Ranking the Top 25 Players at 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball
With the 2014 FIBA World Cup set to kick off in Spain at the end of August, plenty of the world's premier basketball players are ready to strut their stuff on a worldwide stage.
But without LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tony Parker and plenty of other notable names in the field, how do the best of the rest stack up?
It's not just Team USA that has talent, though there's a pretty ridiculous collection for the Americans. Whether it's a trio of big men in Brazil, a stacked frontcourt (and a strong, but not quite as strong, backcourt) in Spain or an up-and-coming Milwaukee Buck for Greece, there are plenty of strong roster spots throughout the field.
It's also worth noting that these are not predictions for how well the players will fare in Spain. That would be unfair to guys on deep rosters, so these rankings are based upon a player's skills in a more neutral setting.
The Question Mark: Derrick Rose
NBA Team: Chicago Bulls
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 9.7 PER
If you claim to know how Derrick Rose will produce for Team USA during the World Cup, you're either lying or in possession of a crystal ball that actually works. If it's the latter, please contact me because that would help out my prognostication skills rather significantly.
At this point, it's hard to make even an educated guess.
Rose looks like a dynamic player when he's on the court, featuring the burst and spring we used to expect from the Chicago Bulls point guard, but then he has to sit out and rest his troublesome knees. Plus, those moments have come in meaningless exhibitions games, where the intensity pales in comparison to what he'll face during either the tournament in Spain or the NBA season.
He could easily play like an MVP candidate, leaving no doubt that he's a top-five player at the World Cup. But he could just as easily suffer a relapse or fail to perform effectively when the games actually begin to matter.
There's no way to be sure until he proves himself in one way or another.
25. Luis Scola, Argentina
NBA Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, 13.4 PER
The crafty Argentine has always put up points for his country, even if he's struggled to make quite the same impact for his teams in the NBA.
Though he's coming off a season in which he struggled for the Indiana Pacers, particularly during the stretch run and in the playoffs, there's little reason to doubt Luis Scola in international competition. The type of play is perfectly suited for him, and that'll show from start to finish.
Plus, with Manu Ginobili sitting out and pulling the plug on his career with Argentina, there's even more of a scoring burden for Scola to subsume. As a result, he'll inevitably put up numbers that make him look like more than the No. 25 player at the World Cup, but remember, that'll be largely due to opportunity.
Honorable Mentions: J.J. Barea, Bojan Bogdanovic, Dario Saric
24. Tiago Splitter, Brazil
NBA Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.5 PER
Tiago Splitter is a big body for Brazil, adding to the size advantage of a team already boasting the service of Anderson Varejao and Nene.
Though he's not a take-over-the-game type of player, he's certainly a steady contributor. He's not going to explode in any one statistical category, but he can be counted upon for a solid dose of efficient points, big rebounds and defensive plays around the basket.
If you take Splitter's best marks in each category from the 2013-14 season, he would produce 22 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks. A great line, but hardly a jaw-dropping one when considering how it was put together.
Glamour is not a prerequisite for effective basketball, and Splitter is one of the players who most embodies that principle.
23. Anderson Varejao, Brazil
NBA Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, 17.0 PER
When Anderson Varejao is healthy, he's a game-changing force on the interior.
Is he going to score points in bunches? Absolutely not, whether he's playing for Brazil or the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, he averaged 8.4 points per game for the Cavs, and he produced 7.3 points during the average Olympic contest in 2012, which was the last time he suited up for his country.
Instead of scoring, Varejao is going to do all the little things.
He's a solid passer out of the low blocks, a dominant force on the glass (a skill only aided by his comfort with FIBA rules) and an energy/glue guy, one who will always keep his teammates motivated and playing at 100 percent.
Varejao is healthy heading into the World Cup, so the impact should follow.
22. Omer Asik, Turkey
NBA Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 14.0 PER
Defense, defense, defense.
