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The FIBA Top 20 Part 4: The Americans

In the final installment of our FIBA World Cup of Basketball Preview, we reveal the Top 10 players in the tournament.

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Links to previous entries are above, but enough jibber-jabber.
Let's do this!

10. Serge Ibaka (ESP)


Ibaka has the dubious distinction of being the highest ranked international player who's definitely not going to start on his country's team (that spot is reserved for our 13th selection, Pau Gasol). How the Spaniards' frontline rotation shakes out will be one of the storylines to watch throughout the tournament.*

*Another one to keep an eye on: how will Brazil deal with their Cerberusian logjam at the 5-spot with Splitter, Varejao, Nene? Those guys aren't power forwards. My solution: TRIPLET TOWERS. Do it, Brazil. This is how you atone for what happened against Germany. Let the big men feast!

For as many warm and fuzzies as I get from the idea of the Gasol brothers playing alongside one another, Coach Juan Antonio Orenga is going to have to figure out how to keep Ibaka on the floor for more than 20 minutes a game: he's very possibly the most gifted athlete playing in this tournament not named Derrick Rose. (Ya heard me, Kyrie, I said it.) It's possible with his improving jumper that he could see a little bit of time at the 3, but - and yall are gonna have to trust me on this one - that really doesn't make a lot of sense with the stable wings that the Spaniards can throw out. Those guys are straight bombers. Obviously, there are worse problems a coach could have. For example, you could be Angola, and all your players could be distracted because the reason they agreed to be on the team was to get Kevin Durant's autograph. All the same, it'll take some serious stones to sit Pau in favor of Ibaka in front of the home crowd, even if it's probably the best way to win. We'll see if Coach Orenga's got em.

9. Damian Lillard (USA)


Yo Dame, listen here man. I had you like fifth. But then everybody was like, "ARE YOU SERIOUS?" And I was like Hell yea I'm serious, Sub-Zero don't mess around. I mean did you see THIS?


RRRRGH. I should still move him up. Damnit. The only thing is that he's probably not going to play much in the tournament, if at all. Coach K's got those minutes reserved for one of the Plumlee brothers that will be a last-minute addition to the team. You know he and Ratface aren't getting along, either; the 0men's got way too much swag.

By the way, the GIF above is the other reason I didn't put Chandler Parsons in the Top 20.* That was an awesome shot and everything, but unless Parsons goes out and pulls a Batum on Juan-Carlos, that's gonna happen all night to him in the championship round against the Spaniards.

*The first reason was because I heard he reached out to the producers of The Bachelor. To ask if he could be The Bachelor. If you want to be on reality television so bad, Parsons, just come up with an idea better than the Fart Candle and your new boss will let you be on his show. Take that with these facts: 1) his recruitment and general demeanor were said to have greatly influenced Dwight Howard's decision to go to Houston, 2) his overall Orlando-ness, and 3) his recent links to Kardashians; and you, my friends, have a total douche.

This is what I want to happen: I want Derrick Rose to get called back to the U.S. for an emergency meeting with President Obama to solve the Middle East crisis (and succeed, cuz World Peace yall, think about it...), then I want Coach K to still refuse to play Lillard and for there to be a bunch of shots of Lillard giving Ratface super-shade on the bench while the U.S. gets beat by Spain, then I want Jerry Colangelo to walk out in front of everybody during the silver medal ceremony and fire Coach K for not playing him. (It could happen!) You're better than at least three people below on this list, Dame, I apologize. You deserve better.

8. DeMarcus Cousins (USA)


Despite the fact that I occasionally write things on the Internet, I am not as enamored of Boogie as I am apparently supposed to be. I don't dislike him, but I also don't follow him as closely as some other non-Grizzlies players that I think are awesome (see: Lillard, Damian). I understand why people say he's got an attitude problem, and I can certainly appreciate why that would make people reflexively come to his defense. After all, the most popular figure in Memphis professional basketball history is Zach Randolph. And unlike many of my brethren, I don't harbor any ill will toward Boogie for reneging on his commitment to the University of Memphis.*

*Seriously, people, get over it. He was going to play for John Calipari. And while we're at it, it's time to get over Calipari, Memphians. His tenure in Memphis was awesome. The thing that made him great was his ambition, and Calipari-sized ambition will invariably lead you to occasionally accept better jobs when they're offered to you. And Kentucky's a better job. Just like Alabama's a better job than my beloved Tennessee. We'll all be healthier if we just accept these things.

So, we all agree: Boogie is awesome. He put up early Orlando Shaq-esque numbers last year. The issue with Boogie is that these Sacramento teams have all been so wretched, and no matter how great he plays it doesn't seem to elevate those around him. I'm not calling him a selfish player or even saying that this is his fault, necessarily; but it may be the case that he suffers slightly from tunnel vision. Coach K is an idiot if he cuts Boogie for Mason Plumlee, and it's on him if he can't coach a guy that talented how to play within a system (Cal did it!); but it wouldn't be surprising if that happens. He's already a superstar and he could be so much better, but being a superstar ain't bad.

