5 Non-Team USA Guys You Gotta Watch in FIBA

You know the Team USA guys + Giannis + Jokić. Here are some other guys you should know.

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Domantas Sabonis / VCG/Getty Images

The easy storyline of the 2019 World Cup is how “Team U-S-Meh” doesn’t have the top two players in the tournament—they would be Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Serbia’s Nikola Jokić. While this is true, it’s both a played-out storyline and also neglectful to the idea that the NBA and FIBA do not run parallel. FIBA isn’t about having the best NBA player. It’s about having the most balanced roster that plays FIBA basketball.

Thanks to the growth of basketball, FIBA has flattened out. International rosters are more well rounded, and having the top player in the tournament is less impactful or newsworthy than it once was. Also, news flash: Many players on many international rosters are better than players on Team USA.

With that said, this list isn’t a ranking of the best international NBA players, because the NBA and FIBA do not run parallel. FIBA excellence isn’t associated with high-volume scoring in the same way the NBA’s best are evaluated, and some international players play with more confidence filled with their nation’s pride and a Molten brand basketball.

For example, Dennis Schröder earned All-Star consideration while on the Hawks (only two of the players on this list can say that), but he has shot 32.5% from the field in two losses on a German team with two other players with NBA experience.

These five make their teammates better and show us an extra FIBA gear without totally leaving their comfort zone.

Domantas Sabonis, Lithuania

Know who’s pumped to see Domantas Sabonis play in the FIBA World Cup? Old dudes. You know who Domantas’s dad is, right? Arvydas Sabonis. Best passing big ever.

But really, the younger Sabonis can hoop. Unlike a lot of the other NBA guys in FIBA whose offensive roles have been elevated with more touches and higher usage, Sabonis plays at a similar pace but higher efficiency. Through two victories against Senegal and Canada, he’s taken the third-most shots on the team, with splits of 11.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.5 APG shooting 50% from the field. 

Sabonis even logs regular minutes at center, enabling Lithuania to add shooter Mindaugas Kuzminskas (shoutout Knickstape) to the lineup and opening up driving lanes for slams like this.

Joe Ingles, Australia

As part of the loss to Australia in a Friendly, we were effectively required to include an Aussie on this list. And even though it was Patty Mills who dropped 30 and a game winner, it’s Joe Ingles who has torn up FIBA since, making an early case for tourney MVP.

Ingles is averaging 15 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9 APG, with shooting splits of 59%/ 50%/ 80% and the highest efficiency rating in FIBA. 

All this while just attempting the third-most shots on his team, Ingles is the key to Australia’sgoing deep in this tournament. No small task, but if he can contain Sabonis and shoot within earshot of his current shooting splits, Australia should be able to advance past Lithuania in group play.

Rudy Gobert, France

Rudy Gobert is the most proven of the players on this list, being named to the All-NBA team twice. And because of the way his game is built—focusing on tip-ins, protecting the rim and freeing up teammates with clever screens—he’s a natural fit in any lineup, but especially FIBA. The FIBA rules that allow for what we refer to as offensive goaltending in the NBA make for easy buckets for the man who broke the NBA’s single-season dunk record in March of last season.

France is 2-0, and Gobert has been just as impressive. He put up 9 PTS, 9 REB and 5 BLKs in a 78-74 win against Germany, and then dropped 16, 13 and 2 on five of eight shooting in a blowout against Jordan where he took FIBA Player of the Game honors before subsequently being drug tested the next morning.

This year’s FIBA World Cup is loaded with frontcourt talent, and France is positioned to match up with the Lithuanian duo of Sabonis and Jonas Valančiūnas in the semi-finals.

Nikola Vucevic, Montenegro

Nikola Vucevic is the only player on the Montenegro roster with NBA-level talent. So unlike most of the NBA guys in FIBA forced to take shots that don’t come naturally to them, Vucevic will feel just like he’s in Orlando.

In fact, through two games, Vucevic has zero assists, though predictably he’s leading his team in scoring (13.5 PPG) while adding six boards a game. 

Unfortunately for Montenegro, they were paired in a pool with Greece, Brazil and New Zealand—and are already 0-2—so we’ve only got one game left of Montenegro Vooch.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Serbia

This is what’s fun about FIBA. Bogdanović flutters among a crowded Sacramento Kings guard rotation—he’s their fifth leading scorer—but on Serbia he’s the clear go-to scoring option, akin to a mid-major college program with an NBA talent that fell into their lap.

Far from a mid-major, though, Serbia is Vegas’s pick as the most likely team to win the World Cup after Team USA. Ironically, it’s Jokić who earns most of the attention as the biggest threat to USA, but Bogdanović’s skill set is focused on where Team USA is most vulnerable. 

Bogdanović rarely wastes dribbles and doesn’t bother isolating defenders. Instead, he frees himself up on screens and handoffs and shoots from range, a dangerous scoring diet against a starting backcourt that struggles shedding screens.

And to this point, Bogdanović has been the tournament’s hottest scorer, scorching teams with an average of 24 PPG on 61.5 FG%, including shooting 65.2% from deep. Making me want to name my son Forch Forchheimer.

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