With group play coming to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the early standouts from the FIBA World Cup. Below are 10 NBA players starring on foreign teams in the tournament.
Pau Gasol (Bulls), Spain
The newest member of the Bulls has given Chicago fans something to cheer for, when not covering their eyes every time Derrick Rose plants his feet for Team USA. Gasol has undefeated Spain on a collision course with his Chicago teammate and the Americans, with a potential meeting in the World Cup final highly possible. At age 34 the big man has shown few signs of slowing down, with averages of 21.2 points and 5.6 rebounds as part of a deep Spanish frontcourt with Serge Ibaka and younger brother Marc. A 26-point, 9-rebound game against Brazil’s NBA-quality set of bigs was vintage Pau, and the Bulls will hope he’s the missing piece in a balanced Eastern Conference as they gear up for another playoff run.
Goran Dragic (Suns), Slovenia
As expected, Dragic has effectively piloted Slovenia through the first segment of the tourney, with a 4-1 record good for second in Group D. The Suns star point guard averaged 17 points and 4 assists while hitting at a 45.5 percent clip from deep playing alongside his little brother Zoran in the backcourt. Last year’s Most Improved Player and All-NBA Third Team selection looks primed for another big season with Phoenix, with a player option for the 15-16 season that will surely offer a big payday if he opts out. Perhaps most notably, he was outspoken on Twitter after Australia appeared to throw its game against Angola, which effectively placed Slovenia in an undesirable position on Team USA’s side of the bracket.
Luis Scola (Pacers), Argentina
With Manu Ginobili sitting out the World Cup, Argentina has been Scola’s team to carry and he’s done an admirable job. The big man has dropped 21.6 points and grabbed 8.8 boards per game, placing him among the tournament’s leaders in both categories and helping Argentina to a 3-2 record, including a 30-spot against Croatia. None of Argentina’s other players even average double-digit points, and with a Round of 16 rivalry game with Brazil on the horizon, Argentina will continue to lean heavily on the Pacers forward.
Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors), Lithuania
Given where he’s at in his development, it’s pretty scary that the Toronto Raptors center is still just 22 years old. He’s been one of the bright spots for a well-rounded Lithuania team that spreads out the scoring, posting 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds and teaming with Donatas Motiejunas of the Rockets to form a formidable frontcourt. He’s not flashy, but Valanciunas continues to develop his skill set and has a bright future ahead of him. Lithuania won Group D and gets New Zealand on Sunday, with a potential Final Four match with the United States on the horizon.
Andray Blatche (Free agent), Philippines
Ask not what playing for the Philippines can do for Andray Blatche – ask what Andray Blatche playing basketball can do for the Philippines. Yes, Gilas Pilipinas went 1-4 for the tournament and won’t advance to the Round of 16, but Blatche’s 18 points and 14 rebounds propelled them to an 81-79 overtime win against Senegal on Thursday – the country’s first World Cup win since a victory over Australia back in 1974. Averaging 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds (the latter tops for the group stage), the recently naturalized Blatche helped end 40 years of on-court struggle for the Philippines and became a fan favorite in the process. He’s currently a free agent, but his series of strong performances could certainly help his case.
Gorgui Dieng (Wolves), Senegal
With each game Dieng looks like a bigger and bigger part of the Timberwolves’ rebuilding process, providing a huge lift for Senegal and helping them advance out of group play. He’s averaging 18 points and 11.4 boards and has displayed the midrange game that helped make him a success back at Louisville. At just 24, the 6-foot-11 Dieng might be one of the early steals of the 2013 draft (he went 21st overall), and will help form an intriguing nucleus in Minnesota.
J.J. Barea (Wolves), Puerto Rico
The diminutive but elusive Barea averaged 22 points per game in the group stage, leading the tournament in scoring and guiding his team on and off the floor. Though Puerto Rico failed to advance, the 30-year-old Barea showed he’s still got it. He shot 52.6 percent from three-point land, and should be a steadying presence for the young Timberwolves this season. With just one year left on his deal at a relatively affordable price, Barea’s ability to score it off the bench could make him trade bait for a playoff team as the months roll on.
Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets), Croatia
Not to be (but likely to be) confused with Bogdan Bogdanovic, who’s playing for Serbia and was just drafted by Phoenix, Bojan has averaged a cool 20 points per game to lead Croatia, who’ve gone 3-2 in the World Cup to advance out of Group B. He’s a good shooter and will join Brooklyn as a rookie this season. He may not replace the departed Paul Pierce, but Bogdanovic should add some size and scoring punch for the Nets on the wing behind Joe Johnson.
Francisco Garcia (Rockets), Dominican Republic
Garcia just re-upped with the Rockets and has put on a shooting display in this tournament, averaging 20.2 points per game for the Dominican Republic while shooting a staggering 65.4 percent from deep. He keyed the D.R. advancing out of an evenly-matched (USA aside) Group C, and for them to have much chance to upset Slovenia on Saturday, Garcia will have to get hot. The former Louisville star returns to a competitive Houston squad as a veteran presence and adds another shooter to space the floor around Dwight Howard.
Aron Baynes (Free agent), Australia
The former Spurs reserve averaged 17.2 points and 7 rebounds in four games for Australia (3-2), sitting out the Boomers’ questionable tank-job game with Angola. He’s been effective in the paint and one of the main reasons for Australia’s success. He’s currently a free agent after the defending champs (already set with big men) opted not to re-sign him, but he’s proven his worth in Spain and has to have helped his odds at finding an NBA job.