7. Goran Dragic (SLO)


Where the hell did that come from, Dragic? Hey Lipitor sales reps in the Mid-South, you owe this guy a thank-you note at least. For Memphis fans, Dragic's Suns were the pests who just wouldn't go away last year. Everybody thought they were tanking at the beginning of the year until they came out of the gate strong and then just never regressed. I know, I kept waiting for it. I actually rated him fifth on the MVP ladder last year behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Joakim Noah (all of whom, incidentally, aren't competing in the World Cup); and that might be selling him a bit short for the turnaround job he orchestrated in Phoenix last season. His minutes stayed basically the same and he added almost 7 points to his scoring average from two seasons ago... which is, well, weird. Stranger still was the almost robotic consistency with which he was able to score: he averaged exactly 20.3 points per game before and after the All-Star break, and exceeded 50% shooting during both stretches of play. And as a result, the Suns just kept winning until basically the last two games of the season, when Memphis knocked them and their 48 wins out of the playoffs. It should be fun to see if Goran can continue that level of play and help a somewhat undermanned Slovenia team make a run in the tournament. It should also be fun to see him play with his younger brother Zoran. That's right, Goran and Zoran Dragic. The Dragics!

6. James Harden (USA)


I'm in the minority over at GBB, but I really think Harden's overrated. I had him behind Nos. 7, 8, and 9, but I was universally admonished by my fellow writers when I submitted the first draft of this series. For the record, there was at least one contributor who said he should be #1. And clearly, there's no denying his prolific offensive abilities, but he leaves a lot to be desired on the other end of the court. Plus, I find it hard to get excited about a player who so frequently appears to lose interest during long stretches of games. Maybe it's just that Tony Allen is in his head and that's usually who's guarding him when I'm watching. Maybe it's that his body language reminds me a little bit of Rashad McCants. Maybe it's because he apparently tanked his workout for the Grizzlies in 2009 on purpose and then yelled at Chris Vernon on Twitter. It could be any of those things, but I haven't been converted by the James Harden fan club yet.. He's right on about that Chandler Parsons, though.

5. Kyrie Irving (USA)


Defer to LeBron. Defer to LeBron. Defer to LeBron.

That's one of my favorite little tricks to use when I can't give a subjective answer to a basketball-related question. Has the best player in the world who's operating on an intellectual level heretofore unseen by humans deigned to weigh in on the matter, whether implicitly or explicitly? If the answer is yes, then Defer to LeBron. Kyrie's place on this list has jumped around probably more than anybody else's, but when you consider the role that he played in GETTING LEBRON JAMES TO GO BACK TO CLEVELAND, he tends to jump over your Dragics and Boogies.  Also, just watch this:


I could watch that play a million times. I know he's never won anything; I know there are a bunch of advanced stats that say that his shot isn't that great; I don't care. After I watch that clip above, I'm ready to argue that he's the best point guard in basketball even though it's demonstrably false. Even our own John Hollinger readily admits the limitations of advanced stats, but if you're still not convinced after watching Kyrie do Kyrie things, just remember that he passed LeBron's eye test. And LeBron knows more about basketball than you do. Or John Hollinger. Or anybody. Defer to LeBron.

4. Derrick Rose (USA)


The Derrick Rose that won the MVP award in 2011 is easily the #1 basketball player in the tournament, but nearly two full seasons away from the game due to injury drop him all the way back here. As I've mentioned, I'm pulling for Spain, but my only reservation about doing so has nothing to do with national pride: I'm really, really hoping that Derrick Rose will succeed. In everything. I root for the guy whenever he's not playing the Grizzlies because he's one of the most entertaining basketball players I've ever seen.

Watching Rose at his peak reminded me of seeing Michael Vick in his first few seasons with the Falcons. It always looked a little bit like Vick could float. That's certainly not the most technical breakdown of his style of play, but it hopefully conveys something about the experience of watching him. It was almost unnatural.  We've never seen D-Rose's combination of size, strength, and speed in a point guard before, and the effect of it could be dizzying. For example, I just don't believe he's 6'3" even though I know it's true. He looks 6'6" when he's on the court. I can't explain why, but nobody ever argues with me when I bring it up.*

*Although that may be because I usually only say weird crap like that to my wife and she just ignores me or tells me that I should stop watching so much basketball.

Obviously, he's the best player in this tournament when he's 100%, but after two seasons lost to knee injuries and the Hunger Saw stipulations of this exercise, I'd take the following guys in front of him.

3. Marc Gasol (ESP)


My love for Marc is well-documented. We probably don't need re-hash it since it's getting a little embarrassing at this point.

The idea for this column came from my conversation on Grizzly Bear Blues Live (RIP current incarnation!) with host Joe Mullinax about Kevin Durant's departure from Team USA. I mentioned that Marc might be the best player remaining in the tournament. That I wasn't laughed off the program made me curious to run down the remaining players and figure out if I could game the system successfully enough to put Marc at #1. Well, damnit, I tried. The criteria for this list is about as convoluted and stupid and weighted toward Marc as it could possibly be, but alas, I couldn't do it. And to be clear, I wouldn't trade him for anybody outside of KD, LeBron, or maybe the #2 entry. His impact is almost incalculable, but the two guys in front of him are just too good. To Marc, if you're reading this, I'm still fully with #TeamSpain, and I'm sorry I didn't put you #1. Also, we should hang out some time. You can hit me up on Twitter or whatever. You know, your call. OK, cool.

