The NBA's Most Fertile Foreign Frontiers
Basketball doesn't stop when the NBA season ends. Instead, the game goes global, with international tournaments and overseas tours by the sport's biggest stars to fill the summer months.
Kobe Bryant went to China, and he took Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard with him. USA Basketball will be one of 24 national teams partaking in the upcoming FIBA World Cup of Basketball, and it should still come away with gold despite the absences of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, among others.
There are even signs of basketball's worldwide expansion back in the states. Sim Bhullar, a 7'5" behemoth of a rookie, recently became the first player of Indian descent to sign an NBA contract—notably, with the Sacramento Kings, whose owner, Vivek Ranadive, hails from India.
"I’ve long believed that India is the next great frontier for the NBA, and adding a talented player like Sim only underscores the exponential growth basketball has experienced in that nation," Ranadive said in the team's press release.
"While Sim is the first player of Indian descent to sign with an NBA franchise, he represents one of many that will emerge from that region as the game continues to garner more attention and generate ever-increasing passion among a new generation of Indian fans."
Bhullar, a Toronto native, could be but the first of many players to blaze a trail from south Asia to the NBA. Still, such a pipeline may well take years, if not decades, to develop, much less to a level where it can compete with those of the following hoops-heavy countries.
The following slides are listed in alphabetical order and are based on established NBA players and those who might gain such a foothold in the foreseeable future.
Who's In: Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Aron Baynes, Matthew Dellavedova
Who's Next: Deng Adel, Cameron Bairstow, Jonah Bolden, Dante Exum, Thon Maker, Ben Simmons
For all of the attention Canada has garnered for its recent surge in star prospects—and rightfully so—the greatest influx of international players from an English-speaking country may well come from Down Under.
Exum, the much-hyped Australian teenager who went fifth overall to the Utah Jazz in the 2014 NBA draft, might not even be the best of the bunch. Simmons, a top prospect in the high school Class of 2015, has already been projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in 2016.
But the biggest prize of all could come the following year, when Maker, a Sudanese-born 7-footer who picked up guard skills when he first learned the game in Australia, is expected to be eligible for the draft.
Within the next half-decade or so, the trio of Exum, Simmons and Maker could constitute the core of a super-skilled Australian contingent on both the NBA and international stages.
Who's In: Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Vitor Faverani, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao
Who's Next: Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Raulzinho Neto
Toronto figures to be on the front lines of the future of Brazilian basketball, thanks to the arrivals of Caboclo and Nogueira.
The former is a lanky wing-forward with the shooting ability and serious attitude to become a star down the line—perhaps even way down the line if his age (18) is any indication. The latter is a happy-go-lucky 7-footer whose afro merely hints at the energy he brings to the court.
Both came into the Raptors' employ on draft night in June: Caboclo as the No. 20 pick, Nogueira in a trade that also brought Lou Williams to Toronto.
Neither figures to play anything more than a cursory role in the Raptors' push for a second consecutive Atlantic Division crown. In a few years, though, they could be serious contributors to the cause, for both their NBA club and their national team.
Who's In: Joel Anthony, Anthony Bennett, Cory Joseph, Steve Nash, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Robert Sacre, Tristan Thompson
Who's Next: Tyler Ennis, Montaque Gill-Ceasar, Justin Jackson, Jamal Murray, Dwight Powell, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Wiggins
Canada has plenty of primo prospects like Gill-Ceasar, Jackson and Murray making their way through the pipeline, but the future is now for our neighbors to the north.
Wiggins and Bennett, the last two No. 1 picks in the NBA draft, will both get to spread their young wings with the Minnesota Timberwolves as a result of the Kevin Love-to-Cleveland trade. Wiggins in particular sports the sort of superstar potential that could lift Canadian basketball to an even higher level.
Those two won't be the only ones to watch this season, though.
Ennis could get some run in with the Phoenix Suns if they don't end up keeping Eric Bledsoe. Stauskas, on the other hand, should see some playing time off the bench for the Sacramento Kings, and he might even be able to push for Ben McLemore's spot in the starting lineup.
Who's In: Alexis Ajinca, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, Ian Mahinmi, Tony Parker, Kevin Seraphin, Ronny Turiaf
Who's Next: Damien Inglis, Mouhammadou Jaiteh, Livio Jean-Charles, Louis Labeyrie, Joffrey Lauvergne, Timothe Luwawu, Isaia Cordinier
The future of French basketball wouldn't appear to be quite as bright as its present, though that may say more about the latter than the former. After all, France is coming off of its first-ever EuroBasket title in 2013.
The country has two key cogs (Parker and Diaw) on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs and a third (Batum) who's been starting consistently for the Portland Trail Blazers since he entered the league in 2008.
Lauvergne, a 2013 draftee whose rights belong to the Denver Nuggets, could play in the Mile High City some time soon. Inglis (Bucks), Jean-Charles (Spurs) and Labeyrie (Pacers) also figure to stay stashed overseas for a while after getting drafted this past June. The same could go for Jaiteh in 2015 and Luwawu and Cordinier in 2016.
At present, the only prospect-aged Frenchman to track in the NBA is Gobert, a 7'1" center who averaged an impressive 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes as a rookie last season.
Who's Next: Alex Abrines, Marc Garcia, Guillem Vives
Like France, Spain sports a strong current NBA contingent but doesn't have a ton of Association-caliber talent coming up through the ranks.
Abrines, who will be playing for the host country at the FIBA World Cup, is in draft-and-stash mode with Barcelona on behalf of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Garcia and Vives could find themselves in a similar situation come 2015, though Garcia's gotten some attention as a potential first-round pick next summer.
Beyond those three, Spain may have to lean on the likes of Rubio, Ibaka, Calderon, Claver and the Gasol brothers to carry the country's NBA torch for a while before more elite prospects come ashore from the Iberian peninsula.
The Next Frontiers
These countries aren't particularly prolific within the NBA's realm just yet but could be at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Who's In: None
Who's Next: Marko Arapovic, Dragan Bender, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mario Hezonja, Damjan Rudez, Dario Saric
With Saric, Hezonja and Bender, Croatia could wind up with three lottery picks in as many drafts. Bogdanovic, meanwhile, is set to debut with the Brooklyn Nets this season, as is Rudez with the Indiana Pacers.
Who's In: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Who's Next: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Kostas Papanikolaou, Ioannis Papapetrou
Kosta Koufos and Nick Calathes would seem glaring omissions here, but both were born and raised in the U.S. Even without those two, the Greek contingent should be worth watching, with the Antetokounmpo brothers carrying the torch.
Who's In: Gorgui Dieng, Hamady N'diaye
Who's Next: Moussa Diagne, Ilimane Diop
Dieng made a name for himself with some strong play on the interior for the Minnesota Timberwolves down the stretch of last season, and we should see Diagne and Diop do the same once they enter the league, perhaps even within the next couple of years.
Who's In: Nemanja Nedovic, Miroslav Raduljica
Who's Next: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Dangubic, Nikola Jokic, Vasilije Micic
Four Serbians were drafted this year, following Nedovic's lead into the league as a first-round pick in 2013.
Find me all over the world...on Twitter, anyway.