International Watch: Ranking the top-10 FIBA World Cup players outside the USA
Although the USA – the world’s number one ranked team – were an automatic favourite to be crowned champions at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, few predicted that they would achieve the feat with such relative ease, winning each game by an average margin of 32.5 points per game and continuing their 63 game unbeaten streak in international basketball contests. But don’t let the Americans’ dominance distract you from the top performers from the rest of the world, many of whom, even in defeat, used the World Cup stage to further define their legacies.
Between the likes of Kenneth Faried, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, and more, the USA could field a ‘Top 10’ player list all on their own, but we will look beyond the American borders and focus on the lesser-known international talent on display. Here are the top 10 players from the 2014 FIBA World Cup outside the USA. Rankings are done both on the basis of individual performance and how valuable the player was for his team’s success.
10. Gorgui Dieng (Senegal)
The Minnesota Timberwolves rookie finished the last season with a flourish, and then continued the confidence with a commanding performance at the World Cup. Senegal punched above their weight to finish in top four of Group B with two out of five wins and before being knocked out by hosts Spain in the Round of 16. Dieng was the centerpiece of Senegal’s attack, leading the team in points, rebounds, and minutes. The 24-year-old led the World Cup in minutes played per game and averaged a double-double: 16 points and 10.7 (third best in the competition) at the tournament.
9. Luis Scola (Argentina)
Gone are the glory days of Argentina basketball when they were the Olympic gold medalists and changed the shape of international basketball by dominating the Americans. The 2014 team arrived in Spain without the legendary Manu Ginobili, but in Luis Scola, they still had a superstar on the international stage. Scola finished top five in both scoring and rebounds at the World Cup (19.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), but his journey finished disappointingly early when Argentina were knocked out in the Round of 16 by South American rivals Brazil.
8. Boris Diaw (France)
For those who have followed the NBA career of the multi-talented big Frenchman, Diaw’s performances at the World Cup were particularly Diaw-like. Based on his statistics (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4 apg) nothing about his game stood out: but Diaw appreciation requires one to dig deeper than mere numbers. He was the engine that helped the French to their first-ever medal at the FIBA World Cup, as he always found ways to contribute on both ends of the floor, very much like his role for the NBA champions Spurs. Diaw was the difference-maker on defense as France upset hosts Spain in the quarter-final and put up a clutch performance to defeat Lithuania in securing the bronze medal.
7. Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia)
The 6’ 8" swingman was the heartbeat of a fun Croatia side which finished second in Group B before a close Round of 16 loss to France. Bogdanovic was the World Cup’s third leading scorer (21.2 ppg) and a nightmare for defenders throughout the tournament. After spending the last decade of his professional career in Croatia, Spain, and Turkey, he will finally join the NBA this year. Based on his performances at the World Cup, his new employers – the Brooklyn Nets – should be very excited.
6. Goran Dragic (Slovenia)
Averaging 14.4 points and 4.3 assists per game, Dragic was as electrifying as expected for Slovenia at the World Cup, helping his side pick up four out of five wins in the group stage and winning the Round of 16 clash against the Dominican Republic, all before the USA trounced all over his team in the Quarter-Final. While Goran returns to the Phoenix Suns for the next season, watch out for his younger brother Zoran, too, who may get a call from the NBA pretty soon.
5. Andray Blatche (Philippines)
Born and raised entirely in the US, Andray Blatche visited the Philippines for the first time earlier this summer, and after a complicated but legal process, was soon naturalized by the Filipinos to represent them at the World Cup. What seemed like a risky move at first paid full dividends in Spain: Blatche fit in perfectly with the ‘Gilas’ national team, finishing in top two in both scoring (22.4 ppg) and rebounds (13.8 rpg). Few individual players carried more of a load than Blatche at the World Cup. In return, the inspiring Philippines side pushed much-favoured opponents like Croatia, Greece, Argentina, and Puerto Rico to the edge before finally picking their first World Cup win in 40 years against Senegal. They didn’t make it past the group stage, but Philippines and their new citizen Blatche definitely left a mark at the tournament.
4. Nicolas Batum (France)
Another jack-of-all-trades for France like his teammate Diaw, Batum got better as the tournament progressed. While leading his team in scoring through the tournament, Batum truly elevated his performances in the World Cup’s last two games. In the semi-final against Serbia, he scored 35 points in France’s unsuccessful comeback attempt. A day later, he helped France win the bronze medal with 27 points against Lithuania. All of this from a player more known for his work on the defensive end of the floor. Batum was rewarded for his hard work by being named in the All Tournament team.
3. Milos Teodosic (Serbia)
Another member of the All Tournament team, Teodosic helped Serbia secure their first-ever silver medal as an independent nation from Yugoslavia as he helped carry this surprising squad all the way to the World Cup final. The 27-year-old guard, who has been dominating the Euroleague for the better part of his career and currently plays for CSKA Moscow, led his team in points and assists as they bounced back from a 2-3 record in the group stage to surpass all comers in the knockouts until the Final. Always a threat from the three-point line, he saved his two best performances for the Quarter-Final against Brazil and Semi-Final against France, scoring 47 points combined to help the relatively younger Serbs reach the Final.
2. Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania)
Perhaps it was the fourth-place finish that denied Valanciunas a spot in the All Tournament Team, but in my opinion, the young Raptors’ big man was an unstoppable force throughout the competition. Valanciunas averaged team highs in points (14.4 ppg) and rebounds (8.4 rpg) at the World Cup, helping Lithuania reach the Semi-Final of the tournament. While most people are going to remember Valanciunas for his ‘life flashing before his eyes’ moment against DeMarcus Cousins in the semi-final, the 22-year-old did enough to ensure that he’ll be the centrepiece at the international stage for his country for the next decade. Now about to start his third NBA season, perhaps the confidence will carry him to greater heights at the club stage, too.
1. Pau Gasol (Spain)
One bad game can undo the perfect plan. For Spain and their talisman Pau Gasol, the plan seemed flawless. As his legendary international career reached its twilight, this World Cup seemed to be the last chance for Spain’s golden generation to add another feather to their caps. Spain were playing at home and their biggest challengers – the USA – had sent out a team many believed weren’t big enough to handle Gasol and his teammates. Pau was in scintillating form, too, leading his team in scoring (20 ppg – fourth-best in the tournament) and finishing behind only Blatche of all the World Cup players in the efficiency department. Spain won every game until the Quarter-Final with ease and Gasol was easily the early-tournament MVP favourite.
But one horrible-shooting performance against France undid all the best-laid plans, as Spain were shocked and ousted in the Quarter-Finals. While the rest of his team struggled, Pau still battled to a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds. While he couldn’t bring any silverware home, his individual brilliance was rewarded with a spot in the All Tournament Team, and the top spot in this list of the World Cup’s top international performers.