2. Anthony Davis (USA)


Nevermind I wanna switch them back! NOOOOOOO!!!!! Arg, alright...

In my previous FIBA column (Note to self: stop writing about FIBA, nobody cares), I talked about Marc seeming like an apparition because he filled the gaping hole in the Memphis frontline so perfectly that Grizzlies fans were disinclined to believe what they were seeing. If Marc's an apparition, this guy's an alien. Or an alien superhero. Regardless, he has a comic book-style origin story.*

*You tell me what's more implausible: high school dork gets bit by radioactive spider and develops a love of spandex and the ability to shoot gunk of out of his wrists; or high school basketball player grows 10 inches after his freshman year with no loss of coordination or joint pain and becomes the most uniquely skilled NBA big man since Kevin Garnett? A lot people have reported that his arms continue to grow, by the way, and that his wingspan is now 7'7" and not 7'5" like it used to be. He's not human. I bet if he shaves that unibrow (which he should... come on dude, that's not a good look), he loses all of his power and shrinks back to 6'0". There's really no other plausible explanation.

Davis is starting to look historically great. Without question, he's the key to the US Team's chances if they meet Spain in the championship because the other bigs absolutely can't hang with the Gasol-Gasol-Ibaka frontcourt. Granted, the US is definitely going to play small ball against the Spaniards, but if Davis can't disrupt Spain's interior offense, that's going to be a very tough game to win, even with shooters like Korver, Harden, and GBB's #1 player in the FIBA World Cup...

1. Stephen Curry (USA)


And now I will reveal for you, dear reader, the two most embarrassing things I've ever done in my life.

1. Voting for Ralph Nader in 2000. I know I was only 18, but it's just horrible. What a disgraceful, terrible decision. I've been told by psychiatrists that it's unusual when an adult looks back on his teenage years and the most shameful thing he can remember takes place inside a voting booth, but you didn't vote for Nader. Ugh.

2. Arguing vehemently against taking Steph Curry with the second pick in the 2009 NBA Draft in favor of Hasheem Thabeet.

"You just can't pass up on a guy like Thabeet."

- Me

Honestly, it was more about Curry than it was Thabeet. IT'S NOT LIKE WE DIDN'T ALREADY HAVE MARC GASOL. I was just convinced that Curry's sustained run of excellence throughout college and into an unforgettable NCAA Tournament his senior year was a complete fluke. Those small school kids never pan out, I told myself. Ya know, like how Dwayne Wade's career was a total disaster?

Now, voting for Nader is more embarrassing (and worse) because I actually voted for that horse's ass and I'm not a professional basketball scout. But look at that 2009 draft board, Grizzlies fans. Actually don't, it'll make you feel worse than I do when I think about voting for Nader. How did we do that after watching Marc play for a full season?

In my mind, it's a very close call between Curry and Chris Paul for Best Player in the World-Behind-LeBron-and-KD at the moment, and I'm not sure that Curry's gotten over the hump because of his defensive liabilities. But GOOD GOD! The only other person that can score like that is Durant, and Durant has the advantage of being 7 inches taller than Steph. He's simply a marvel, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that he's the most creative and savviest offensive player alive. That designation's line of succession back to Jordan, by the way, looks like this: Curry-Kobe Bryant-Allen Iverson-MJ. That's pretty strong company. It also virtually assures that he's not going to age gracefully, so let's all enjoy the master at work before the inevitable dillweed period begins.*

*I really wanted to call this the "Hitler mustache period" but Jordan was a borderline sociopath long before he tried to bring back that look.

What may be more impressive is that the guys who preceded him were able to create offense with their incredible athleticism, whereas Curry depends more on his own cunning and a two-ton set of titanium gourds. Go get some blood platelets treatment on that ankle, Steph, the world needs more of what you got.

It's an exciting time to be a professional hoops fan right now, my fellow obsessives. With apologies to Grizzlies' own Vince Carter, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two most electric players since Jordan. Yet, behold the wellspring of talent that's ready to pull up the slack when their careers start to taper off around 2020. Whether it's Curry or Davis or one of the myriad talented rookies from this year's draft, the league is more well-positioned today for world domination than it has ever been. Next week, some of the best players in the world are going to battle it out for their home countries, and they're not getting one red cent for their troubles. Even Coach K deserves an amalgam of thanks for that (BUT NO MORE!). Sure, I'm rooting for Spain, but don't misinterpret that as a lack of gratitude for what all these players -  especially the Americans - are giving back to their sport and their countries.

So there you have it. Watch the FIBA World Cup next week and get excited for the upcoming NBA season. I promise if the guys on this list are playing that it'll be better than whatever early-season NFL game is on at the same time, plus there won't be any penalty reviews! All I ask is that you don't punch me in the face and yell "Roll Tide" when I wear my $300 authentic Marc Gasol Spanish National Team Jersey to the bar for the championship game. (It's a discouraging trend around Nashville, unfortunately.)

Viva España, everybody.


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