The 2019 FIBA World Cup tips off Saturday in China. As you have likely heard, very few American NBA stars are participating. James Harden and Anthony Davis were pegged as the stars to lead this edition of the team, but both begged off to prepare for very big NBA seasons coming up. A number of other players backed out, preventing the coaching staff from actually having to cut anyone.
The result: a roster that includes Mason Plumlee, Derrick White, and Joe Harris.
Yet some of the biggest international stars did show up, leaving the FIBA World Cup with some measure of star power. To put all of that star power and Team USA’s apparent weakness in perspective, we decided to rank all 53 NBA players expected to play in the tournament. Note that players continue to be cut and drop out — Oshae Brissett of Canada and the Raptors, and Isaac Bonga of Germany and the Wizards, were ruled out on Wednesday — so the list may remain a little malleable.
First, a couple of side notes.
Teams without any current NBA players: Poland, Cote d’Ivoire, Venezuela, China, Russia, Argentina, Korea, Iran, Puerto Rico, Angola, Philippines, New Zealand, Dominican Republic, Jordan, Senegal.
NBA emeritus players you’ll love or hate to see: Luis Scola (Argentina), Ike Diogu (Nigeria), Yi Jianlian (China), Andray Blatche (Philippines), Leandro Barbosa (Brazil), Hamed Haddadi (Iran), Renaldo Balkman (Puerto Rico), Paul Zipser (Germany), Anderson Varejao (Brazil), Luigi Datome (Italy), Rudy Fernandez (Spain), Mindaugas Kuzminkskas (Lithuania), Semih Erden (Turkey), Nick Calathes (Greece), Georgios Papagiannis (Greece), Nando de Colo (France), Hamady N’Diaye (Senegal), Andrew Bogut (Australia).
And now, all 53 NBA players expected to play in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, ranked.
(Note that NBA status and national team status both factor in here. Players with small NBA roles and big FIBA roles will end up higher than players with small NBA roles and iffy FIBA roles. NBA salaries do not matter: I’m not moving Harrison Barnes down the list because he makes a grip of money. Also, keep in mind that we have really limited data and observations on a bunch of these players, especially at the FIBA level, since very few of them have played anything but warm-ups since 2016.)
All that said . . .
53. Chimezie Metu, Nigeria/Spurs
Two important notes about Metu: he graduated from USC in three years, and the Spurs believe in him to some degree. Sounds good to me!
52. Vincent Poirier, France/Celtics
Poirier will be a rookie if he makes Boston’s roster, but he’s 25 and apparently the Celtics tried to sign him before last year’s playoff run. And by “playoff run” I mean “swift and brutal death spiral.”
51. Salah Mejri, Tunisia/Mavericks
Did you know Salah Mejri is 33 years old? I didn’t know Salah Mejri was 33 years old.
50. Khem Birch, Canada/Magic
When we were promised the Canadian national team would have NBA talent in the future, Khem Birch is not exactly what I had in mind . . .
49. Yuta Watanabe, Japan/Grizzlies
Japan has a spot in the Olympic tournament as the host nation, but it’d be really cool to see Watanabe led his country to a nice showing in the World Cup and then turn that into NBA success this season.
48. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Greece/Bucks
The Bucks put him on their roster, perhaps to please Giannis. Did Greece do the same thing? Nah, Thanasis is good enough to have earned this spot. Note that Kostas Antetokounmpo, one of Giannis’ younger brothers, isn’t on the roster.
47. Daniel Theis, Germany/Celtics
This guy might be the starting center for the Celtics this season.
46. Frank Ntilikina, France/Knicks
It’s so sad that Frankie Smokes is this far down the list at this stage in his career. I mean, to be below ...
45. Matthew Dellavedova, Australia/Cavaliers
... wow. Just wow.
44. Juancho Hernangomez, Spain/Nuggets
43. Willy Hernangomez, Spain/Hornets
Silly NBA teams keep picking just one Hernangomez. Spain wonders, why not both?
42. Cristiano Felicio, Brazil/Bulls
Felicio isn’t the first Brazilian big man I get irrationally hyped for (someone say hello to Bebe Nogueira for me), and won’t be the last. He has not really put much together in the league, though.
41. Mason Plumlee, United States/Nuggets
WE HAVE OUR LOWEST RANKED UNITED STATES PLAYER, folks. A PLUMLEE APPEARS.
I have some news for you, though: there are only three players in the entire tournament who have already won FIBA gold: Marc Gasol (2006), Rudy Fernandez (also 2006) and MASON M.F. PLUMLEE (2014). So, there.
40. Aron Baynes, Australia/Suns
In the NBA, I’d actually take Mason Plumlee over Aron Baynes. But Plumlee isn’t going to play much in the World Cup, and Baynes will be central to Australia’s chances. So Baynes gets the edge.
