10 intriguing internationals ahead of the 2017-18 season

Enzo Flojo
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts after hitting a basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

There is no doubt that basketball is a global game, and as such, the NBA has become a global league. This means the Association has been able to reach nearly every corner of the planet, and it also means that nearly every corner of the planet has become represented in the NBA.

From Europe, South America, Oceania, Africa, and even Asia, players have been able to make it to the NBA stage, representing their countries well, enriching the league’s varying styles of play, and elevating the stature of the NBA brand.

In celebration of the NBA’s international flavor and looking ahead to the 2017-2018 season, here are ten of the most intriguing international players to watch out for:

1) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Giannis for MVP used to be a dream, but 2017-2018 may turn out to be year 1 of the Greek Freak’s dynasty. Nobody needs to over-sell Giannis because his game does all the talking. Think of how much better LeBron may be if he were 6’11” and had limbs that went miles for days. Giannis normed 23.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game last season. If he is going to put up even better numbers now and Milwaukee makes the playoffs again (they should!), the MVP could be his for the taking.

2) Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

The Stifle Tower will continue to be among the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the league. He won’t really drop 20 points on a consistent basis, but he sure seems like a more athletic and more mobile version of, say, Dikembe Mutombo or Theo Ratliff (if Ratliff had 2-3 more inches on him). Gobert is the biggest reason, especially with Gordon Hayward now gone, Utah fans are still hoping the Jazz make a strong playoff run, and if the 7’1” French giant can continue to make an impact in the paint, Utah should have a strong chance to return to the postseason.

3) Al Horford (Celtics)

Yes, there’s a ton of pressure on Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to carry the new-look Boston Celtics, but, at least for me, the main barometer will be Horford, who will anchor the interior for a team that seemingly lost much of its size and physicality with the departure of Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, and Jae Crowder. Together with Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris, Horford will have to be rock-solid around the basket for the Cs.

4) Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)

Towns will continue to put up great numbers, and this year I expect the Timberwolves to finally move into the postseason. The addition of Jimmy Butler is a game-changer, sure, but Minnesota’s chances still heavily hinge on how productive Towns will be. He put up a nifty double-double line last season, and barring injury, there’s no reason he won’t be able to do that again this year. Also, we should see him make the All-Star Team in the West.

5) Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks)

I don’t know who’s better between Kristaps and KAT, but the Latvian unicorn sure is making New Yorkers’ heads spin as they imagine a bright future with the 7’3” big man leading the way. His averages generally went up from his rookie year to his sophomore effort, and that upward trend should continue into the 2017-2018 season. The challenge for him, however, is embracing the fact that he is now the face of one of the league’s biggest and most beleaguered franchises. Knicks fans after all are not only hopeful – they are expecting Porzingis to turn things around and fast.

6) Ben Simmons (Sixers)

To be honest, I’m not 100% certain Simmons is going to live up to last year’s hype. He could be a fate-changer for the Sixers if, indeed, he becomes the 6’10” playmaking, ball-handling wunderkind he was built up to be, but he could also be a dud if he ends up being the next Darius Miles, or if he proves to be too injury-prone. Still, he is among the most intriguing young talents out there, and he possesses the kind of skill-set that will, at the very least, make Philly fans and fantasy basketball hounds salivate with his prospective production.

7) Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves)

Wiggins is likely to sign a man-sized, five-year contract extension reportedly worth as much as $148 million, and that means Minny is rolling the dice and going all-in with the Canadian sensation. Wiggins was pretty solid last season, averaging career-highs in points, assists, and three-point shooting, while also playing every single game for the Wolves. He has, in fact, been among the team’s most durable stars, missing only one game since coming into the league in 2014. To say he has earned the extension is already beyond discussion, but to see him evolve and blossom even more especially with Butler around? That’s something to watch out for this season.

8) Goran Dragic (Heat)

Dragic was nothing short of phenomenal in leading Slovenia to their first ever Eurobasket title this summer, and that should set him up really well for the coming season as one of Miami’s main men. He was still finding his footing in South Florida in his first season-and-a-half there, but he showed last year that he was capable of being their main facilitator with Dwyane Wade no longer around. He is a great two-way player who can form a potentially dangerous 1-2 punch with Hassan Whiteside, and don’t be shocked if they are able to push Miami into the postseason again after missing out last season.

9) Danilo Gallinari (Clippers)

Gallinari has always been one of the on-the-cusp players in the league, but he is coming off a really solid season in Denver as he starts a new chapter with the Clippers. His versatility at the wings is something the Clips haven’t had in a while, so having him in the frontline together with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is intriguing and exciting. At his best, he can be an All-Star calibre player who can form a big three with BG and DJ, but if he doesn’t overcome his injury issues and his penchant to disappear in stretches, then the Clips really will be worse off as they begin their post-CP3 era.

10) Dennis Schroder (Hawks)

Schroder had a superb Eurobasket 2017 this past summer, reenergizing a Germany squad that had been languishing in the European doldrums, and that should augur well for the Hawks this coming season. The 6’1” floor general already had a career year in 2016-2017, and if he can up his production even more, we may be looking at a budding All-Star. Don’t sleep on ATL, folks, and don’t sleep on Schroder.

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