional. He rebounded and distributed the ball exceptionally well in both games.

Nicolas Batum, France

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 15.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 53 percent FG shooting

    Rising star Nicolas Batum would have been higher on this list, but he padded most of his statistics against the easier teams in the Olympic field.

    Against Team USA and Spain, he had a bit more trouble getting free for open looks or drives to the hoop.

    Seventy-two percent from inside the arc is still extremely efficient, though. Batum knows how to move well without the ball, and the result is often easy baskets assisted by Boris Diaw or Tony Parker.

    He's only 23, so the 2016 games in Rio will be his time to shine.

Salah Mejri, Tunisia

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 10.4 points, 10 rebounds, 3.3 blocks

    In an Olympic field that boasted prolific shot-blockers like Yi Jianlian, Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis, Salah Mejri stood out as the best shot-blocker.

    The 7'1" Tunisian owned the paint while he was on the floor, consistently snagging boards and swatting shots left and right.

    Mejri's best work came against Argentina in group play. He scored 19 points, hauled in 14 boards and blocked seven shots.

    When he wants to, he can utilize his immense size and power. Here's Exhibit A against Team USA.

Marc Gasol, Spain

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists

    Although he's still a sidekick to his older brother Pau, Marc Gasol was a vital piece of Spain's run to the silver medal.

    As his shoulder injury improved, so did his minutes and production. His 20 points lifted Spain over Brazil in group play, and his interior passing was brilliant.

    Gasol doesn't possess the physical gifts that most elite power forwards have, but his feel for the game allows him to get great position, draw fouls and see cutting teammates. Those skills brought Spain within seven points of gold-medal glory.

Sarunas Jasikevicius, Lithuania

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 6.8 points, 5.3 assists, 58 percent 3PT shooting

    He scored less than seven points per game, but Lithuanian veteran Sarunas Jasikevicius showed his Olympic savvy by dealing 5.3 assists per game and shooting almost 60 percent from three-point land.

    With the crop of young talent around him, he didn't need to carry the team offensively like he used to. He picked his spots when it came to shooting, and most of the time the defense paid dearly.

    Jasikevicius was clearly not as proficient as he's been in past Olympics, and Lithuania failed to medal, but he's still one of the best floor generals in Europe.

Leandro Barbosa, Brazil

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 16.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 40 percent 3PT shooting

    As the London Games progressed, Brazilian guard Leandro Barbosa became increasingly effective. His turnovers decreased, his outside shooting heated up and he stayed out of foul trouble.

    Barbosa's excellence was critical in Brazil's impressive 4-1 record in Group B, which turned out to be a tougher group than expected.

    Argentina thwarted Brazil's attempt to reach the semifinals, but it wasn't Barbosa who let his country down.

    He accounted for almost 30 percent of his club's offense in its final game in London.

Joel Freeland, Great Britain

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 90 percent FT shooting

    Great Britain forward Joel Freeland will be making his NBA debut this fall, six years after being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers.

    The 6'11" forward teamed with Luol Deng to give several Group B teams trouble.

    His 25 points against Spain put England in a position to pull off what would have been the signature upset of the tournament.

    Freeland's reliable jump shot and one-handed flip shot will serve him well in the Western Conference, as he'll be a role player to add depth to a retooling Blazers club.

Pablo Prigioni, Argentina

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 83 percent FT shooting

    Future New York Knicks reserve Pablo Prigioni directed the Argentinian attack to the bronze-medal game, and he proved to be the top assist man in the Olympics.

    Prigioni is a pure point guard, always running the offense, facilitating and rarely shooting.

    In his six Olympic games, Prigioni also made his presence felt on the defensive end by grabbing 11 steals and playing tough defense on the world's best perimeter players.

    As a veteran guard with mediocre athleticism, he won't excel in the NBA, but the London Games were the best preparation he could ask for.

Alexey Shved, Russia

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 11.4 points, 5.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds

    Before this summer, Alexey Shved was just another scrappy international guard in the eyes of most American basketball fans.

    Now, he's considered a dynamic guard who could factor into the Minnesota Timberwolves rotation this fall, provided he cleans up the turnovers.

    Shved's ball-handling skills and body control were instrumental in Russia earning its first basketball medal since the Soviet days. In the bronze-medal game, he torched Argentina for 25 points on 6-11 three-point shooting, seven assists and just one turnover.

Ike Diogu, Nigeria

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 14.8 points, 9 rebounds, 81 percent FT shooting

    Few international players have a better nose for the basketball than Ike Diogu. Few of them have ability to finish in traffic like him either.

    Nigeria's powerful forward crashed the offensive glass consistently in London, providing himself and his teammates with second-chance points.

    Those second chances didn't help the Nigeria compete for a medal, but they reaffirmed Diogu's skills and his potential to impact every game in the paint. His put-backs, strong finishes and short-range jumpers gave Nigeria something to root for in an otherwise bleak Olympics.

