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Top Standouts of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

David Yapkowitz breaks down five standouts from FIBA World Cup qualifying.

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The FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held in 2019 in China, and different regions across the globe have already begun participating in tournaments to qualify for this event. Teams from four different regions will take part in the FIBA World Cup: five teams from Africa, seven teams from the Americas, five teams from Asia, 12 teams from Europe, and the host country China.

The qualifying tournaments wrapped up the first round of play on Monday night, and will not resume until February 2018. Although not very common, there are sometimes players who use these international tournaments as a means to boost their stock and even get to the NBA, if not put themselves on scouting radars.

Here’s a look at five of the top performers of the qualifying tournaments so far.

1. Xavier Munford – USA

Xavier Munford went undrafted out of Rhode Island as a senior after the 2013-14 season. He elected to play in the NBA’s G-League, was drafted by the Maine Red Claws, and then traded to the then Bakersfield Jam. Following a solid rookie season with the Jam, he caught the eye of the Los Angeles Lakers, playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas.

He returned to the Jam the following year and was named to the G-League West All-Star team after putting up 20.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. This time, he drew the attention of the Memphis Grizzlies, who were dealing with a rash of injuries. He played well in Memphis and even saw some playoff action. He ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Grizzlies, but they declined his option prior to the start of the 2016-17 season and he went back to the G-League.

This summer, he was a member of the USA national team that won the FIBA AmeriCup Championship, which led to him being included on the World Cup qualifying team. He was cut by the Milwaukee Bucks in training camp this year and was playing with the Wisconsin Herd of the G-League. In the two qualifying games so far, Team USA has used a balanced offensive attack with Munford putting up a team-high 13 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line. Munford is a bit undersized for a shooting guard, and if he can develop his playmaking game a bit more, he could draw some NBA interest once 10-day contract time rolls around.

2. Ding Yanyuhang – China

Ding Yanyuhang first came into mainstream prominence this past summer when he played with the Dallas Mavericks summer league team in Las Vegas. He was no stranger to fans in China, however, as he’s been a rising star in the Chinese leagues for quite some time. For the past five years, Ding has steadily improved his game while playing in the CBA.

This past season, he won MVP of the Chinese Basketball Association while playing with the Shandong Golden Stars, the team he’s played for since 2011. He put up 23.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 39 games. He had two games, one in back in January and the other in February, where he scored 43 points. To open the CBA season, back in October, Ding scored 42 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, in a 116-114 win over the Shanxi Brave Dragons, who boast the likes of Brandon Jennings and Luis Scola.

In the qualifying tournament, he’s led China to a 2-0 record while putting up 19.5 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, 46.2 percent from downtown, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He’s a tall forward with guard-like abilities and range out to three, the exact type of player who can thrive in today’s NBA. He’s already caught the eye of NBA teams after his summer league performance, and it probably won’t be long until he finds himself on an actual roster.

3. Miroslav Raduljica – Serbia

Miroslav Raduljica is a name that might be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He had a couple of brief stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves from 2013-2015. Prior to that, he had a lengthy career in Europe where he’d been playing professionally since 2005. Like many overseas professionals, Raduljica started playing when he was a mere 17 years old.

Before coming to the NBA, he was already a highly decorated player, having won the FIBA Europe U20 Championship MVP (2008), the Serbian Super League MVP (2010), and winning the Serbian League title (2012). He was seldom used, however, in the NBA. Since heading back overseas, he’s had stops in Greece, Italy, and China where he currently plays with the Jiangsu Dragons.

He’s been the most recognizable player for Serbia during the World Cup qualifiers as fellow team leaders Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Bjelica are currently in the NBA. So far, he’s led Serbia to a 2-0 record in early play while putting up 21.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He’s a burly big man with a nice touch around the rim, and he can step out and knock down the mid-range jumper. He’s still relatively young at 29 years old and surely could help a team off the bench.

4. Markel Brown – USA

Markel Brown is another name who should be recognizable to NBA fans. He was drafted by the Wolves in the second round of the 2014 draft and immediately traded to the Brooklyn Nets. During his rookie season, he played very sparingly during the first half of the 2014-15 season before being assigned to the G-League.