39. Ersan Ilyasova, Turkey/Bucks
Ilyasova is somehow an 11-year NBA vet with eight seasons averaging double-digit scoring. He’ll never catch Hedo Turkoglu as the greatest Turkish player in the NBA history, but he’s drawing pretty close to Mehmet Okur at this point.
38. Bruno Caboclo, Brazil/Grizzlies
Like Bruno, Brazil men’s basketball is always two years away from being two years away.
37. Maxi Kleber, Germany/Mavericks
You know and love a Mavericks fan who would put Maxi Kleber in the top 10 on this list, and both you and they know it.
36. Cory Joseph, Canada/Kings
Cory Joseph might be the oldest 28-year-old in the league. It’s really too bad the other NBA talent in Canada is skipping this tournament, because the team could have made lots of noise and perhaps secured an important Olympic berth.
35. Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey/Sixers
My kingdom for a Furkan Korkmaz-Bogdan Bogdanovic shoot-out in the knockout round.
34. Boban Marjanovic, Serbia/Mavericks
Folks, in the Serbia-USA match-up everyone is dreaming about, we’re going to get Boban and Brook Lopez battling off the bench. I ... I think I have Boban too low ...
33. Josh Okogie, Nigeria/Timberwolves
Lord let Josh Okogie show out for Nigerian or AT LEAST dominate the dunk reel from the World Cup.
32. Derrick White, United States/Spurs
Derrick White could be an integral part of the United States gameplan, or he could have four DNPs in the tournament. Is he really better than Cory Joseph when you set salary aside? I struggle with Derrick White in context.
31. Nicolas Batum, France/Hornets
Batum should make way more sense in a two-week sprint for France than an 7-month marathon for the Hornets.
30. Marco Belinelli, Italy/Spurs
What even is an Italian national team with Marco Belinelli, but without Andrea Bargnani?
29. Rui Hachimura, Japan/Wizards
Okay, I know this is way too high for a rookie we haven’t seen in the NBA yet. Like way too high. But he was a top-10 pick, and he was awesome at Gonzaga and in Summer League. And he freaking destroyed Germany in FIBA warm-ups to give Japan apparently its first-ever win over a European team in men’s basketball. I’m all in on Rui.
28. Joe Harris, United States/Nets
I would like to be all in on Joe Harris, except I can’t over the fact that Joe Harris is on the United States men’s national basketball team and he’s not even the least accomplished OR SECOND LEAST ACCOMPLISHED member! He should be no more than the Christian Laettner of this team. He’s, like, the Chris Mullin?!
27. Nemanja Bjelica, Serbia/Kings
We could have had three-quarters of the Sacramento Kings roster in this tournament had two of the three American contenders not dropped out. It’s probably for the best, as Bogdan and Jelly, plus general manager Vlade Divac, might have made De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III feel bad about silver . . .
26. Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania/Grizzlies
Did anyone notice that Valanciunas put up incredible numbers for Memphis after being included in the Marc Gasol trade? He put up “some contender is actually going to trade a pick for him at the deadline this season” numbers. Get the Lakers jersey ‘shops ready.
25. Tomas Satoransky, Czech Republic/Bulls
Satoransky is the star for the Czechs, so his place on this list is a little inflated given his NBA status. But hey, he’s also pretty good.
24. Al-Farouq Aminu, Nigeria/Blazers
Really glad to see Aminu continue to represent Nigeria, which has a shot to make the knockout rounds. Aminu is the team’s best player, but not it’s only good player. Interesting player, interesting team.
23. Brook Lopez, United States/Bucks
The new Brook Lopez is kind of a perfect FIBA center, and yet this thing with Gregg Popovich does not seem to be working for some reason. It’s weird that Lopez and Khris Middleton, the two Bucks on Team USA who thrived under Pop’s acolyte Mike Budenholzer in the NBA last season, are totally struggling under Pop. So weird.
22. Patty Mills, Australia/Spurs
The inverse Derrick White situation: Mills shouldn’t be this high based on NBA status, but is a star at the FIBA level and will put up numbers and get wins. Just ask USA Basketball circa last week.
21. Harrison Barnes, United States/Kings
Salaries don’t matter here. Barnes is a darn good player, and versatile enough to get work at multiple positions in the tournament. Look at the wonders Pop has done with Rudy Gay in San Antonio.
20. Cedi Osman, Turkey/Cavaliers
CEDI TIME. Between Osman and Korkmaz, I’m irrationally excited about Turkey shaking off the dust of the stodgy Omer Asik-led teams of the past and getting wild.
19. Marcus Smart, United States/Celtics
Smart is the only American player who dealt with injuries in the training portion of the schedule and stuck with the team. I’m sure the Celtics front office is pleased as punch about that.
18. Dennis Schroder, Germany/Thunder
On the one hand, Dennis Schroder is a legitimate NBA scorer. On the other hand, he’s Dennis Schroder, and it’s only fitting that he would drive Germans as mad as he drives fans of his NBA teams.
