Thank goodness for the 2019 World Cup.
Without it, we would be stuck in the worst part of the offseason with still weeks to go until the NBA training camp and preseason, and without any sort of basketball to enjoy. Instead, we’ll get what should be an extremely entertaining and intense competition, pitting some of the best players in the world against each other.
Usually, waiting for Team USA to take home the gold in this sort of competition is merely a formality.
However, this summer will be a bit different after so many of the top American players decided to take the offseason, well, off, rather than risk injury.
We’re already seeing how different this World Cup is going to be once Australia defeated Team USA in the second of their two friendly matchups last week, the Americans’ first loss while using NBA players since 2006.
Because this tournament will be so stacked with talent, both of the American variety and not, we decided to rank the Top 25 players of the competition.
Below, our list.
25. NANDO DE COLO, FRANCE
One of the best guards in European basketball over the past few years and the only non-NBA player to make our ranking, Nando De Colo is going to be the engine that pushes France this summer.
For those who haven’t watched De Colo play since his brief 2013-14 stint with the Toronto Raptors, the 6-foot-5 combo guard has a unique ability to disarm any defense, and in a well-balanced French team loaded with NBA talent, he should be the main shot creator, both for himself and his teammates.
De Colo recently flirted with the idea of making an NBA return, and with the retirement of Tony Parker and absence of Thomas Huertel (FC Barcelona player and the best pure point guard for the French) this summer, he’ll be vital for France’s chances at making a deep run.
24. EVAN FOURNIER, FRANCE
After a breakout 2015-16 campaign, Evan Fournier has struggled to reach the next level. Even so, the level he’s currently at, that of a slightly above-average starting wing, is a pretty decent one.
Fournier is coming off a season in which he averaged 15.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest while slashing 43.8/34.0/80.6 shooting splits. What’s more, he was an integral member of the first Orlando Magic team to make the playoffs in six years.
Now suiting up for the French National Team, Fournier will be expected to make a similar impact, mostly using his scoring ability and playmaking prowess to help push France’s offense over an extremely important stretch of games.
23. TOMAS SATORANSKY, CZECH REPUBLIC
It took a season-ending injury to his former team’s starting point guard and a move from an off-ball role to a more primary one for Chicago Bulls ball-handler Tomas Satoransky to become anything but a replacement-level player. But once John Wall went down and the 27-year-old Satoransky became the Washington Wizards’ starting point guard, his level of production vastly improved.
Over the final 58 games of last season, 54 of which were starts, Satoransky averaged 10.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists per contest, knocking down over 40 percent of his three-point attempts in the process.
Satoransky’s steep rise in impact led to him landing a three-year, $30 million contract this summer, something that would have been impossible had he been a free agent just a year ago.
With the Czech Republic this summer, Satoransky’s sweet jumper and savvy passing will provide a huge boost for a team without any other NBA talent on it.
22. PATRICK MILLS, AUSTRALIA
San Antonio Spurs guard and Team USA killer Patrick Mills…
…will undoubtedly be one of the main players to watch at the upcoming World Cup, as his streaky-but-confident scoring and veteran presence are potent enough to swing outright results in Australia’s favor if he gets hot from the outside.
Mills is far from the most talented player headed to China, but, as he proved against the heavily favored Americans, he has the ability to take over games in a thrilling fashion, making him a guard to keep an eye on once the tournament kicks off.
21. DENNIS SCHROEDER, GERMANY
Much like Mills, Dennis Schroeder is a streaky ball-handler who can take over games with his scoring, the difference being that his floor is a good bit lower than that of his Australian counterpart. Nevertheless, Schroeder makes up for it with his superior size, defense and pure point-guard skills, which is what gave him the eventual nod in our rankings.
Moreso at the international level than in the Association, Schroeder’s ability to put the ball in the basket really gets a chance to shine, and in the tune-up games leading to the World Cup, the German floor general is already displaying fantastic form:
Schroeder won’t be the only NBA player representing Germany this summer, either. Sharing the floor with him will be Washington’s Isaac Bonga, Boston Celtics big man Daniel Theis and Dallas Mavericks center Maxi Kleber.
