Welcome back. We're counting down the Top 20 players in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. Today, we present the guys who didn't make the cut.
Rudy Gay (USA)
A volume shooter that needs the ball in his hands to ignore the shot clock and dribble unnecessarily, Rudy has the potential to be a poisonous addition to Team USA. Not only would he not make my Top 20, I'm probably keeping him out of the Top 50, somewhere behind Giannis Antetokounmpo's brother. The only person behind him on Team USA's depth chart should be Mason Plumlee, who probably couldn't make the Mexican team. Don't let anybody ever tell you that you and your family sucking up to Krzewski never paid off, Mason! You go be you!
It wouldn't be unreasonable to argue that a Grizzlies bias kept Rudy out of the Top 20, but show me another player (as in ever, in any sport) that could be considered the most important component of multiple teams' postseason successes by virtue of his absence.*
*2011 Grizzlies, 2013 Grizzlies, 2014 Raptors. Seriously, if the Kings trade him this year and make the playoffs, teams are going to start signing him just for the right to trade him away in advance of a playoff push. Probably to the Pistons.
I like to give ol' Rudy a hard time, but I really do hope he has a good tournament. He catches a lot of heat in Memphis - much of it deserved - but I've never heard a a cross word about him from one of his teammates. Lord knows there are some things about his game that could be better, but I'd be happy if he figured out a way how to change the narrative next month in Spain. He's always been a good guy. A really good, really inefficient guy.
The Shooters: Kyle Korver (USA) and Jose Calderon (ESP)
These two aren't just great shooters; they're two of the greatest shooters to ever lace ‘em up. These guys absolutely deserve to be in the conversation with guys like Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.*
*Seriously. Look at their shot charts from last year:
Oh my God. Go back and look at them a little closer. I'll wait...
They're historically good. Honestly, Korver was probably the most difficult player to keep out of the Top 20, but as great as he's become at this stage in his career, I can't fathom choosing him to lead a team into battle unless it's against one of Jim Boeheim's Syracuse squads whose zones he would obliterate. Calderon's ability to distribute the ball helps his cause, but if Rick Carlisle recently replaced you with Ray "McRib" Felton (even if that meant getting Tyson Chandler), you can't be on a Top 20 list unless that list is entitled "Top 20 Players That Coaches Immediately Regret Trading For Ray ‘McRib' Felton."
The Americans Who Will Create 50 New NBA International Scouting Jobs Immediately After This Tournament Ends: Gordon Hayward (USA) and Chandler Parsons (USA)
Dear NBA Front Office People Reading This Article:
When you're marveling at the Great International Wing Contract Bubble of 2015 after teams start bidding against each other for the rights to the myriad foreign players who shut down the two most overpaid NBA players not named Rudy Gay, you can hire me for your front office. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Foreign Players That Are Really Good and Who I Wanted To Include Over NBA Players Because It Would Make Me Look Smart Even Though It Would Be Fundamentally Dishonest: the Spanish starters not named Gasol, Ante Tomic (CRO), Nenad Krstic (SER).
The trio of Spaniards - Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, and the immortal Juan Carlos Navarro - is getting older but might rightly be classified as ascendant at the moment: Rodriguez is coming off a monster MVP season in the Euroleague, Fernandez is still in peak form, and Navarro continues to play like the man who's often called the best non-NBA player of this generation. Tomic is a name to keep an eye on if he can translate his recent success for FC Barcelona onto the World Cup stage. Drafted in 2008 by the Jazz, he's never played on an NBA court, but he's blossomed the past two seasons for FC Barcelona and could make a big splash in the tournament playing on an extremely talented Croatian Squad. These players occupy the "Arvydas Sabonis Zone;" that is, it makes more economic sense for them to play overseas than in the NBA. They're competing for Eurobasket MVPs every year and their teams generally have a much greater appreciation for them than an NBA team might. For example, the Thunder believed that Kendrick Perkins was better than Nenad Krstic when they traded Krstić to Boston. This, like most of Sam Presti's recent roster moves, exhibited terrible judgment. While Krstić is on the down slope of his career, he still has the ability to fill it up when he's not getting into presumably terrifying fights with the head coach of CSKA Moscow.
To be clear, I did choose a non-NBA player for the Top 20 that I believe fits our admittedly convoluted criteria, but that selection hinges largely on my previous prediction that both Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons are going to SUCK in this tournament. If that doesn't happen, well, you'll always have this column in the archives of GBB to pull out and remind me what an idiot I am.
The American Bigs Who Would Be Included If There Was Any Justice in This God-Forsaken World: Andre Drummond (USA) and Kenneth Faried (USA)
Faried is my favorite non-Grizzlies player in the NBA, hands down. I love his game, I love his nickname, I love his marriage equality activism, and I love that he's the coolest looking player in the league. Someone make a "Manimal" comic book immediately. I will purchase it. (Note: a DIFFERENT "Manimal" comic book, nerds.) Nevertheless, he's still very much a complementary player at this point, and I don't think he has the ability to anchor a team like any of the players in the Top 20. You can't in good conscience make the same argument for Andre Drummond: he is going to be a star in the league for many years and would be near the top of any GM's list of young players around which they would want to construct a roster. The problem? Free throws. And that's it. The guy can't hit ‘em, and in Europe, they will punish teams for putting guys on the floor who shoot free throws as poorly as Drummond for the entire game. Not just in crunch time or to change the pace up, they'll hack the poor SOB every time he touches the ball. Say what you will about the merits of Hack-A-Shaq as basketball strategy, but in Europe, it's a way of life.
The Lost-a-Step Big Men: Anderson Varejao (BRA) and Luis Scola (ARG)
To Scola's credit, I wouldn't have put anybody from the Pacers on this list except for Paul George because of the way that team melted down last year. But in my defense, Scola wasn't as good as . . . Tyler . . . Hansbrough . . . last year in spotting minutes for David West and Roy Hibbert off the bench. I've actually been a fan of Scola's since the halcyon Houston years when Daryl Morey and Shane Battier's bromance was in full bloom. Scola acts like a total psycho in these international tournaments, too; I think he tried to fight everybody on the U.S. team in the last Olympics. Like Scola, Varejao has always been a great energy guy.*
*I actually have no idea if this is true. He seems like an "energy guy" because of his awesome hairdo, but I actually thought he was out of the league until LeBron mentioned him in his article.
Nevertheless, he had his worst season last year so he gets the ax. I'll fully admit that I'm probably going to look stupid a year from now when LeBron is standing at a podium talking to Adam Silver about how Anderson Varejao's dominant Finals performance was the key to bringing a World Championship to
Cleveland Northeastern Ohio (Note: that's a thing that we're really saying? OK.). That's a risk I'm willing to take, so I'm going with a current champion, who kicks off the top 20 tomorrow. If you can't guess who it is, well, you're in the wrong corner of the Internet, but I'll give you a clue anyway. His first name rhymes with this bird:
Little known fact: the player in question's voice also sounds exactly like Gilbert Gottfried.
Coming Tomorrow: The Countdown Begins. Nos. 20-11.