17. Ricky Rubio, Spain/Suns
Remember 2008, when the teenaged wunderkind Ricky was low-key the best reason to watch Spain in the Olympics? Time is a cruel mistress.
16. Evan Fournier, France/Magic
France’s golden age is probably over with the aging out of Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, but Fourner is quite good and the French are pretty deep on talent. Lots of good NBA shooting guards in this tournament.
15. Myles Turner, United States/Pacers
No idea what to make of Myles Turner on Team USA. He’s probably going to have to defend Nikola Jokic at some point, though. Good luck, man.
14. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Serbia/Kings
A name so sweet, we say it twice. Low-key contender for the All-Tournament team. I really hope we get the Bogdan-Donovan Mitchell shoot-out we deserve.
13. Domantas Sabonis, Lithuania/Pacers
Sabonis is the centerpiece for Lithuania, and this tournament could be huge for Dom’s mythos going into the next NBA season, especially considering it appears Indiana will have to make a decision on whether to keep Turner and Sabonis together or move one of them. Sabonis is another All-Tournament team contender.
12. Joe Ingles, Australia/Jazz
It kind of feels like Jingles Season, but then doesn’t it always? Ingles is steady, so it’s hard to say Australia’s hopes rest on him — you know what he’s bringing every night. But if Australia succeeds, Ingles will almost assuredly be central as to why.
11. Khris Middleton, United States/Bucks
Middleton was an All-Star last season. He should be the starting small forward for Team USA, and it’s best defender and deep shooter. But he’s just looked absolutely awful in warm-ups. It’s pretty bizarre.
10. Jayson Tatum, United States/Celtics
Usually comparing Tatum to Carmelo Anthony is considered an insult (which is an insult to Melo), but we’ll take it here: if Tatum can be FIBA Melo for the next two weeks, USA Basketball can and will win this tournament.
9. Jaylen Brown, United States/Celtics
dontletjazzfansreadthisbutIthinkjaylenbrownmightbethebestplayeronteamusarightnow [cough cough] Oh, yeah, uh Jaylen Brown! Pretty good!
8. Marc Gasol, Spain/Raptors
I want to see Marc smile for a month. I want to see Marc battle Nikola Jokic for 40 minutes. I want to see Marc win one for his brother. I want to see Marc lead Spain back to the Olympics next summer. Marc deserves everything he wishes to receive.
7. Nikola Vucevic, Montenegro/Magic
Montenegro is more of an upstart than a power, but Vucevic has “No. 2 scoring average in the tournament” written all over him.
6. Danilo Gallinari, Italy/Thunder
Gallinari was really good last season for the Clippers, and will probably be really good for the Thunder next season, so why not be really good for Italy in between? The Italians have a good shot at making the knockouts. Gallinari has to be excellent for it to happen.
5. Donovan Mitchell, United States/Jazz
It’s not too much to say that Team USA’s fortunes rest largely on what kind of player Donovan Mitchell is during this tournament. This could be a gripping entry in the Donovan Mitchell origin story on his path toward All-NBA nods and MVP votes, or it could be a cautionary tale for the Jazz. Either way, it’s compelling as hell.
4. Kemba Walker, United States/Celtics
Meanwhile, Kemba Walker is real good, but he’s also kind of small and FIBA ball is known for being physical. That concerns me a little.
3. Rudy Gobert, France/Jazz
The top three players in this tournament are on teams other than the United States. Let that sink in.
Gobert is the best or second-best defender in the entire tournament, and assuming France’s guard play on offense is in order (and gets Rudy some dunks), he should be a shoo-in for the All-Tournament team. Team USA, which relies on two ball-handling drivers, should be deeply concerned with how it’s going to score on France if the threes aren’t falling.
2. Nikola Jokic, Serbia/Nuggets
Jokic isn’t anyone’s secret any more, of course, but most fans haven’t seen him in a FIBA setting before. Serbia is stacked to the jowls with talent, and with Milos Teodosic out due to injury, the team will rely on Jokic’s preternatural playmaking. But the game goes two ways, and you wonder if Popovich, for instance, will run the agile Myles Turner down Jokic’s throat. Just how good will Serbia be on defense? Is Jokic’s offensive skill enough to overcome it?
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece/Bucks
The best player in the tournament, hands down. The reigning NBA MVP. Maybe the best player in the world?
Greece should win its group. It will play the United States in the second round (which is not the knockouts — it’s a second group stage). This will be one of two games certain to break through the American disinterest in FIBA play, with Serbia-USA being the other. Greece doesn’t have to win that game to move on to the knockouts, but Giannis will desperately want to win that game. He wants to win every game, and he certainly wants to prove he’s the best player in the world by being the guy to beat Team USA.
Can he do it? Does he have enough help? Didn’t we just ask similar questions about him a couple months ago, but with the Warriors as Team USA? Didn’t the Raptors derail that quest? Kawhi Leonard didn’t sign up for USA Basketball, did he? No? Good.