20. MARCUS SMART, UNITED STATES
One of the players head coach Gregg Popovich is looking to be a leader for Team USA this summer, Marcus Smart will have a vitally important job for the Americans at the World Cup.
No, he won’t be asked to score 20 points per game or play floor general for long stretches. Rather, Smart will be asked to provide the team with elite defense and give all-out effort whenever he’s on the floor, much like what he does for the Celtics every night.
Considering the toughness – both mental and physical – that’s required to succeed in FIBA competitions, especially with a far less talented USA side than the ones that usually attend this tournament, Smart will be crucial to his country’s chances for success.
19. BOGDAN BOGDANOVIC, SERBIA
Bogdan Bogdanovic might not be Serbia’s best player from an NBA sense, but in international play, the confident bucket-getter is an absolute beast.
His step-back jumper coupled with the shortened international three-point line makes for a deadly combination, and his level of self-assuredness only increases with the game on the line, as he has already proven in tune-up competition:
There’s a reason that many consider Serbia the potential favorites to take home the gold, and Bogdanovic’s perimeter skills plays a huge part in that.
Every team will have trouble with the Sacramento Kings guard this summer.
18. JAYLEN BROWN, UNITED STATES
Team USA will ask the athletic and young Jaylen Brown to hightail it in transition, attack the basket and defend opposing teams’ best wings at the upcoming World Cup, three aspects of basketball the Celtics small forward specializes in.
Brown is coming off of a bit of a disappointing season, one where he averaged a meager 13.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 three-pointers nightly, but as many players can attest to, suiting up for USA Basketball will be a great way for him to turn things around and see an uptick in form heading into 2019-20.
17. HARRISON BARNES, UNITED STATES
The 2019 World Cup will be Harrison Barnes’ second time representing Team USA, with the first time coming back in the 2016 Olympics, where the 27-year-old played a small role coming off the bench for the eventual gold-medal winners.
That summer, Barnes averaged merely 4.3 points and 1.3 rebounds per game while seeing action in just four of USA’s contests at the tournament.
This summer, though, should be a bit different.
Barnes, now a veteran of both the NBA and international basketball, is in position to take over one of the two starting forward roles for Team USA, and is in line to make a much bigger impact than he did back in 2016 thanks to his shooting and post-up expertise.
16. RICKY RUBIO, SPAIN
An experienced floor general, especially in international competition, Ricky Rubio should be one of the top point guards in China this summer.
It should be noted: Rubio does more than set up offenses and dish out dimes when playing with Spain, which are the primarily roles he covers in the NBA. The man-bun-rocking Spaniard should a legit threat to score, something he has done a lot of in lead-up games to the World Cup, averaging 18 points in contests against Congo and Dominican Republic.
15. DOMANTAS SABONIS, LITHUANIA
Domantas Sabonis, coming off the best season of his career, is headed to China in fantastic form. The left-handed big man produced 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per contest in 2018-19, shooting a tidy 59 percent from the floor with a +2.9 swing rating to boot.
With the shortened three-point line in international play, there’s a chance Sabonis will be able to add some outside shooting to his repertoire this summer, which will make him even more difficult to defend considering his high-level post-up play and around-the-basket finishing.
Even more encouraging for Lithuania is the fact that Sabonis won’t be their only elite frontcourt player at the World Cup. He’ll be sharing 4/5 duties with a player coming up shortly on our ranking.
14. MYLES TURNER, UNITED STATES
Sabonis’ teammate stateside, Myles Turner, will likely be a starter for Team USA this summer at center, and could end up being one of the team’s most impactful players.
Few big men possess Turner’s ability to protect the paint defensively, as he has already displayed in friendlies prior to the World Cup…
…while also spreading the floor on offense. And with the shorter three-point line in international competition, the Texas product should be able to feast out of the pick-and-pop even moreso than he does in the NBA.
Turner will need to remain consistent this summer, especially when you think about the caliber of big man Team USA could face in the knockout rounds, but if he does turn out to be one of the best American players, that’ll provide a huge boost to the team’s chances of reigning as champs yet again.