When Omer Asik is on the floor, that's what he brings to the table. He's not much of a scorer, and his aggressiveness is curtailed by his unwillingness to expose himself at the free-throw line. That's true in the NBA, and it's just as factual when discussing his time with Turkey.
At 2013 EuroBasket, Asik averaged only 5.2 points per game. At 2011 EuroBasket, that number was slightly higher but still in single digits—9.0. In fact, Asik hasn't averaged double figures for his country since 2009.
He's still an impactful player, though, due solely to his defensive presence and his ability to haul in boards at a high rate.
Remember, offense is only half the battle.
21. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece
NBA Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 10.8 PER
Giannis Antetokounmpo's numbers from his rookie season don't make it look as though he should be ranked this close to the top 20. In fact, he had a pretty poor showing for the Milwaukee Bucks if you only look at the numbers.
However, that's not how this works.
Antetokounmpo was only 18 years old for a portion of the season, and he was making his NBA debut despite being hailed as a high-upside player who wouldn't contribute for years. Nonetheless, he worked his way into the starting five with his stellar defense and offensive potential.
Now, he's ready to break out as a featured player for Greece who's coming off a dominant Summer League showing in Las Vegas. He hasn't done enough to justify higher placement at this stage, but Antetokounmpo could easily make this ranking look foolishly low in just a matter of weeks.
20. Boris Diaw, France
NBA Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 14.1 PER
It's hard to think of many more versatile players in the game.
Boris Diaw put his skills on display throughout the San Antonio Spurs' championship run, torturing opponents with his unique combination of ball skills, scoring ability, unreal passing chops and defensive acumen. Now, he's embarking upon an attempt to do the same thing for France.
Without Tony Parker on the roster, Diaw is all the more important for the French. He'll have the ball in his hands with increased frequency, and he's now the second-best player on the team, trailing a forward who you'll see pop up later in these rankings.
If the 32-year-old has his momentum from the NBA Finals carry over, France could certainly be a tough out in Spain.
19. Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania
NBA Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 16.1 PER
Jonas Valanciunas hasn't quite broken out in the NBA, becoming a solid player but not the All-Star he was pegged to become earlier in his career. Of course, there's plenty of time for the 22-year-old to blossom, even if that hasn't happened at this stage.
Breakout or no, Valanciunas is easily the most important player on a Lithuanian team that also features Donatas Motiejunas, Sarunas Vasiliauskas and a few other solid players whose names you'll know by the end of the tournament. He's counted on for scoring, leadership and work on both types of glass, no matter who he's suiting up against.
While playing with the senior team, the Toronto Raptors big man hasn't been able to put up the monstrous numbers he produced while with the junior squads, but he's surely hoping to change that in 2014.
18. Jose Calderon, Spain
NBA Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.2 PER
The strength of the Spanish roster lies in the frontcourt, but it's not as though Jose Calderon is a weak link. Whether he's backing up Ricky Rubio at point guard or playing at the 2, he's a consistent offensive presence who can feast upon the shortened three-point arc.
During the 2013-14 season, Calderon took 5.2 shots per game from downtown for the Dallas Mavericks and still managed to connect at a 44.9 percent clip. That's a terrifying combination of volume and efficiency, and it bodes well for his ability to space the court out for his bigger teammates during World Cup action.
The new member of the New York Knicks certainly isn't the first player many think of when pondering the inevitable success of the Spaniards on their home turf, but overlooking him will be awfully problematic for any opponent.
17. Nene, Brazil
NBA Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.9 blocks, 16.6 PER
It's been a while since the oft-injured Nene has played for Brazil, but he's fared well whenever he's suited up in an international competition.
During the 2012 Olympics in London, he averaged 7.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game. Before that, he posted 8.4 points, 6.3 boards and 1.6 dimes per contest during the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship.
Seriously, those are his last two ventures into international play. Despite plentiful opportunities, he's played in two tournaments over the last seven years.
Well, this will make it three, and Nene is coming off a strong season with the Washington Wizards. Don't expect him to do anything less than what he did in London, even if he'll be sharing time on the floor with Splitter and Varejao.
