2010 FIBA World Championship: Ricky Rubio and 10 NBA Prospects In the Tournament
Consequential basketball games in late August and September? FIBA bestows the sport's die-hard followers with the ultimate largesse every four years. The Summer Olympics fill in those two-year gaps. In the remaining summers, the organization uses regional clashes to determine the entrants for each competition.
Late summer hoops matches cure monotony and build the brand. The 2010 World Championship has provided a respite from the deluge of exhausted offseason debates.
How many more articles can Bleacher Report members publish about LeBron James' tarnished image, Kobe Bryant's legacy, where Andrew Bynum ranks among the top centers, and a projected Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat NBA Finals?
I shudder at the thought.
The final scores matter--unlike in Las Vegas, where what happens on the UNLV Campus stays there--and the tournament winner can call itself the "world champion" without sounding pompous or uninformed. The gold medalist secures an automatic berth in the next Olympics. The field of contenders in Turkey hoping for that lone guaranteed pass to London is deep and unpredictable.
The host nation, the U,S., Spain, Greece, Argentina, Brazil, Serbia, and Lithuania will compete for three medals. Any of them, given the ideal elimination round path and a string of torrid shooting nights, could leave Istanbul with gold. American Idol's judging panel search would not be dicier if producers selected a replacement for Simon Cowell with a game of darts.
Tournament viewership also offers additional welfare to Americans and other pro basketball fanatics: the chance to watch some future NBA contributors hustle on the hardwood. Does your team of choice need a steady point guard with a stellar assist-to-turnover ratio? How about a seven-foot glass hound who espouses physicality?
A number of international participants signed with NBA clubs this summer and could impact the postseason and championship chases. Turkish center Omer Asik will back up Joakim Noah in Chicago. Turkish center Semih Erden figures to play spot minutes in Boston. Russian center Timofey Mozgov inked a three-year deal to tackle a reserve role in New York.
No overseas signee matters more than Brazilian forward-center Tiago Splitter. After a three-year wait, the two-time ACB League MVP decided to trade his Caja Laboral gig in Spain for one in San Antonio. The 2007 first-round draft pick will provide Tim Duncan with his finest frontcourt assistance since David Robinson.
A slew of national team standouts could join Asik, Erden, Mosgov, and Splitter in a few years. Ricky Rubio, the NBA prospect with the most intrigue, can abandon his F.C. Barcelona deal in 2011 and make the NBA jump. New York Times Reporter Pete Thamel called him "Spanish basketball's answer to Justin Bieber" in a piece on his popularity there.
The Minnesota Timberwolves selected the 19-year-old prodigious point guard with the fifth pick in the 2009 draft. Will he warm up Minneapolis, will GM David Kahn trade his rights before 2011, or will he play possum again and avoid the mega transition once more?
He earned the name "La Pistola" for his Pete Maravich-like craftiness with the rock. His ball-hawking defense has drawn rave reviews from Kahn, Kevin Durant, scouts, and his Spanish coaches. His playmaking has stupefied witnesses and hypnotized opponents.
Rubio's sheepish five-point, six-assist, three-rebound tournament average shows he's still a work in progress. He must learn to be more demonstrative and dominant in the endgame, and his jumpshot is shakier than a wooden ladder infested with termites. A player with a polished repertoire of off-the-dribble moves should also get to the line more.
His best game this week came against New Zealand: eight points, 11 assists, and three steals. Spain won that tussle 101-84.
Here are 10 other ballers who might crash the NBA's hardwoods before the end of the decade. This list does not include players with previous league experience a la Vassilis Spanoulis, Jackson Vroman, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Roko Ukic.
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Current Pro Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv
Tournament Averages: 11 points, five rebounds
Height and Weight: 6'9", 344 lbs.
Drafted: 2003, Los Angeles Clippers (34th)
Schortsanitis, known by many as "Big Sofo" or "Baby Shaq," remains Clippers draft property. He turned down an NBA offer in 2006 to fulfill his contractual commitment to Greek club Olympiacos. He did not impress L.A.'s front office enough in Las Vegas this summer and walked away empty handed.
He often renders other European centers helpless with his rare combination of nimble feet, surprising foot speed, and an imposing bulk. He mauls foes in the half-court and finishes whiz-bang dunks in transition. His strength allows him to find his way to ideal post-up spots on either block.
He projects as an NBA backup, though, because his body mass, which could still use some reduction, limits his conditioning. His grievous 50 percent free-throw shooting is Shaq-like, and he cannot consistently score inside because his size and lack of a jumpshot handicap him.