13. BROOK LOPEZ, UNITED STATES
If Turner does struggle with consistency, however, as he has at times in his NBA career, then Team USA will likely turn to Brook Lopez as their answer at the 5.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Lopez, like Turner, is of the rare breed of big man who can both knock down triples and swat away shots on defense, which is how he earned his spot on the team.
Lopez might not have the ceiling that Turner possesses, but he knows what his role is within a team concept and performs it extremely well, so he’ll definitely be reliable once his name does get called at the World Cup.
12. JOE INGLES, AUSTRALIA
A 6-foot-8 ball-handler who can run the pick-and-roll and spot up from three at elite levels, Joe Ingles has a chance to be one of the most impactful players at the World Cup.
Ingles, a career 40.8 percent three-point marksmen in the NBA, is going to thrive knocking down shots from the corners and taking over playmaking duties for Australia when the offense experiences a dip in production.
Much like with the Utah Jazz, Ingles won’t be asked to score a ton of points or be the point guard every single possession, but as a knockdown outside shooter and fine secondary playmaker, he’ll continue to show that he’s a lot more than just a role player this summer.
11. JONAS VALANCIUNAS, LITHUANIA
Sabonis’ frontcourt partner at the World Cup will be Jonas Valanciunas, who is usually a force in international play and is coming off a very solid season, even despite the midseason trade.
Valanciunas averaged 15.6 points and 8.6 rebounds on 55.9 percent shooting in 2018-19, while ranking as an excellent post-up big man (90th percentile), per Synergy Sports, and as a very good pick-and-roll finisher (75th percentile). His brute force down low, both while backing down and when attacking the offensive glass, will smother opponents, and his size defensively will give foes trouble in the paint.
Truth be told, Valanciunas teaming up with a Sabonis-level big man who can knock down open jumpers could give Lithuania the best frontcourt of the entire competition – the duo is that talented, intense and synergistic.
10. JAYSON TATUM, UNITED STATES
It’s been a quiet lead up to the World Cup for Jayson Tatum, as the talented wing has struggled with his scoring for Team USA in friendlies. And considering that scoring was his main ticket to making the 12-man roster in the first place, there’s a chance that if he doesn’t regain his confidence in the group stage of the World Cup, he could fall out of the American rotation entirely.
Regardless, there’s plenty of reason to believe Tatum will be able to turn things around; his skill level – primarily revolving around his shooting and ball-handling – and overall athletic package should help him become a force over the coming weeks, as long as he’s able to adapt to the international style of play.
Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done – especially for young players like Tatum.
9. MARC GASOL, SPAIN
Like Rubio, Marc Gasol has a ton of experience playing international basketball for Spain, which will surely give him a leg up on a lot of the competition.
In his already illustrious international hoops career, Gasol has won three gold medals (two Eurobasket, one World Cup in 2006), as well as three silver medals (two in the Olympics, one more in Eurobasket).
He’ll look to add to those insane totals this summer.
The floor-spacing, post-up, playmaking big man will be a handful for opponents on offense, and his defense will be massive for Spain’s chances to win a second World-Cup gold this century.
8. DANILO GALLINARI, ITALY
According to multiple advanced metrics, Danilo Gallinari is heading to China coming off the best season of his career. In 2018-19, Gallinari averaged 19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest while slashing fiery 46.3/43.3/90.4 shooting splits and, most importantly, only missing 14 games due to injury.
Gallinari is going to the World Cup while battling minor injuries which forced him to miss most of their friendly competition, but in Italy’s latest tune-up game against New Zealand, the 6-foot-10 swingman was able to suit up and drop 22 points.
Nonetheless, Italy will have to stay ahead of those injuries, because without Gallinari, they won’t have much of a shot to make a deep run.
7. NIKOLA VUVCEVIC, MONTENEGRO
Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic had a straight-up monstrous campaign in 2018-19, receiving All-Star honors for the first time after posting averages of 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks nightly.
He spaced the floor for Orlando, while also facing up, posting up, creating for others and vacuuming rebounds down low.
Well, he’ll have to do all that and then some for Montenegro to have a chance to make it out of the group stage, since Vucevic is the only NBA-level player on the roster.
Featured in a group with an elite Greek team and an experienced Brazilian team, it might be a short stay in China for Orlando’s stud center.