16. Kenneth Faried, United States
NBA Team: Denver Nuggets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 19.8 PER
Now we come to the first member of Team USA in the rankings.
Derrick Rose earned a question mark earlier, and Mason Plumlee won't be featured here, which you've probably guessed by now given the growing strength of the players in question. That means Kenneth Faried is the lowest-ranked of the 10 Americans to earn placement.
"Faried has had a good camp," Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski told Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin while camp was still ongoing in Vegas. "He's a rebounding specialist. He's an energy specialist. So how does that fit in with the core group?"
On Team USA, he may well be a specialist, but he's developed into so much more with the Denver Nuggets, showcasing his scoring skills under Brian Shaw, particularly during the second half of the 2013-14 campaign.
Faried's numbers won't be anything special during the World Cup, but that's due primarily to the strength of the roster around him.
15. Ricky Rubio, Spain
NBA Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.4 PER
Ricky Rubio has to make things go for Spain.
Though he hasn't played for his senior team all that often—thanks for nothing, torn ACL—he's still going to be a crucial piece on the roster, as he's easily the best passer the Spaniards have at their disposal.
With guys like Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro doing the scoring, it's up to Rubio to bring the flash, pizzazz and distributing skills that will make the team function like a finely tuned machine.
In other words, it's the perfect situation for Rubio.
Not only will he be able to gamble for steals with a solid second line of defense behind him, he'll also be able to view scoring as something that's so low on the priority list he won't ever have to do it.
Don't worry about the lack of a consistent jumper here, as he doesn't need one to fill his role with Spain.
14. Rudy Gay, United States
NBA Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 18.3 PER
To be clear, this is the Sacramento Kings version of Rudy Gay that we're talking about, not the one who was a constant punchline with the Toronto Raptors.
While playing with his first team of the 2013-14 campaign, Gay jacked up one shot after another, eschewing efficiency and positive play for a chance to rack up points. But in Sacramento, the small forward put his athleticism on display, veered away from outside shots—at least with as much frequency—and put together a much more impressive portion of his season.
Why did Gay make the Team USA roster?
Primarily because he can shoot, he's ridiculously athletic, he can play either forward spot (stretch 4 will be a role he fills often) and his lockdown defensive abilities will do wonders when there's a solid wing scorer on another squad.
He'll inevitably be viewed as a poor replacement for Kevin Durant, but that's not what his role needs to be under Coach K.
13. Andre Drummond, United States
NBA Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.2 steals. 1.6 blocks, 22.6 PER
It's hard to overstate just how good Andre Drummond is on the glass.
During the 2013-14 season, he and DeAndre Jordan were in a class of their own, with no disrespect meant to Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and all the NBA's other primary glass-eating big men. That's not abundantly clear when you look solely at per-game numbers, but diving into the types of rebounds allows for that conclusion, controversial as it may be.
Oh, and Drummond is only getting better.
The 21-year-old big man is a growing force on defense, learning how to position himself for more than rejections, and his offensive arsenal is always expanding.
12. Klay Thompson, United States
NBA Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 14.3 PER
Thus appears the first half of the Splash Brothers.
Klay Thompson isn't a particularly versatile player, as he struggles to create his own looks and isn't an adept passer. However, his skills fit in perfectly with what Team USA would like from its wing players.
Just as he does with the Golden State Warriors, Thompson will be providing excellent defensive effort against 2's and 3's while boosting the American cause with terrific three-point shooting whenever he steps onto the floor. Few players in the world are better at splashing in the triples, and Thompson is sure to enjoy getting three points for shorter shots than the ones he takes in the Association.
Don't be surprised if he settles into a spot-up role and does something crazy—hitting 60 percent of his deep looks, for example.
11. Pau Gasol, Spain
NBA Team: Chicago Bulls
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 19.3 PER
Pau Gasol might be getting up there in years, but his game isn't exactly predicated on athleticism.
