We've hit the dog days of the offseason, where free agency has ground to a halt, and we are still a month away from the start of training camp and preseason games. Fortunately for us hoops heads, we have the 2019 FIBA World Cup to help hold us over until NBA action returns to our lives. Today I'll take a look at some of the NBA players that have stood out over the first week of the FIBA tournament.
America is 3-0, but it has not been pretty. On Tuesday, they just squeaked by Turkey in overtime, thanks to four consecutive missed free throws by the Turkish side. Nonetheless, Team USA has advanced to the second round and will take on 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Greeks in their first game of the second round on Saturday morning.
As many expected, Kemba Walker has been Team USA's leading scorer. He is averaging 14.0 points, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 23.7 minutes per game. Kemba also leads the team in plus-minus (+65). In America's blowout 98-45 victory over Japan on Thursday, he tallied 15 points and eight dimes. Harrison Barnes has also been solid, averaging 12.7 points and five rebounds. Myles Turner leads the team in boards (8.3 rpg) and blocks (1.7). Donovan Mitchell has yet to get fully untracked (11.7 ppg) and has yet to attempt a free throw.
America is also dealing with some injury issues. Jayson Tatum sprained his left ankle in the tight win over Turkey. Late in overtime, Tatum drove the lane and rolled the ankle after dishing off to Khris Middleton. He appeared to be in a significant amount of pain and had to be helped off the floor by two of Team USA's trainers. Fortunately, Tatum left the arena after the contest wearing a shoe and reportedly didn't have a bad limp. However, he did not play Thursday and has already been ruled out of Saturday's matchup vs. Greece. Team USA's final game of the second round will take place on Monday and Tatum will be re-evaluated prior to that game.
Marcus Smart also missed Thursday's game due to a left calf strain. Smart, who missed time last month with a calf strain in the same leg, is considered day-to-day. The matchup with Japan was relatively unimportant, so it's possible that Team USA was resting Smart to keep him fresh as the tournament drags on. We should have an update on his status by Friday evening.
The Serbs were absolutely dominant in the first round. They crushed all three opponents they faced, posting a ridiculous 40-point average margin of victory. Unsurprisingly, stud center Nikola Jokic has led the way for Serbia.
Through Serbia's first three games, Jokic is averaging 13.3 points and shooting an absurd 87.5 percent from the field, including a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point territory. Oh yeah, he leads his team in rebounds (6.0 rpg) and assists (5.7 apg). Remarkably, Jokic won't celebrate his 25th birthday until after next season's All-Star break. He will be a sure-fire first-round pick in fantasy drafts come October, as he is only starting to enter into his prime.
Bogdan Bogdanovic has also played very well for Serbia. He exploded for 31 points, five assists, four rebounds, five steals six 3-pointers in their win over Italy on Wednesday. For the tournament, he is averaging 24.0 points (second among all players in China) while shooting a scorching 61.5 percent from the floor and 65.2 percent from downtown (15-of-23). As far next season is concerned, Bogey will again be forced to come off the bench behind Buddy Hield.
To no one's surprise, Rudy Gobert is dominating the paint on both ends of the floor in China. He's led France to a perfect 3-0 record, averaging a double-double (12.7 points and 10.0 boards) while shooting 72.2 percent from the floor and has converted 80 percent of his free throws. Gobert also leads the entire tournament in blocks (2.7 bpg). Evan Fournier has been a consistent contributor, leading the team in scoring (16.3 points per game) and chipping in 4.3 boards and 3.7 dimes.
Surprisingly, Frank Ntilikina has generated a lot of praise from his French teammates. "He's the future of the team," said Nic Batum. "The guy can play. He's really, really good defensively. For his position, his mix of size and athleticism is really above average. He's a real athlete at his position," added Evan Fournier. We know what Ntilikina brings to the table defensively, but his offensive inefficiency has prevented him from making an impact with the Knicks. Encouragingly, Ntilikina is shooting 54.5 percent from 3-point territory (6-for-11) and is a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw stripe through France's first three games. We'll see if he can continue to build his confidence in China and then carry into training camp in New York, where he'll be forced to fight for playing time with Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Damyean Dotson, Allonzo Trier, and Wayne Ellington.
Shockingly, Giannis Antetokounmpo was not the focal point of Greece's attack during early World Cup action. Even after a dominant performance against New Zealand on Thursday (24 points, ten boards and six assists), the Greek Freek is still second on the team in scoring, third in field goal attempts, third in minutes played and third in assists through three games. Nonetheless, containing Antetokounmpo will obviously be the American's primary objective when the two sides square off on Saturday morning.
Despite losing both games, Rui Hachimura was impressive in Japan's opening two contests. He had 15 points, seven boards, two dimes and two steals in a loss to Turkey and then stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 21 points (on 8-of-12 shooting), six rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes vs. the Czech Republic. However, Japan's third and final game of the World Cup was against Team USA, and the Americans put the clamps on the newest Wizard. America won by 45 points, and Hachimura finished the contest 2-of-8 for four points and four rebounds in 24 minutes. Notable from a fantasy perspective, he didn't make a single 3-pointer in the tournament (0-for-4).
Australia, led by several NBA'ers, is one of eight undefeated teams remaining. Patty Mills has been a scoring machine, pouring in 20 points a night. Aron Baynes is averaging 14.3 points and 6.7 boards. Matthew Dellavedova is chipping in 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Joe Ingles just missed recording the first-ever triple-double in FIBA World Cup history in Australia's victory over Senegal on Tuesday, tallying 17 points, ten rebounds, nine assists, four treys and two blocks. He leads all players in assists thus far, averaging 8.7 dimes per game, to go along with 6.7 rebounds and 2.0 trifectas.