The World Cup of basketball might not be drawing the same amount of views as the NBA Finals, but for basketball fans who need a short term fix, the World Cup is about as good as it gets in the off season. This year, Team USA is not even close to being the type of powerhouse that it has been in the past. The last time the World Cup was played in 2010, Team USA featured Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Tyson Chandler holding the middle down. This year, there really are no superstars representing Team USA. LeBron James is out, Kevin Durant is out, Blake Griffin is out, and Chris Paul is out. James, Durant, and Griffin finished in the top three in MVP voting last year, yet none of them are playing this summer. Instead, what we have is an ensemble of some very good players, many of whom are playing out of position.
Now, there are a variety of reasons for superstars not playing this summer, so let me list just three: the physical, the emotional, and the financial. Paul George, of course, would be more than happy to represent Team USA this summer, but his horrible injury not only put him out for the summer, but for the entire year. So, bodily injuries have certainly played a factor in some players playing and others not playing.
And then there are emotional reasons. Kevin Durant was actually playing with Team USA this summer, but after Paul George went down, Durant’s emotional fatigue began to escalate. With the offense centering totally around Durant, KD felt the weight upon his shoulders for a tournament that was supposed to be during his offseason.
Last, but not least, there are financial reasons. Kevin Love had already agreed to an under the table trade with LeBron’s Cavaliers, so an injury could have possible derailed that trade from happening. Similarly, Kawhi Leonard would have been a perfect fit for Team USA, but with the possibility of a contract extension this summer, along with the combination of a very long season, Kawhi opted not to play.
So, with Team USA somewhat depleted, what combination of International stars could upset this team? There are some that believe that Team Spain can beat Team USA outright, but Team USA is still the deepest team in the league. There is no doubt that team Spain would compete, but even they would need a few more pieces to overtake Team USA on their own home court.
12 Omer Asik – Turkey
Asik did not have a great year last year coming off the bench for the Houston Rockets, but he is proving to Houston and FIBA that he is one of the best big men in the world. Asik has been nearly averaging a double-double with 9.7 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game. Asik has also been averaging 1.5 blocks per game, which would give Team USA major problems if they were to try and take it to the rack.
11 Leandro Barbosa – Brazil
It is hard to believe that Barbosa was unsigned by a NBA team prior to the World Cup. However, it did not take long for NBA teams to notice that Barbosa still had something left in the tank after watching him play in this World Cup. Barbosa has been averaging 13.0 points per game on a very good Brazil team that features Tiago Splitter, Nene Hilario, and Anderson Varejao.
10 Nicolas Batum - France
The weakest spot on Team USA’s roster is the small forward position. Kevin Durant or Paul George were supposed to fill that role, but with both of them out of the lineup, James Harden has slid over to the three-spot. At 6’7” Batum possesses great size and is one of the best lockdown defenders in the league. With his length and athleticism, he would make this perimeter defense very formidable.
9 Luis Scola - Argentina
Before Scola arrived in the NBA, he was the best player in Europe. The Argentinian clearly loves FIBA basketball. This summer, Scola has been averaging 19.5 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, and his crafty underhanded lay-ups around the rim continue to catch big men off guard. With Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino out this summer for the legendary Argentina team, Scola has had to pick up the slack and has been doing an admirable job.
8 Gorgui Dieng - Senegal
Nobody knew who Gorgui Dieng was until the latter half of last year, after Nikola Pekovic went down with an injury. Despite being a rookie last year, Dieng is already 24-years old, which may explain why his game looks pretty solid right now. The surprising part is that Dieng started playing basketball pretty late, but his game is maturing at a very rapid rate. So far, Dieng has been averaging 16.0 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 1.5 blocks per game.
7 J.J. Barea – Puerto Rico
Despite being one of the smallest players on the court, J.J. Barea is the leading scorer in the tournament. Barea has averaged 22.0 points per game in this tournament, despite playing less than 30 minutes per game. He is bombing away nearly 8 three-pointers a game and making four of them from downtown. Of course, it does help that the FIBA three-point line is nearly 2 feet closer than the NBA one, but we should not penalize Barea for his impressive accuracy, especially since they do not really have a post presence that can command a double team.
6 Andray Blatche – Philippines
Blatche has been tearing it up for the Philippines. They had a historic moment this World Cup with their first victory ever and it was largely due to Blatche’s presence. Blatche has been the second leading scorer in the World Cup with an average of 21.2 points per game and he is the leading rebounder in the World Cup with an average of 13.8 rebounds per game. He has been doing it all for the Philippines and is demonstrating that he can be a starter in the NBA.
5 Serge Ibaka - Spain
Ibaka has not been getting the same amount of playing time that he is used to, but Ibaka is playing well off the bench for Team Spain. Ibaka’s points and rebounds will not jump out at you, but he is still playing very good defense. Ibaka is averaging 1.4 blocks per game and you can bet that Kenneth Faried will not be averaging over 80% with his field goal percentage if Ibaka is down low boxing him out and blocking his shots.
4 Ricky Rubio – Spain
Ricky is not scoring a whole lot, but he is doing what he does best, and that is passing the ball. Rubio is leading the World Cup in assists with 5.8 assist per game in less than 20 minutes per game due to Spain’s loaded back court. But what may be Rubio’s most underrated skillset is his defense. Rubio is also leading the World Cup in steals with a whopping 3.7 steals per game.
3 Goran Dragic – Slovenia
Dragic is picking up right where he left off from last season. Dragic is averaging 16.5 points per game, 4.3 assists per game, and looks like a gazelle running up and down the court. The Dragic brothers have posed a considerable tandem in the backcourt, but Goran is clearly the head of the snake. As a NBA player, Dragic is not afraid of or intimidated by any of Team USA’s guards. The left-handed point guard knows that he belongs with the best point guards in the world.
2 Marc Gasol - Spain
Marc looks even more nimble than he did last year, which is downright scary because he is still a very big man. If Gasol went head-to-head with Anthony Davis, which is what would happen in all likelihood, he would outweigh him by nearly forty pounds. With Gasol down low, he would give Team USA fits and cause some serious foul problems for Davis, who is the best player on Team USA right now. Marc is only averaging 11.3 points per game, but that is only because he is deferring to his older brother Pau, which allows the two to work unselfishly well together. Make no mistake though, Marc is not deferring to anyone on defense with an average of 1.5 blocks per game.
1 Pau Gasol - Spain
Pau has looked rejuvenated this summer. If you are a Los Angeles Lakers fan you have to be wondering where all of this passion has been. Gasol seems to be like a man possessed playing on his home court in Spain, and he has been doing everything to please the crowd with his post-up moves and three-point shots. He is even playing defense and is the third best-shot blocker this summer with an impressive average of 1.9 blocks per game. Right now, Gasol looks like the best player in the tournament and as good as he is in the NBA, it looks like FIBA basketball is tailor made for Gasol’s game.