He served a several-game suspension for his role in a recent brawl against Serbia, and a return to his customary productivity would have keyed Greece's medal chances. Just as he would in the states, he often plays a reserve role on Jonas Kazlauskas' squad. The talented center he backs up also cracks this list. Hint: check the next slide.
Spain eliminated Greece 80-72 Saturday night. Schortsanitis scored 13 points and pulled down four rebounds in the defeat.
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Current Pro Team: Olympiacos, A1 Ethinki
Tournament Averages: 12.4 points, 6.8 rebounds
Height and Weight: 7'0", 280 lbs
A poorly translated report in June 2009 that said the San Antonio Spurs had offered Bourosis a four-year deal using the mid-level exception proved false. The Spurs' interest in the Greek center, though, remains real. An NBA comparison: a taller, more athletic Luis Scola with three-point range.
He was a non-factor in Greece's Saturday flameout, but still ranks as one of the most complete packages marinating overseas. Like Splitter, he figures to approximate his Euroleague averages (example from 2008-2009: 12.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 59 percent shooting) if he travels across the pond. The Karditsan Giant possesses the basketball acumen Gregg Popovich demands from his players and could start now or occupy a vital reserve role on a playoff club.
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Country: New Zealand
Current Pro Team: NZ Breakers
Tournament Averages: 12.6 points, 7.4 rebounds
Height and Weight: 6'6", 198 lbs
Drafted: No (One season at Washington State University)
New Zealand is not a hotbed for NBA talent, a "no duh" statement that ranks up there with where the sun rises and sets. The latest import, Sean Marks, has been a spare minutes journeyman, and the country boasts as many household pro names as a teenage garage band performing living room concerts.
Yet, Abercrombie impressed on his three-win squad as much as any tournament standout. After an inauspicious seven-point, 11-rebound debut, he poured in 19 points against Spain and 23 against Lebanon. He skies for alley-oops, rebounds exceptionally well for a guard, records an occasional sendback (did you see him crush a Linas Kleiza lay-up attempt?), and hustles on defense. He must improve his defensive discipline and awareness, as evidenced by his 19 fouls in five games.
His teammate Kirk Penney, who ranks second in the tournament in scoring (25.4), played briefly for the Miami Heat and L.A. Clippers. Abercrombie might not shake David Stern's hand in the next three years, but mark him down as one to watch.
Nando De Colo
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Current Pro Team: Valencia
Tournament Averages: 7.6 points, 2.4 assists, one steal
Height and Weight: 6'5", 201 lbs
Position: Point Guard, Shooting Guard
Drafted: 2009, San Antonio Spurs (53rd)
Splitter isn't the only Spurs draftee silver and black supporters can follow in Turkey. De Colo starts for France and will return to the same league (Liga ACB) Splitter dominated a year ago. He earned MVP honors in the 2008 French League All-Star game and has starred numerous times in the EuroChallenge.
As an NBA prospect, De Colo is as rough as they come. He operates best in the open court, where his vision and playmaking shine brightest. He rifles in an odd looking pull-up jumper, floors quicker guards with deceptive hesitation moves, and shoots in the high 80s and low 90s from the charity stripe.
Opponents have exposed his matador defense in Turkey, and his subpar lateral quickness leaves him susceptible to eating his man's trail of dust. He threw some wild passes last week French coach Vincent Collet was not wild about.
I could not think of a proper NBA comparison, so I looked to Draft Express for help ("Best Case: Beno Udrih"). Spurs fans know how the Popovich-Udrih relationship ended. I can say this: He is not the next Tony Parker in waiting, but better defensive fundamentals will make him a useful piece in San Anonio.
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Current Pro Team: Telekom Baskets Bonn
Tournament Averages: eight points, 4.4 rebounds
Height and Weight: 6'11", 240 lbs
Position: Power Foward
Germany sans Dirk Nowitzki is a FIBA bottom-feeder, one reason the scoring averages for the country's two NBA prospects underwhelm. Ohlbrecht played a scoreless six minutes and collected two fouls in the squad's signature, double overtime shocker against Serbia. He scored just six points in a 78-74 defeat at the hands of Argentina.
His highest output (17 points) came in a crushing loss to Angola. He comes off the bench.
Why, then, did he declare for the draft, and why do scouts stationed abroad continue to trumpet his future NBA viability?
He handles the ball, fires from deep, and navigates the length of the floor like a two guard. He leads his European league in blocked shots, displays a velvet touch at the free-throw line, and surprises foes with his buckshot leaping ability and brisk first step. His cerebral command befits an NBA contributor.