Instead, he plays basketball like the prototypical European big man. Not only is he crafty around the hoop, but he can space the court by stepping out to the three-point arc, distribute the ball from anywhere on the floor and thrive on the boards.
Yes, all in the same game.
Gasol has been one of Spain's unquestioned leaders in years past, but now he should take a slight step backward. He'll fill more of a complementary role, as he's no longer the best player on the roster and needs to preserve his body a bit for his run with the Chicago Bulls during the 2014-15 NBA season.
That said, there will be no decline when it comes to Gasol's passion in international competition.
10. Nicolas Batum, France
NBA Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.8 PER
Thus begins the top 10.
There's a lot at stake for Nicolas Batum at this 2014 World Cup. Not only is he attempting to lead France to glory while Tony Parker sits out, but he's also trying to redeem himself. Whether it's fair or not, the lasting image of his venture into the 2012 Olympics was the unfortunate low blow against Juan Carlos Navarro.
Fortunately, Batum can live up to the challenge. Few players are so capable of stuffing a stat sheet on a nightly basis, and the 25-year-old should be given every opportunity to do exactly that.
"Though terrific statistically, Batum has been tagged as inconsistent in his effort," writes Sam Tongue for Blazer's Edge. "While coaches may see through that (especially when they have to game plan against him), he simply doesn't have the reputation of an elite level player."
This is a terrific chance for him to change that once and for all, which would certainly pay dividends for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2014-15 as well.
9. Kyrie Irving, United States
NBA Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.1 PER
Kyrie Irving is an incredibly dynamic scorer, but there are still some notable flaws in his game that prevent him from reaching his full potential. Those could absolutely be remedied with LeBron James helping him on and off the court, but they haven't been fixed at this date.
Up to this point in his NBA career, the Duke product has struggled to remain efficient on offense, and his defense—his defensive effort, in particular—has been problematic for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without elite two-way play, it's hard for him to move past the remaining players in the rankings.
For now, at least.
By the end of the 2014-15 season, Irving should finally be living up to the massive hype, hype that exists for plenty of reasons. Once that defense is in place, there won't be 10 players better than him throughout the NBA, much less eight in the World Cup field.
8. DeMar DeRozan, United States
NBA Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.4 PER
A first-time All-Star during the 2013-14 season, DeMar DeRozan is now primed to build upon that success during his Team USA venture.
Though he isn't big enough to boast the positional versatility that's normally so valued by Krzyzewski and the rest of the Team USA coaching staff, DeRozan is a great athlete who can make valuable contributions on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he's a slashing threat who can finish plenty of plays above the rim, and that athleticism also translates to the less glamorous end of the floor.
The 25-year-old is by no means the biggest name on the Team USA roster, even with that All-Star berth for the Toronto Raptors under his belt. However, he's a quality contributor who should gain worldwide recognition if he's given enough playing time during his time at the World Cup.
7. Serge Ibaka, Spain
NBA Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.7 blocks, 19.6 PER
Serge Ibaka has become so much more than a shot-blocking presence.
Even while he manages to reject shot after shot, Ibaka is increasingly able to maintain proper defensive positioning. He's finally become a quality defender who blocks shots, not just a swatting machine, and that's a pretty big difference.
Offensively, the 24-year-old big man has enough of a jumper that he can capably space the court out for Spain. He's even knocked down a few triples with the NBA arc, which means he'll be able to do the same during FIBA play, given the slightly shorter distance that's necessary for three points.
Ibaka is a two-way presence with immense upside on both ends of the court. And given his youth, he should be a big part of the Spanish rotation throughout the World Cup.
6. Marc Gasol, Spain
NBA Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.3 blocks, 18.2 PER
The last time Marc Gasol was healthy throughout an entire NBA season, he won Defensive Player of the Year for the Memphis Grizzlies. That was only two years ago now, and the 2013-14 campaign saw the Grizz take off as soon as Gasol returned from a knee injury.
There simply shouldn't be any doubt he's an elite player, even if he often flies well below the radar.
