7 Players to Watch at FIBA Americas Championship

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2013

7 Players to Watch at FIBA Americas Championship

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    The FIBA Americas Championship are scheduled to kick off this Friday, and with them, some world class competition is expected to take place. 

    With a basketball powerhouse like Argentina projected to dominate the tournament thanks to their stable of NBA quality veterans (Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili and Pablo Prigioni, to name a few), a new generation of talent is ready and waiting to make an impact.

    Here are seven players who deserve your attention. A few have already logged a year or two in the NBA, but the majority are still hoping to broaden their audience some day soon. They're ranked in no particular order. 

Tristan Thompson, Team Canada

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    Thanks to a surprisingly productive sophomore season, it feels like Tristan Thompson is already an NBA veteran, but at just 22 years old his room for improvement remains massive.

    Already one of the NBA’s best offensive rebounders (his 306 were second highest in the league last year), Thompson figures to be a key part of a rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers squad, alongside Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Dion Waiters.

    If Andrew Bynum can give Cleveland anything next season, look out for Thompson, who should continue to fly under the radar with his unorthodox ability to attack defenses with both hands. By the time this tournament is over, Thompson may have risen as its best player. 

Cory Joseph, Team Canada

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    As a then-21-year-old backup point guard contributing on a team that was mere seconds away from winning the championship last season, Cory Joseph proved his worth as a valuable NBA player.

    With the tough task of spelling Tony Parker whenever the All-Star point guard needed rest, Joseph did a fantastic job anteing up San Antonio’s full-court ball pressure last season, exerting the type of energy ball-handlers definitely don’t enjoy facing.

    He’s yet to develop a three-point shot, which is all but a necessary requirement if he wants to continue playing in the NBA once his raw athleticism simmers down. But for now, Joseph is an exciting player to watch, if for nothing else than the way he makes his man incredibly uncomfortable on the defensive end.

Andrew Nicholson, Team Canada

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    Despite playing for a rebuilding Orlando Magic team that you’d think was filled with opportunities for its young talent, Andrew Nicholson struggled in his rookie season.

    Averaging only 16.7 minutes per game on a team that won just 20 games, Nicholson barely had the chance to show why he was worth selecting with the 19th pick in the 2012 draft.

    His potential as a solid contributor for a quality NBA team still exists, though. Nicholson averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last year, shooting 52.7 percent from the floor and making 45.3 percent of all jumpers from 16 feet to the three-point line (a great number considering he attempted 161 shots from that area, per Basketball-Reference.com).

    Nicholson is a blossoming talent, and the FIBA Americas Championship should be a great opportunity to see what parts of his game have improved.

Karl Towns Jr., Team Dominican Republic

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    University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari has an undeniably brilliant eye for NBA talent, and 7’1” Karl Town Jr. might be next in line as one of his great discoveries.

    Due to join the Wildcats next season, Towns already has experience playing for Calipari on the Dominican National team. Thanks to his unreal size and impressive pedigree, Towns Jr. is currently ranked as the sixth best recruit in ESPN’s Top 100 for 2014.

    Seven-foot talents are rare.

    If this is the first time you’re hearing of Karl Towns Jr., it most certainly won’t be the last. Draft Express believes he's a sure-fire lottery pick in the 2014 draft. 

Marcelinho Huertas, Team Brazil

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    Those who watched the 2012 Olympic Games in London surely remember Marcelinho Huertas, the long-haired point guard from Brazil, whose creative style drew comparisons to Steve Nash.

    Huertas is already 30 years old, so his days of playing meaningful minutes in the NBA are obviously numbered. But he can shoot, has good size and is smart. New York Knicks second-year guard Pablo Prigioni showed last season that he could contribute in the NBA, giving hope to Huertas—should he choose to do the same.

    Huertas is six years younger than Prigioni and a better shooter (he shot 43.9 percent on three-pointers in his first year with FC Barcelona two seasons ago and an insane 97.2 percent last year from the free-throw line). Finding guards who can shoot has never been more important in the NBA, meaning the door is still open for Huertas to surprise some people.

Rafael Hettsheimeir, Team Brazil

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    A huge man, who has been good enough in the past to usurp minutes from Nene and Tiago Splitter on Team Brazil, Rafael Hettsheimeir has the type of body NBA teams absolutely love.

    His name has been thrown into NBA-related gossip in the past (including a rumored offer from the Dallas Mavericks in 2012), but knee surgery last season derailed a possible debut in the United States.

    Hettsheimeir is still just 27, and hopefully has a lot of productive basketball ahead of him. This tournament will be a fantastic opportunity for him to show NBA scouts he’s healthy enough to compete at the world’s highest level.

Dylan Ennis, Team Jamaica

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    At point guard, Jamaica enters the FIBA Americas Championship with Dylan Ennis leading the way. A 6’2” guard who’s primed to lead Villanova next season, when he’ll be a sophomore, Ennis can score, shoot from distance and create opportunities off the bounce for others.

    After playing his freshman season at Rice University in 2012, Ennis was forced to sit out last season after transferring to Villanova. In his only year of college ball, Ennis proved his ability and averaged 4.1 assists per game, which was good enough for sixth in all of Conference USA. His 144 total assists placed him in fourth.

    Turnovers were a problem, but that’s to be expected from a freshman point guard averaging nearly 27 minutes per game. He also shot 35.4 percent from behind the three-point line, which should translate well to the International game’s need for spacing.