For a long time, international competition during the summer has paid dividends for NBA players returning to the USA for the regular season.
Serbia's Bogdan Bogdanovic was the leading scorer at the World Cup
From Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley after 1992, to Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James after 2008 and 2012, the high level of competition at the FIBA World Cup – rather than playing pick-up basketball – means players are locked in and perform well from the opening night.
This year’s crop of international talent will return to North America for the 2019-2020 NBA season having learned a lot. Many of them will have been role players in previous seasons on their professional teams and will have stepped up to be leaders for their respective countries. This growth will help them and their teams in the NBA.
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The San Antonio Spurs guard is no stranger to clutch situations with his national team. Patty Mills hit a walk-off three-point game-winner during the group stages of the London 2012 Olympics that showed his confidence in important situations. He has done the same in the NBA at moments throughout the years, but he has never really been asked to carry a team offensively like he did at the FIBA World Cup this summer.
Among those who played more than five games in China, Mills averaged the second-highest average points per game by a whisker, trailing Bogdan Bogdanović’s 22.9 by just 0.1 point. And the Aussie’s closest teammate in offensive output is Aron Baynes, who managed half of his teammate’s production.
Patty Mills in action for Australia against Canada in a pre-World Cup exhibition
The Spurs are at somewhat of a fork in the road between rebuilding and standing pat, but head coach Gregg Popovich is entering the final few seasons of his professional career. If they are to be competitive, they will need three-point shooting and general scoring, something the team didn’t have due to injuries and only having two mid-range experts as high volume options.
Mills will be a leader, and he will be able to support the likes of Dejounte Murray, as the young guard returns from missing last season due to injury. But most importantly, this heavy workload should show Popovich that he is capable of carrying an offence.
While the Spaniard is not necessarily on his way out of the NBA, the league has lost its intrigue with the point guard. He has largely failed to provide a jump shot to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz teams he has played on, and now he has only attracted interest from the lowly Phoenix Suns.
Spain's Ricky Rubio of Spain drives against Poland's Adam Waczynski during the quarter-final match
But on this Spanish team of veterans and established leaders – including Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez – Rubio has been the most important player on the team. Not only did he boast the highest scoring average (15.9), and the best assist numbers on the team (6.4 per game – good for sixth at the FIBA World Cup), he also proved to be the most efficient player on a team full of efficiency, and even led the team in rebounding in the occasional game.
Rubio will not be in the playoffs next season with the Suns, but he clearly has the moxie and leadership ability to take charge of a flailing franchise with a leading scorer that has come under some dive-like criticism. He still has a place in the NBA, and if he can average solid shooting numbers, this could be the 28-year-olds best season yet.
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Few players divide opinion in New York like Frank Ntilikina. Drafted by Phil Jackson at one of the lowest moments for the franchise, Knicks fans were hoping that he could lead the team to a winning mentality.
Ntilikina came out of the box with a talent on defence that impressed many, but he has struggled to show ability as a scorer. But in this first international tournament as a senior for France, he finished fourth in scoring on the team that has three players whose job it is to put points on the board.
France's Frank Ntilikina handles the ball against Argentina during the semi-finals
When France knocked the USA out of the tournament, Ntilikina stepped up and outscored the Americans in the final seven minutes of play. He hit clutch shots and showed potential to lead the team at times despite Evan Fournier, Nando de Colo and Andrew Albicy often being the go-to ball handlers.
It is still early in the Frenchman’s career, but Ntilikina showed why Jackson had such high hopes for the guard. And he also proved he has the potential to go far in the NBA.
The leading scorer at the World Cup (for players who advanced beyond the group stage) was the Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic. Given the fact that he also represented Serbia, perhaps the deepest offensive team at the tournament, Bogdanovic should enter the NBA season in good form. He averaged 55 per cent from the field, which included a ridiculous 53 per cent from the three-point line on 8.3 attempts per game.
Bogdanovic drives at the heart of the Angola defense
These numbers earned him an All-Star Five nod in China, but if he can manage close to them, especially at 22.9 points per game, in the NBA, he might earn an NBA All-Star Game appearance in the not-too-distant future.
Sacramento were on the cusp of making the playoffs last season, and the young side looks like it could grow into a regular contender in the coming years with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield in a similar age bracket. With some veteran support from Cory Joseph, Dewayne Dedmon, Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza, plus a good coach in Luke Walton, who was underappreciated with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Kings have a positive future, and Bogdanovic will be a big part of it.
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After becoming somewhat of an NBA darling in recent seasons after showing his ability to lead a team with John Wall being out of the Washington Wizards line-up due to injury, Tomas showed that he can take on an even bigger role while leading Czech Republic to a sixth-place finish.
This will serve him well in the NBA next season after signing with the Chicago Bulls. The team has a number of young guards on the roster, but Satoransky is probably considered the best among them going into the season.
Tomas Satoransky glides in for a layup while playing for the Czech Republic
At the FIBA World Cup, he led the tournament in assists (discounting Germany’s Dennis Schroder, as they didn’t play beyond the second round) and finished 0.1 point outside of the top 20 in scoring. Some of his passes were mind-boggling, some of his shots were jaw-dropping, but his overall play was consistent, shooting 45.7 per cent from the floor, with 48.1 per cent from beyond the arc.
The Bulls need leadership, and have a good collection of talent otherwise. The franchise will not want to waste Lauri Markkanen’s early years without someone to help develop the forward, and the team needs someone to help set up Zach Lavine. Satoransky could be the point guard that turns them into a playoff-contender, and based off his experience in China lifting an outside team into one with a shot at a podium spot, this young Chicago group is in good hands.