Most Interesting Names to Watch During 2013 FIBA EuroBasket Tournament
NBA fans hankering for a taste of hoops won't have to wait another two months to get their fix, thanks to the 2013 FIBA Eurobasket Tournament.
With all of Europe's top teams (and for some reason, Canada) getting together to kick off group play in Slovenia from Sept. 4-22, there'll be more than enough action to satisfy the appetites of even the hungriest hoops consumers.
A number of the NBA's biggest names have skipped the tournament—including Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah—but their absences open up the stage for some intriguing talents to enjoy the spotlight.
We'll run through some of the most interesting NBA players who'll be participating in the tournament, with a particular eye toward what a breakout performance might mean for their American teams in the immediate future.
Ricky Rubio's ready. Bring it on, Europe.
The Big Guns
Despite some notable absences, there's still some real NBA star power in the tournament. For our purposes, established vets like Tony Parker (France), Marc Gasol (Spain), Marcin Gortat (Poland) and Omer Asik (Turkey) aren't particularly "interesting."
We know what to expect from these guys, and other than avoiding injury, there's not a lot these guys can do to raise or lower their stock this summer.
Parker should probably take it easy on his gimpy knee, and Gortat should consider staying overseas instead of returning to the tanking Suns. Other than those concerns, though, there's not a lot of intrigue surrounding the known commodities in this year's tournament.
Now, on to more exciting options.
Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania
The Toronto Raptors will be watching closely to see if Jonas Valanciunas' bulked-up frame will transform the big man into a potential franchise centerpiece.
After a solid rookie year in which he averaged 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds on 56 percent shooting, Valanciunas showed up to the Las Vegas Summer League with a few extra pounds of muscle.
Thanks in part to his newfound strength, he walked away with the league's MVP award.
As the centerpiece of a Lithuanian team that should be a real contender to win the tournament, there's a lot of pressure resting on the suddenly broader shoulders of the 21-year-old kid.
He'll have national hero Sarunas Jasikevicius at his side, but you can bet that most of the focus will be on the promising 6'11" center. If he makes a big impact, it could be a sign of a monster year ahead.
Nicolas Batum, France
Part of the intrigue surrounding Nicolas Batum has to do with his basketball skill. At just 24, the Portland Trail Blazers wing possesses every individual talent that an elite swingman needs. He's long, athletic, can knock down a three and projects as a terrific defensive player.
But he just hasn't put it all together yet.
Maybe Eurobasket will mark the moment that everything finally clicks for the Frenchman.
More importantly, the world will be watching to see if Batum repeats his attempt to create an international incident. Cups are now mandatory for the entire Spanish team when they square off against France.
Luigi Datome, Italy
Everybody jumped all over the Detroit Pistons when they signed Josh Smith to a big offseason deal, largely because his presence on the roster meant that there was even less perimeter shooting in the rotation than ever.
But Italian sharpshooter Luigi Datome signed a two-year, $3.5 million deal just five days later, giving the Pistons a potentially elite sniper on the cheap.
Datome is just 25, but already has nearly a decade of international experience. He won the Italian League's MVP award last season, averaging 16.6 points and 5.8 rebounds for Virtus Roma. At 6'9", he spread the floor beautifully, shooting 47 percent from the field and knocking down 41 percent of his triples.
Watch for him to make one last international splash before he takes his game stateside.
Donatas Motiejunas, Lithuania
Donatas Motiejunas could be the floor-spacing power forward the Houston Rockets desperately want.
Then again, he could also go through another season marked by soft defensive play and uninspiring three-point shooting that would leave the Rockets searching for someone to knock down shots from the corner.
There's a feeling that Motiejunas, a highly skilled 7'0" forward, could be the real deal. But like so many international projects, he hasn't come close to realizing his potential with Houston.
Last year, he hit just 29 percent of his three-point attempts.
A big tournament showing could go a long way toward determining which way his career will tip in the coming years. If Motiejunas can't find his stroke and looks easily bullied by international competition, it could mean that he'll never have what it takes to make an impact for the Rockets.
But if he plays under control, proves he can battle down low when necessary and fires away from long range, Houston general manager Daryl Morey might separate his shoulder patting himself on the back.
Goran Dragic, Slovenia
Congratulations, Goran Dragic! The Phoenix Suns are pretty much your team now.
That's a sad reality for the young, creative point guard. But perhaps the raucous cheers that'll rain down on him during the 2013 Eurobasket tournament will help Dragic forget what awaits him when he returns to Phoenix in a month or so.
In front of a Slovenian crowd, Dragic is going to dazzle a biased audience with clever passing and aggressive drives.
The Suns are counting on him to be a major cornerstone of their rebuilding project, so now would be a good time for him to let it all hang out. If he can bottle up some of the confidence and good vibes he'll undoubtedly earn in the coming weeks, maybe he'll have a better chance to be the player Phoenix needs him to be.
Tristan Thompson, Canada
Putting aside questions of why Canada belongs in a Eurobasket tournament, one intriguing big man from the great, white North will get an opportunity to show off against Europe's best.
Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers will give the world its first extended look at his game since the forward made the switch from left-handed to right-handed shooting. He's going to be a key part of a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has real playoff aspirations for the first time since LeBron James left town.
So if Thompson can become even marginally effective as a scorer outside the paint, he could really propel the Cavs to new heights.
As Canada's No. 1 option, he'll get plenty of chances to prove he's ready.
Nikola Vucevic, Montenegro
Everybody knows that Spain's Marc Gasol is the top big man in the tournament, but Montenegro's Nikola Vucevic would like to show the world that he's not far behind the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Vucevic blew up for the Orlando Magic last season, averaging 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds in just over 33 minutes per game. Not bad for a secondary piece in last summer's four-team trade that shuffled up Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala.
Vucevic is a beast inside who should run wild against a cast of slender international big men.
If he doesn't lead the tournament in rebounding, it'll be a shock.
We may be a few years away from Vucevic really pushing Gasol for European supremacy, but it'll be fascinating to see if the 22-year-old center can carry the momentum from a terrific NBA season into what could be his breakout tournament.
Nemanja Nedovic, Serbia
Anytime a guy gets the label of "The European Derrick Rose," he automatically becomes interesting.
That's the tag Serbian guard Nemanja Nedovic earned during the scouting process that led up to the 2013 NBA draft, and he'll get to show the world whether or not he deserves it during Eurobasket.
Given the raw talent across the rosters of the teams in this tournament, Nedovic probably doesn't rate among Eurobasket's top 20 players. But from a pure curiosity standpoint, doesn't everyone want to see where all of the Rose comparisons come from?
All we've seen is grainy video so far, so it'll be great to finally get an extended look at Nedovic's game.
The Golden State Warriors, who wound up with Nedovic after a flurry of draft-day trades, will certainly be watching closely.
Ricky Rubio, Spain
Ricky Rubio is a joy to watch in any context, but he's really in his element when international play brings a wide-open game with a ramped-up pace.
Get ready for no-look passes, unbelievably creative playmaking and a ton of style.
As the tournament favorite, Spain will need a big performance from Rubio to hold off a host of worthy competitors. Should the point guard fail to impress, France, Greece, Lithuania and Turkey will all be ready to pounce.
The pressure of Eurobasket should be a nice primer for a 2013-14 NBA season in which Rubio will be expected to help lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to their first playoff berth since 2004.
Fully healthy and coming into his own as a leader, Rubio is positioned to reclaim his status as "international basketball darling" if he plays well in the coming weeks.