The list of players who decided not to participate in the FIBA World Cup in Spain this summer could form an incredible team – Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook, among others – and that wouldn’t even include the player who had the highest scoring average at the 2012 London Olympics.
But even without Patty Mills – yes, it was Mills, not Durant, who came away with those honors – there is still enough talent to produce some entertaining basketball over the next few weeks. The tournament, which features 50 current NBA players, begins Saturday and will give less-established players an opportunity to make a name for themselves.
Several stars have elected to put national pride at the forefront once again. With the help of the naturalized Serge Ibaka, the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, are looking to lead the host nation to an upset of the United States to earn an automatic berth in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Brazil, led by Nene, Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter and Leandro Barbosa, is also expected to pose a threat to the Americans reign in the past three international competitions.
But here are some players to keep an eye on:
Poised to breakout
Anthony Davis, United States
Durant already has proclaimed the 6-foot-10 Davis as the player “next in line” to win the league’s most valuable player award. The 21-year-old Davis has evolved as one of the game’s premier big men after winning a national championship in his only year at Kentucky, going No. 1 overall and winning a gold medal in 2012 and earning all-star honors in his second season. With his hyper defensive activity, incredible athleticism and developing offensive game, Davis has a chance to prove that he isn’t far from being a top-five player and use the experience to have more of an impact when he returns to New Orleans.
Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania
Valanciunas didn’t have a chance to be much of a focal point in Toronto with the offense built around the talents of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, but the 6-11 center proved to be a reliable and efficient scorer near the basket with his limited touches. On his national team, Valanciunas will be asked to play a vastly different role and will be asked to carry more of a load with Sarunas Jasikevicius recently retired, Linas Kleiza out because of a knee injury and starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis dislocating his shoulder while attempting to fight through a pick this week.
Others to watch: Kyrie Irving, United States. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece.
Dante Exum, Australia
Exum went fifth overall in last June’s draft and remains a bit of a mystery after preparing for the NBA by playing against Australian high school teams and only showing glimpses of his talent in five summer league games. Mills and Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut won’t play for Australia this summer, but the team has taken some pressure off Exum by asking him to come off the bench in the World Cup. Australia will rely mostly on Cleveland backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova, but the 6-6 Exum still has a chance to showcase his explosive first step, highlight-reel passes and high-flying antics on a world stage.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Croatia
Bogdanovic was taken 31st overall in 2011 by the Miami Heat but is finally entering the NBA after signing a three-year, $10 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets, who acquired his draft rights. The 6-foot-8 swingman has starred for Fenerbahçe Ülker in the Turkish League the past three seasons. Not to be confused with Bogdan Bogdanovic of Serbia – a first-round draft pick of the Phoenix Suns who doesn’t plan to come over for at least another two years – Bojan Bogdanovic, 25, was one of the breakout players from the 2013 Eurobasket in Slovenia, where he averaged 17.1 points.
Others to watch: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Serbia. Cameron Bairstow, Australia. Damjan Rudez, Croatia.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Ukraine
After leading Ukraine to a runner-up finish and winning tournament most valuable player at the U-18 Division B European Championship earlier this month in Bulgaria, the 17-year-old Mykhailiuk was expected to just practice with the senior national team. But Mike Fratello – the former NBA coach who is leading Ukraine in the World Cup – added the incoming freshman at Kansas to his 12-man roster. Mykhailiuk, a 6-6 shooting guard who won’t be eligible to enter the NBA until 2016, might be set back in preparation for college but should gain some invaluable experience with a team that still has some talent – including former NBA player Pooh Jeter – despite the absence of former Maryland star and current Phoenix Suns center Alex Len.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Dominican Republic
Expected to be among the top five players taken in next June’s NBA draft, the 18-year-old Towns is not unfamiliar with international competition after being a part of the national team that failed to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012. The coach of the Dominican Republic team that summer happened to be John Calipari of Kentucky, where the 7-foot Towns – who grew up in Piscataway but has a Dominican mother – will be a part of the one-and-done maestro’s latest crop of blue-chip talent.
Others to watch: Cedi Osman, Turkey. Mario Hezonja, Croatia.