The 2019 FIBA World Cup is finally here, whetting the appetites of hoop fans anxiously counting down the days until the 2019-20 NBA season tips off, and inspiring hope from a number countries looking to punch their ticket to the Olympics.
Here in North America, much of the attention has been focused on who isn’t playing, but that doesn’t mean there still won’t be a ton of impressive talent suiting up.
Here’s a look at the top-10 players in action at the 2019 FIBA World Cup:
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Greece
The math here is pretty simple. You’ll likely notice that each player listed here plies their trade in the NBA, and so the league’s reigning MVP — and one of two or three players in the discussion as its top player, and the only one who’ll be playing in China — easily gets the top spot on these rankings.
No World Cup player is better than Giannis, and arguably no other player will be asked to do more. Expect plenty of full-court takes and absolute domination in the paint from Antetokounmpo. If he can’t be stopped at the NBA level, then what does that mean for the competition at the World Cup?
2. Nikola Jokic, C, Serbia
He’ll be a favourite to compete for the NBA’s MVP award next season following a campaign that saw him lead the Denver Nuggets to the second-best record in the West. Jokic’s gravity-adhering game should translate extremely well to FIBA courts, where he’ll lead a talented Serbian team, which many expect will challenge the United States for gold.
Jokic’s passing separates him from every other big man on Earth, but he’s also a crafty scorer and volume rebounder who sets the tone for his team. Next season will be an absolute coming out party for Jokic in the NBA, when he’s sure to become a household name (if he’s not already), and this FIBA tourney will be proof.
3. Kemba Walker, PG, USA
It’s fairly remarkable that it’s not until the third-ranked player that we arrive at an American. The U.S. has long laid claim to having the best player on the floor at tournaments like this, but that’s no longer the case. It’s also a testament to the growth of the game globally that we arrive at this reality without even really blinking an eye.
After a long list of withdrawals, Walker is left as Team USA’s top dog, an interesting spot to be in for a player who hasn’t won much of anything since nearly a decade ago in college. But Walker is no doubt talented, and his speed and ability to score should fit in nicely at the World Cup, even if he may not take over games in the same way as the two players above him.
4. Nikola Vucevic, C, Montenegro
Coming off his first all-star season in the NBA, Vucevic’s all-around game should thrive in this environment. Montenegro may not be favourites at the tournament, but they’ll almost always have the advantage down low.
Whether posting up near the basket, stretching the floor beyond the three-point line or finding open shooters off of double- or triple-teams, he’ll be a handful for opponents throughout the tournament.
5. Rudy Gobert, C, France
The world’s greatest rim protector should have the opportunity to feast in China, particularly given the relaxed goaltending rules in FIBA, manning the middle for a stacked France team with its sights realistically set on gold. And after setting the record for slam dunks in a season in 2019, the seven-footer should be an effective weapon as a lob finisher to boot.
6. Danilo Gallinari, F, Italy
Does anyone still call him The Rooster anymore? In any case, Gallinari is a skilled and versatile offensive threat who will have the perpetual green light throughout the tournament. He’s one of the more underappreciated scorers at the NBA level, but will get every opportunity to shine at this tournament and should be in the running as one of its leading point-getters.
7. Donovan Mitchell, G, USA
While he’s still years away from reaching his potential in the NBA, (where, it should be noted, entering his third season he’s already a borderline all-star level talent) Mitchell’s next-level athleticism should set him apart from the FIBA competition. If he can find a consistent shooting stroke, he’ll be unstoppable and vault up this list as the action gets underway.
8. Marc Gasol, C, Spain
If you were building your team from scratch using the pool of players at the World Cup, we’re not so sure Gasol would be drafted nearly this high — especially given the potential-laden young players available. But the Toronto Raptors centre is an elite rim protector and versatile offensive weapon whose FIBA experience is sure to shine this month as he’s put into a starring role for a Spanish team looking to medal.
9. Jayson Tatum, F, USA
Tatum is an interesting case in that, based on what we’ve seen him do at the NBA level, he should absolutely dominate against international competition. But his game is inconsistent and he still doesn’t seem to know what he wants to be as a player yet. He relies too heavily on tough pull-up jump shots and doesn’t seem to use his size to his advantage. That said if it *clicks* with him then he has the talent to warrant a top-three spot.
10. Jaylen Brown, G, USA
Tatum’s running mate on the wings both with the Boston Celtics and now on Team USA, Brown brings defensive acumen to the table to match the American brand of soaring athleticism that opponents won’t be able to handle. Like Tatum, Brown is trying to live up to the reputation he earned during the 2018 NBA playoffs, and the World Cup is as good a proving ground as any.