The defensive impact goes without saying, but Gasol's offense is ultra-valuable as well. Even when he's not scoring at an elite level, he still makes everything flow with his hard screens and deft passes. Few centers are capable of seeing lanes develop like he can, and he's a guy who thrives on fundamentals and cerebral understanding of what's to come.
If Gasol is rolling in Spain, the host nation will be awfully difficult to beat.
5. Goran Dragic, Slovenia
NBA Team: Phoenix Suns
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.4 PER
One of the best pick-and-roll players in the world, Goran Dragic will have the ball in his hands quite often while leading the charge for Slovenia.
He was one of the Association's biggest breakout players during the 2013-14 season, putting together an All-Star resume even if the strength of the Western Conference ultimately denied him admittance to that exclusive club. He served as the primary impetus behind the Phoenix Suns' offensive excellence, after all.
Dragic, playing alongside his brother, Zoran, should thrive with control of the rock for his national team. And make no mistake about it: The team is basically his.
If you didn't have League Pass during the 2013-14 season and you're not a fan of the Suns, do yourself a favor and watch Slovenia whenever they're on your television screen during the World Cup.
4. DeMarcus Cousins, United States
NBA Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 26.1 PER
This could be absolutely perfect for DeMarcus Cousins' career.
He's always been a supremely talented big man for the Sacramento Kings, capable of single-handedly carrying the offense while thriving on the glass. However, the mental portion of his game has been severely lacking, and technical fouls, ejections, frustration and suspensions have not exactly done wonders for his development.
That won't fly in Spain.
Mike Krzyzewski won't stand for it. Nor will the talented teammates who are relying on him for production, especially given the inherent shallowness of Team USA's frontcourt core. He has to have his head screwed on straight, or else he wouldn't be on this roster in the first place.
Now the world might finally get to witness what a fully engaged Cousins can do.
3. James Harden, United States
NBA Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 23.5 PER
Go ahead. Knock James Harden for his defensive shortcomings all you want.
But if you're going to do so, make sure you give him proper credit for his offensive skills, which are quite immense.
The bearded 2-guard is one of the deadliest scorers in the world, given his ability to thrive in virtually every area. He can excel slashing to the hoop and finishing plays, and he complements that skill with consistent perimeter shooting and an utter disdain for anything in the mid-range zones. On top of that, he's unbelievable at drawing contact and finishing plays at the charity stripe.
Now one of the leaders of Team USA, Harden is an established superstar set to prey upon weaker defenders night in and night out. If Coach K can get him to commit on defense, well, the sky may be the limit.
2. Stephen Curry, United States
NBA Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 24.1 PER
Assuming he can stay out of foul trouble, which was problematic during Team USA's final tune-up game against Slovenia, Stephen Curry isn't going to be fair in FIBA play.
Easily the best shooter in the world—no one else boasts his combination of production, efficiency and shot-creating ability from beyond the arc—Curry is going to flat-out thrive with an even shorter three-point arc.
That's one of the reasons he was basically a lock for the roster from the first day of training camp, though his distributing skills and ability to function as an off-ball complement in two-floor-general sets certainly came into play as well.
The 26-year-old was spectacular for the Golden State Warriors in 2013-14, asserting himself as a top-10 payer under NBA rules. Scarily enough, he might be even better during international competitions.
1. Anthony Davis, United States
NBA Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.8 blocks, 26.5 PER
Is the best basketball player at the 2014 World Cup only 21 years old?
Anthony Davis established himself as a superstar during his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans, and now much is expected of the former Kentucky Wildcat. He's a leader with Olympic experience, one of the few on the Team USA roster that can claim that, and there's basically nothing he can't do on the basketball court.
A dominant defender with an increasingly well-rounded offensive arsenal, the unibrowed big man is ready to assert himself throughout the foreseeable future.
In Team USA's exhibition game against Slovenia, Davis recorded 18 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and four blocks against Dragic and Co. He didn't even play in the first quarter, receiving only 18 minutes in the easy victory.
Expect more of the same for the next few weeks.
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