Questions with answers made murkier in Turkey: Will his desire ever match his talent, and would his skills translate from Europe the way Nowitzki's have?
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Current Pro Team: Real Madrid
Tournament Averages: three points, 1.6 assists
Height and Weight: 6'4", 201 lbs
Position: Point Guard
Drafted: 2009, Denver Nuggets (34th--rights traded to Houston Rockets)
Anyone who watched Spain eradicate Greece saw Llull's NBA potential. He sizzled in Saturday's much ballyhooed elimination joust with nine points on four of eight shooting and a pair of dimes. The highlight of the evening: his lob pass to Fran Vasquez for a two-handed throwdown.
He has a flair, like fellow Spanish guard Sergio Rodriguez, for the dramatic. He ranks as one of the most prolific and efficient passing point guards in Europe. His career 39 percent mark from downtown should transfer to the U.S. if he does. He drained a staggering 48 percent of his treys in his 2009-2010 campaign with Real Madrid. He also coughs up the ball less than Rodriguez, with the third best assist-to-turnover ratio in the ACB League.
He needs to finish more of his drives, improve his contact initiation, and add some muscle. His propensity to gamble for steals leads to blow-bys. His lackluster focus and strength causes him to avoid fighting through screens, a flaw that has derailed many NBA careers.
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Current Pro Team: None, Rice University (NCAA)
Tournament Averages: 12 points, 7.4 rebounds
Height and Weight: 6'7",
Position: Power Forward
American viewers witnessed his athleticism and doggedness in Wednesday's U.S.-Iran clash. Fans of the Rice Owls saw it first-hand during Kazemi's impressive rookie season at the prestigious school. There, he averaged 10 points and nine rebounds.
He projects as a third string (or second, at best) big man like fellow countryman Hamed Haddadi, but he values structure and competes with a revved up motor. If he continues to ameliorate his one-on-one coverage, his decision-making in the post, and develops a passable perimeter game at Rice, he will appear on a few NBA teams' front office radars.
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Current Pro Team: Zalgiris
Tournament Averages: 7.6 points, 1.8 assists
Height and Weight: 6'5", 196 lbs
Position: Shooting Guard
The former Duke Blue Devil charges at the rim like a raging bull on most possessions in which he touches the ball. An NBA coach who values aggressiveness would love Pocius. A sideline chief who also likes discipline, however, might banish him to the end of the bench.
His attacking style has produced mixed results in Istanbul. His field goal percentage (63.6) is outstanding, and his penchant for assault makes him a conniving competitor. His foul trouble in three of five games was not so thrilling.
Questions remain unaswered for Pocius. Does he want to leave Europe to become a fringe rotation, NBA role player? Would his active but still flawed defense translate well against the best ballers in the world? Could he score against an above average defender?
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Current Pro Team: Real Madrid
Tournament Averages: nine points, 5.6 rebounds
Height and Weight: 7'1", 260 lbs
Drafted: Utah Jazz, 2008 (44th)
He remains too soft to avoid the unwanted "NBA stiff" label, but he has developed a terrific low-post game that emphasizes finesse around the hoop. He can turn, spin, and face-up in certain situations. Even after adding some muscle, he still appears skinnier than a runt.
His size suggests he could block a few shots and grab some rebounds for Jerry Sloan, but his propensity to get pushed around and cough up the ball against quicker and heavier players says otherwise (five turnovers versus Team USA).
Who would he guard in the NBA, even as a seven-footer with above average length? Will his physical brawn ever match his immense skill?
The basketball jury may not emerge from its heated deliberations for another year. As far as mixed bags go, you could not get more variety if you blended all of the items in a grocery store and shoved the monstrous creation in the world's biggest Ziploc.
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Current Pro Team: Lietuvos Rytas
Tournament Averages: 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds
Height and Weight: 6'6", 205 lbs
Position: Shooting Guard
Drafted: Houston Rockets, 2007 (54th)
Newley is the best athlete and finisher on the Aussie squad, save for Patrick Mills. His explosiveness and vertical leap allow him to slip to the basket and play admirable, quick-footed defense. The Rockets asked Newley to continue his improvements in Europe after a raw 2007 Summer League showing.
He was second in scoring on Australia's Beijing squad and shot 57 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range. This year, he will come off the bench for a Euroleague club in Lithuania, where he'll gain more valuable experience and constancy. With the Rockets set at shooting guard, though, the NBA wait might continue for Newley.
He is not a starter in waiting, but GM Darl Morey will keep his eyes fixed on the athletic guard's progress.