Aside from the top seeded Team USA and Argentina, five other teams qualified for the FIBA World Cup from the Americas. Gilas Pilipinas might face one of these teams in the group stage.
Canada (World Ranking: 23)
Canada topped Group F of the FIBA Americas with a 10-2 record. Brady Heslip averaged 10.7 points in 12 games, making almost three triples per game, while his German Bundesliga teammate Phil Scrubb made two triples per game to score 13.9 points. Iowa State product 6’7 forward Melvin Ejim normed 13.1 points and six rebounds in eight games, while former Houston Rocket Kyle Wiltjer contributed 19.3 points and 7.3 boards in four games.
As impressive as these four players were, it is possible none of them will even be in China this August. Canada is the only team other than the US which can form a national squad made up exclusively of NBA players (there are 13 Canadians in the NBA this season). Canada can potentially have a starting five made up of 7’0 Kelly Olynyk of the Miami Heat, forwards Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and guards Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the LA Clippers. Except for Gilgeous-Alexander (averaging 9.94 points a game), the four other players are averaging in double figures in the current NBA season. Canada has never made the semifinals of the World Cup and even missed the 2014 edition. This year is their best chance to get a podium finish.
Venezuela (World Ranking: 20)
Venezuela had an impressive run in the FIBA Americas, earning a qualifying ticket to the World Cup after ending the November window with two wins, including an impressive 84-76 win over Canada, to post a 9-1 record. It lost its last two games this February but it had no bearing except in the final standings.
The Squadra Criolla is a veteran team fueled by experienced internationalists. Leading the team are the Vargas brothers, 37-year-old 6’5 forward Jose who averaged 11.2 points in all 12 games and 32-year-old point guard Gregory who scored 10.9 points in 11 games. Also making solid contributions to Venezuela’s cause were 31-year-old 6’8 bull-strong power forward Nestor Colmenares with 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and 32-year-old 6’0 point guard Heissler Guillent with 6.3 points and 4.8 assists. Holding the fort in the low block for Venezuela was their 6’11 center Gregory Echenique who posted averages of 10.1 points and eight rebounds per game.
Brazil (World Ranking: 12)
Brazil tied Venzuela with a 9-3 record but placed third in the standings due to the quotient. Brazil only lost to Venezuela and Canada (twice), but otherwise earned a safe passage to the World Cup. No Brazilian player suited up in all of their 12 games. At the forefront of the attack for the Brazilians were veterans Leandro Barbosa who played in seven games and Anderson Varejao who donned the national jersey in 10 games. Point guard Marcelinho Huertes also saw action in three games. All three NBA veterans averaged in double figures in points for the team known as the Cariocas.
There are four Brazilians in the active roster of NBA clubs this season. These are 6’11 Nene of the Houston Rockets, 6’10 Cristiano Felicio of the Chicago Bulls, 6’9 Bruno Cabocio of the Memphis Grizzlies, and 6’1 Raulzinho Neto of the Utah Jazz. All four could get a call-up for the Brazilian team that will play in China. Though none of them are posting impressive numbers this current NBA season, their mere presence will surely bolster the line-up of Brazilian national coach Aleksander Petrovic.
Puerto Rico (World Ranking: 16)
Neither Renaldo Balkmann nor PJ Ramos played for Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas, but they still had enough firepower to post an 8-4 record to finish third behind Team USA and Argentina in Group E of the qualifiers.
Three Puerto Ricans spearheaded the Los Magnificos’s offense in the FIBA Americas. JJ Barea of the Dallas Mavericks saw action in four games and led the team in scoring with 17.3 and assists with 6.5 per game. The other two were former Ole Miss starting shooting guard David Huertas who scored 13.2 and 25-year-old former Dallas Maverick Gian Clavell who contributed 12.4 points a game. Manning the frontline in the absence of Balkmann and Ramos were 2005 Portland Trail Blazers draft pick 7’0 Ricky Sanchez and 6’11 Jorge Diaz.
Maurice Harkless, who is posting averages of 6.72 points and 4.26 boards
in 22 minutes of play for the Blazers this season, has seen action previously for the Puerto Rican team and might probably get a call-up for the World Cup. Point guard Shabazz Napier of the Brooklyn Nets has been in talks these past years to play for Puerto Rico and could possibly see action for the team in China.
Dominican Republic (World Ranking: 18)
Dominican Republic bagged the last of the seven slots for FIBA Americas to the World Cup. In the last window this February, the team known as Los Quisqueyanos won over Venezuela, 72-67, and lost its last game against Brazil. Fortunately for the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, the other team fighting for the last FIBA Americas spot, lost both its games this February.
Spearheading Los Quisqueyanos in the qualifiers were a pair of prolific guards. Thirty-three-year-old Victor Liz, who plays for Leones de Ponce in the Puerto Rican league, led the team in scoring with his average of 13.7 points in 12 games. Rigoberto Mendoza, 26, who plays for Capitanes in the Mexican league backstopped Liz with 10.7 points a game.
The Dominican Republic will need their NBA stars if they want to make some noise in the World Cup. Karl Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who at 16-years-old suited up for the senior team of the Dominican Republic in 2012, will definitely be invited. Another all star, Al Horford, a fixture for the national squad since 2008, could form a potent frontline with Towns for the Dominicans in China.
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(Images from FIBA)