Quite understandably, Kevin Durant is the player earning most of the headlines following the United States’ triumph at the World Championships in Turkey. As ESPN basketball blog TrueHoop put it, it seemed he started his campaign for NBA MVP with his performance in Istanbul.
However, Durant was not the only player to have ratcheted up expectations for the upcoming NBA season. Here are five players who stood out over the last two weeks in Turkey:
Omer Asik, Centre, Turkey
The Chicago Bulls are bringing over the 24 year old this season, and it looks like they have found themselves a player. At 7-feet, he certainly has the frame to battle in the paint in the NBA. Asik had 17 points and 13 rebounds in a preliminary round game against China, and his 6.9 rebounds per game placed him 13th in the tournament. He had the most rebounds per 40 minutes (14.8) of any player in the tournament not named Renaldo Balkman or Kevin Love. Another useful, big body could come in handy for the Bulls in a playoff series against Boston or Orlando. Alas, Asik can’t shoot a free throw to save his life.
Eric Gordon, Guard, United States
After a solid rookie year, Gordon seemed to be forgotten last season with the Clippers (as players tend to be when playing for the Clippers). However, he reasserted his worth while flanking Durant. On a team sorely lacking in the shooting department, Gordon established himself as a zone-buster, shooting 45% from behind the shorter international arc. He also proved to be capable defensively. If Blake Griffin is healthy, he and Gordon should provide the Clippers with an elite inside-outside combination. (Again, that cannot be assumed — these are the Clippers.)
Linas Kleiza, Forward, Lithuania
One of the best players in Europe last year, Kleiza will join the Toronto Raptors this season after playing for Denver earlier in his career. He has apparently improved his ability to put the ball on the floor, going on scoring binges against teams as diverse as New Zealand, Spain, China and Serbia. He had 33 points in the bronze-medal game against Serbia, helping the elated Lithuanians land a spot on the podium. He enters training camp as the favourite to win the Raptors’ starting spot at small forward. One worry: in a game against the United States, the most athletic team in the tournament, Kleiza managed just four points on 1-for-11 shooting.
Nenad Krstic, Centre, Serbia
He of the best nickname in basketball (KRS-One, for the number of vowels in his last name) led the most surprising story in the tournament. The Serbs were largely a young team devoid of star power. But based on a post-oriented offence, they made it all the way to the semi-finals, where they came within a point of advancing to the final. Krstic scored in double digits in wins over Argentina, Croatia and Spain, and had 15 points and seven rebounds in the semi-final loss to Turkey. And the only thing the Thunder really need is a reliable post scorer.
Luis Scola, Forward, Argentina
The Rockets’ main target in the off-season was Chris Bosh, but they missed out on the Miami-bound ex-Raptor. If Scola can show some of his international flair alongside a healthy Yao Ming, the Rockets might not mind. His NBA numbers have been solid over three years — he has averaged 13.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game during his career. In Turkey, though, he led the tournament in scoring with 27.1 points per game on 57% shooting. His 37-point, nine-rebound game in a win over Brazil in the round of 16 might have been the performance of the tournament. Scola is a nice player in the NBA; he has proven to be much more than that playing for his country.