Now that Croatia—arguably the most exciting team in Olympic basketball after the USA—has officially qualified for the Games, it is time to look at the top five non-American players to watch in Rio over the course of the Olympics. There are plenty of excellent young international players who will want to make a splash in these games, and as the NBA season comes closer, these five will want to convince their teams that they can make a big impact in the regular season with good performances in Brazil.
5. Ben Simmons, Australia
I think all basketball fans will want as many chances to watch the top overall pick in the draft play before the NBA season starts, and after dishing out tons of highlight-reel-worthy passes in the NBA Summer League, Simmons will get his first shot at playing with and against bona fide NBA talent. He will have the likes of Aron Baynes, Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, and Matthew Dellavedova on his team, all of whom have won championship rings and had successful careers in the States thus far. With Simmons being the point forward that he is, look for even more incisive passes. It will be interesting to see whether or not he will take more initiative when it comes to scoring and if he will learn to trust his jump shot in Rio, because if his shot is on, he will become a much more dangerous player.
4. Bruno Caboclo, Brazil
Since he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2014, basketball fans have not heard much about the Brazilian forward since. At 20, he still has a lot of time to develop his skills, but the fact that he only appeared in six NBA games last season is concerning. His stats have never wowed at any level of play, but with his 6’9” frame and nearly 7’7” wingspan, he will be very exciting to watch in the pros if he learns how to use his body. A starting spot is not guaranteed for Caboclo on a strong Brazil team, but if he can make the most out of his minutes, he should turn some heads going into the NBA season.
3. Zhou Qi, China
Although no one really knows how old he is, the 7’2” Zhou should be one of the breakout stars in Rio if he can replicate his statistics from the Chinese Basketball Association. The center averaged 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and a whopping 3.5 blocks per game. No matter what team he plays against, his opponents will likely think twice before attacking the paint. He was drafted in the second round to the Houston Rockets with the 43rd overall pick, and although he may not be the next Yao Ming, if he has a good showing in the Olympics and in China next season, he will be looked at to make an immediate impact with the Rockets once he does indeed arrive in America.
2. Dario Saric, Croatia
A few weeks ago, Saric said he was coming to Philadelphia after the Olympics ended so he could participate in training camp. Now, after being awarded the MVP award of Olympic Qualifying, the 6’10” sharpshooter confirmed that he will go back to Croatia to finalize the buyout of his contract with Anadolu Efes with his parents, agent, and club, and then go from Rio to Philly. The Croatian averaged 11.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in just 22.5 minutes per game, but he also shot great percentages from three and from the free throw line, at 40 percent and 93 percent, respectively. These stats clearly show that he has the ability to be a more than reliable shooter in the NBA, so watch him in Rio to see for yourself if that is true.
1. Mario Hezonja, Croatia
Another Croatian, Hezonja is somewhat of an enigma. When he was going into the 2015 NBA draft from FC Barcelona, he was asked if he went to watch Leo Messi play soccer, to which he replied, “Let Messi come to see me.” Pretty legendary, if you ask me. Also, there was that one time he hit a three when his team was up 12 with five seconds left in the game, and then dapped up the coach of the other team. If that alone does not make you want to watch him, let’s look at the stats. In his only NBA season, he averaged 6.1 points on 43 percent from the field in around 17 minutes per game. Now that his team, the Orlando Magic, traded their star shooting guard, Victor Oladipo, look for the Croatian to get many more minutes this season. If he can improve his slashing and his finishing though traffic and with contact, he should become a top-tier NBA player in a few seasons.