6. KHRIS MIDDLETON, UNITED STATES
Another first-time All-Star in 2018-19, Khris Middleton won’t be as crucial to Team USA’s success as Vucevic will be for Montenegro, but he will be counted on as a likely starter on the wing, so his job will be plenty important in its own right.
He won’t need to be the star of USA Basketball this summer, but much like with the Milwaukee Bucks, he’ll be relied on for consistent, unspectacular production.
More than anything, Middleton will be asked to score and create for the Americans, as well as play the stingy perimeter defense he used to be known for with Milwaukee.
5. DONOVAN MITCHELL, UNITED STATES
The player who will form part of what should be the best backcourt in the competition, Donovan Mitchell will carry a good chunk of the American scoring load in China, with the question being: Will he do so in an efficient manner?
If Team USA gets an efficient Mitchell at the World Cup, they’re going to be extremely difficult to beat. However, if they get a less-than-tidy version of the young 2-guard, things could get a bit dicier, especially later in the competition.
It’s a heavy weight the 22-year-old will be carrying, but Mitchell isn’t the type to back down from a challenge, which is why head coach Gregg Popovich considers him one of the team’s leaders, despite his level of inexperience at this level.
With a positive showing in China, Mitchell could take a huge step forward in his development.
4. RUDY GOBERT, FRANCE
One of the best big men in the world, Rudy Gobert is set to have a huge World Cup if we’re to judge by his recent form in the Association.
Running the pick-and-roll with De Colo and Fournier, creating space for France’s shooters on his dives to the basket, rebounding like a menace and protecting the paint even more intensely, Gobert will be trouble in China, and could help push France to the medal rounds.
The French have disappointed in international competition recently, unable to reach the heights many projected for them despite their deep levels of talent, but this year – with Gobert leading the way – feels like it could be different.
After all, France hasn’t had a leader – or player – like Gobert until now.
3. KEMBA WALKER, UNITED STATES
Mitchell’s backcourt mate and an equally explosive scorer on the outside, Kemba Walker looked every bit of Team USA’s best player in warm-up competition ahead of the World Cup, and he’ll look to continue that trend in China.
Walker’s blurring quickness, ability to stop on a dime and change direction, and deadly accurate step-back jumper will make him extremely difficult to stymie this summer; when the Americans need a bucket late in games, it’ll be Walker getting the rock.
Coming off a campaign where he poured in over 25 points and nearly six assists nightly, Walker heads to this all-important competition in a groove, and will need to continue on that run of form for this less-stacked-than-usual Team USA side to take home the gold.
2. NIKOLA JOKIC, SERBIA
The team that many consider the potential favorites to win gold, Serbia, will be headlined by Nikola Jokic.
Jokic has been one of the most productive players in basketball over recent years, with his latest campaign – 20.1 points, 10.8 points and 7.3 assists per game – being his most impressive. And yet, for Serbia, he hasn’t even been the starter in pre-World Cup friendlies.
Sure, the whole starter/bench player dynamic is just a bit different in European basketball, where minutes are distributed more evenly and closing games is far more important than starting. But it’s noteworthy nonetheless, especially since the player Jokic is backing up, Boban Marjanovic, is also a serviceable NBA player.
For a team to have the luxury to bring a player of Jokic’s magnitude off the bench is pretty scary, especially since the Denver Nuggets center is going to get his no matter what.
Turner and Lopez are going to have their hands full if this much-anticipated matchup does come to fruition.
1. GIANNIS ANTETOKNOUMPO, GREECE
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning league MVP and a player making a strong case to be considered the best in the world at the moment, is without question going to be the most exciting athlete at the 2019 World Cup.
Already in tune-up competition, Antetokounmpo looks every bit as unstoppable in international play as he is in the NBA…
…and barring a ton of help defense, he’ll put up insane numbers in China.
Of course, it also helps that he’ll be teaming up with Nick Calathes, who’s been one of the most reliable and productive guards in Europe for years now, and who will help set up the superstar forward with easy opportunities.
The Greeks have a legitimate opportunity to make a run at gold this summer, and that’s thanks to Antetokounmpo’s presence; he’s that much of a fortune-changer.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.