Luis Scola, Argentina

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 18 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists

    Argentina forward Luis Scola is difficult to defend for an entire game, which is why he went to the free-throw line 51 times in London.

    He can face up, shoot the elbow jump shot, or pump fake and drive with either hand. If that's not working, he can play back-to-the-basket and use his footwork to get high-percentage opportunities.

    Team USA successfully kept him off the glass and limited his offensive effectiveness, but overall, Scola enjoyed a nice run at the Olympics.

Makram Ben Romdhane, Tunisia

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 15.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists

    Over the course of the past couple weeks, Makram Ben Romdhane established himself as one of the best non-NBA players in the Olympics.

    He's near the top of the leader board in points, rebounds and steals, as he teamed with Salah Mejri to lead the Tunisian attack.

    Ben Romdhane managed to put up big numbers on the offensive end even though he had some tough defensive assignments against the likes of Team USA, France and Argentina. He was in foul trouble more often than not, yet he played exceptionally well.

Marcelinho Huertas, Brazil

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 11.3 points, 6 assists, 2.2 rebounds

    Marcelinho Huertas of Brazil is the best non-NBA point guard in the world.

    His combination of court vision and pass execution is spectacular. He pulls off some of the most inventive passes, both in the half-court setting and on the fast break.

    In the Olympics he had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios, as he controlled the ball markedly better than guards Pablo Prigioni and Alexey Shved.

    When defenses aren't careful, Huertas will burn them himself by putting up a floater or getting all the way to the rim.

Yi Jianlian, China

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks

    Leading a country of 1.6 billion people is no easy feat, but Yi Jianlian successfully represented China this summer.

    He played his way into the top five in rebounds and blocks in London, and his mid-range shooting was outstanding at North Greenwich Arena.

    After a 30-point barrage against Spain in the Olympic opener, Yi's offense cooled down somewhat. But he continued to protect the paint and rebound at a high level.

    Four years from now in Rio de Janeiro he'll be a seasoned 28-year old pro looking to take China to the next level of international contention.

Manu Ginobili, Argentina

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 19.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists

    It's one thing to be aggressive and attack the defense whenever possible. Anyone can do that.

    Manu Ginobili takes it to another level. He can slash to the hoop and open things up for his teammates, but he can also finish in traffic, draw a foul and convert the free throws.

    This summer, he converted every single free-throw, going 34-for-34 in London.

    The consistent aggressiveness from Ginobili resulted in charity-stripe opportunities, which gave him consistent production in all 8 Olympic games.

    Unfortunately for Argentinians, Ginobili's prowess wasn't enough to bring them back to the medal podium.

Tony Parker, France

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 15.7 points, 3.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds

    After a rough first game against Team USA, Tony Parker settled in for a solid Olympic tournament.

    His French squad separated itself as one of the better teams in the field, yet it lacked any depth behind Parker at guard to contend for a medal.

    Parker's knack for getting into the lane and putting pressure on the defense could only go so far.

    Were the 2012 Games his last Olympics? If not, it certainly is the last Olympics with Parker as one of the most dominant players.

Pau Gasol, Spain

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 19.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists

    It's difficult to overestimate the profound impact Pau Gasol has on every game for the Spanish national squad.

    He serves as a low-post point guard, able to facilitate for teammates while working on the block.

    When he receives the ball in good position, he's a constant threat to pass out of a double team, shoot a short jumper, or attack the hoop and draw a foul.

    Gasol went to the free-throw line 44 times in London, third most among all Olympians. This helped the Spanish wear down their opponents and get them into foul trouble late in games.

Andrei Kirilenko, Russia

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals

    He's one of the most unorthodox players of this generation, but he's one of the most effective.

    Russia's Andrei Kirilenko proves that you don't need all the moves to be a star player, especially on the international stage.

    The future Minnesota Timberwolves forward propelled his country to the bronze medal by attacking on both ends of the court. He wore down every defense he saw by simply staying aggressive.

    Defensively, his anticipation, positioning and active hands led to countless turnovers throughout the tournament.

Patty Mills, Australia

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    2012 Olympic Statistics (Per Game): 21.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists

    The most exciting combo guard of the tournament, Patty Mills used his speed and agility to lead Australia to a 3-2 record in group play and a quarterfinal loss to Team USA.

    He focused predominantly on scoring in this tournament, but he always reserved the right to sneak a sharp pass to a teammate when necessary.

    Mills' games against Great Britain and Russia showed that his value to the team is sometimes quantity, and sometimes quality. He blasted Great Britain for 39 points, and then scored just 13 against Russia but hit the winning shot.

    Will the Olympics' leading scorer translate this summer's success into the 2012-13 NBA season? It depends on whether Gregg Popovich gives him playing time.

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