Non-International Team: FC Barcelona
Height/Weight: 6'3", 185 pounds
Age: 31 years old
NBA Comparison: Ricky Rubio with a shot
One of the best non-NBA players in the world, Marcelinho Huertas is now set to make his name known to more than those who follow Brazilian basketball and the Spanish ACB. After all, he's one of the leaders on his country's international squad, and he has the ability to function as a huge difference-maker at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Right off the bat, Huertas came to play.
Huertas: "France is one of the hardest teams in the group, so this is a good step. Not a definitive step, but a good one." #Spain2014— EuroleagueBasketball (@Euroleague) August 30, 2014
In a narrow Day 1 victory over the Tony Parker-less French squad, the dynamic 31-year-old guard finished with a team-high 16 points and five dimes to go along with his lone steal and pair of rebounds in the World Cup opener. He shot 5-of-8 from the field, 2-of-3 beyond the arc and 4-of-6 at the charity stripe.
Get used to it.
Huertas may have never suited up in the NBA, but that doesn't prevent him from asserting himself as one of the world's better point guards. After all, this isn't going to be the first international competition he's excelled in, as he was also a standout performer at the 2012 Olympics in London.
In fact, Dan Devine, writing for Yahoo Sports, had nothing but positive things to say about Huertas after that tournament:
Maybe I'm just biased toward point guards. But watching the 29-year-old Huertas, frequently feted as the best point guard not playing in the NBA, turn Tiago Splitter into a legitimate scoring threat near the basket during Brazil's run to the quarterfinals was sensational.
Huertas' pace in the halfcourt, control in the pick-and-roll game, court vision in transition and ability to complete passes others might not attempt made him a gripping watch throughout the tournament, and while Brazil came up just shy of the medal round, Huertas showed in the five-point loss to Argentina that he's willing and able to call his own number when needed, scoring 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting.
(Just lay off the one-foot 3-pointers late in the fourth, OK, Marcelinho? There's such a thing as too much swag.)
Since then, there's been more of the same, even if he flew under the radar while playing for FC Barcelona.
If you're already familiar with his game, kudos. Keep it up. But if you're not, it's time to change that before he continues throwing up big lines for Brazil at the World Cup.
Though Huertas is more than capable of stepping up and carrying a significant scoring load for his country, his primary skill comes as a distributor. And considering the wealth of talent in the Brazilian frontcourt—Anderson Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter all suit up for the squad—that's quite important, as he's uniquely capable of getting everything humming.
In fact, the primary reason he drew the earlier comparison to Rubio is the insane floor vision.
Huertas, blessed with a 6'3" frame that allows him to see over smaller guards, understands what's developing long before it comes to pass, and he takes advantage of that ability.
There is no passing lane that he won't see, and teammates constantly have to keep their heads on swivels in order to stay prepared for the dimes that somehow find their way through the teeth of a defense. And, what makes him even more fun to watch is the flair with which he operates.
Chest passes? Simple distributions to his teammates?
Huertas might have to be Iggy Azalea's favorite player (NSFW)...other than Nick Young, of course.
We're talking about behind-the-back passes, ones that go through the legs, passes of the one-handed variety and plenty of no-look assists. Huertas has an innate understanding of his teammates' positioning, as well as that of the opposition, and it shows up readily in his fanciness.
Watching USA-Brazil again. Marcelo Huertas' no-look passes >>> Stephen Curry's no-look passes.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) August 20, 2014
In general, it's pretty difficult to play defense against this guard. If he's pressured, he displays fantastic care for the ball and can make the opposition pay with a quick pass through a tight space, but if the other team sags off, he's fully capable of knocking down open jumpers.
It's all about defense and athleticism.
Though Huertas has a decent amount of lateral quickness, he's an extremely skinny player who can get bullied by physical opponents. It's easy to post him up, and screens are often about as effective as solidly constructed brick walls, given his extreme lack of weight and inability to quickly change direction in order to get around them.
If he's tested on a consistent basis, the Brazilian defense can be exposed by players capable of getting into the lane and forcing the bigs into early foul trouble.
Offensively, the weakness is consistency.
Though he does tend to avoid turnovers, showing a good knack for dealing with on-ball pressure and an ability to avoid forcing passes into lanes that don't exist, his shooting can hold back his squad. When his shot isn't falling, which does happen on occasion, defenders can sag off and clutter up the interior of the Brazilian offense.
That didn't happen against France, but it's something to look out for if he clangs his first few attempts off the rim in a future outing.
What to Expect
More of the same.
Per FIBA.com, Huertas averaged 11.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game at the 2012 Olympics. He followed that up by posting 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists during the average contest at the 2013 Tuto Marchand Continental Cup, then he recorded 8.5 points, 2.5 boards and 6.5 dimes per game later that year at the FIBA Americas Championship.
With other key backcourt contributors such as Alex Garcia, 34, and Leandro Barbosa, 31, starting to show the effects of Father Time, there should be more importance placed on Huertas' scoring than there has been recent years. He handled that pressure well with 16 points in the opener in Brazil, though that number will likely dip throughout the tournament.
The 31-year-old guard is a consistent offensive performer who's surrounded by a host of complementary talent on a strong Brazilian squad. If he's playing well, his country is fully capable of taking home the bronze medal, though dethroning the United States or Spain might be asking a bit too much.
Huertas, as always, is magic for Brazil. So fun to watch.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) August 30, 2014
Huertas likely won't be a statistical star during this tournament, as he will finish with averages of right around a dozen points and five assists during the typical outing. But he'll be an efficient, valuable player for Brazil—one who captivates your attention whenever he's on the hardwood.
Don't make the mistake of overlooking him for the next few weeks.