The second half of that season was a different story. Head coach Lionel Hollins inserted Brown into the starting lineup at shooting guard right after the All-Star break. He gave the Nets a solid boost, scoring in double figures six times over the final 31 games. His second year in Brooklyn, he returned to his role off the bench. Since then, he’s had training camp stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, and he currently plays for the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.

He’s been one of the leaders for Team USA in the World Cup qualifiers, helping them to an early 2-0 record. The U.S. has used a balanced offensive attack and during those games, Brown has averaged 12.0 points on 52.6 percent shooting, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Although athletic, scoring wings are a dime a dozen in the G-League, Brown does have prior NBA experience during which he played decently. He’s in the mold of a 3 and D wing and could earn a call-up later in the season when 10-day contracts are able to be signed.

5. Anderson Varejao – Brazil

If none of the other players on this list so far were familiar to NBA fans, Anderson Varejao surely must be. Varejao spent 11 and a half seasons in Cleveland, where he emerged as one of the best backup centers in the NBA. After he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2015-16 season, and subsequently waived, he joined the Golden State Warriors.

He was seldom used with the Warriors, and in the limited minutes he received, it looked like his NBA career was nearing the end. The Warriors released him last season in February. After winning the title, the Warriors offered him a championship ring, which he accepted. At age 35, he didn’t resurface anywhere else after parting ways with Golden State, and retirement seemed a likely option.

That was until the World Cup qualifiers rolled around this fall. Varejao has suited up for the Brazilian national team since 2001, one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He’s powered Brazil to a 2-0 record and has looked like he just might have some gas left in the tank. He’s averaged a double-double with 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. The NBA game is very different, but teams could do a lot worse than Varejao as an end of the bench veteran guy. It’s likely he never sets foot on an NBA court again, but just in case, he’s showing everyone he’s still got it.

There are a few other names to watch during the World Cup qualifiers. Alessandro Gentile of Italy has looked good as the Italians are also undefeated at 2-0. Gentile was drafted by the Wolves in 2015, but his rights were traded to the Houston Rockets. He could end up being a decent wing off Houston’s bench. Germany also has a 2-0 record, and they have Isaiah Hartenstein who was a second-round pick of the Rockets this past summer. He’s put up a near double-double with 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. The guys on this list, though, are probably the ones with the best chance of ending up on an NBA roster anytime soon.

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G-League

NBA PM: Jeremy Lin, Activist and Basketball Player

Racism in the United States continues to rise as the fight for equality continues. In the NBA, Jeremy Lin has stepped up and used his voice in support of the movement to end Asian hate.

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a strong movement for social justice and human rights in America. Recently, the headlines have involved racist remarks and attacks on people of Asian ethnicities across the United States.

In the NBA, various teams and players have come out to voice their support for the movement to stop Asian hate such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and an Asian-American himself, Jeremy Lin. The basketball world has done an excellent job with social justice reform and human rights issues by highlighting them on the players’ uniforms, banners and signs throughout their arenas, while also letting the players express their thoughts on racism without backing down.

“As a part of our ongoing commitment to promote racial equality and social justice,” the NBA’s recent statement read, “We stand with the Asian community against any acts of hate and racism.”

Within the past few weeks, there was a mass shooting in Atlanta at a massage parlor that left six Asian women dead. The shooting occurred on Mar. 16 and has been highly publicized as a hate crime. This act of racism put the Asian hate movement in the spotlight once again, but, sadly, hate crimes towards Asians related to the coronavirus pandemic are not new.

Lin – always willing to stand up for what’s right, no matter the cost – used his platform as to speak out and highlight the hate seen against Asian-Americans.

“We have to keep standing up, speaking out, rallying together and fighting for change. We cannot lose hope!” 

Lin, who has now played for the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, has a large platform as an Asian American basketball player. Today, the point guard for the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors has been a vocal leader of the movement to end Asian hate. But as one of three Asian basketball players in the NBA system, he serves as a role model for young Asians everywhere. For every three-pointer he hit this year in the G League, he donated to organizations for youth empowerment or human rights work, per CBS News

Of course, during a G League game, Lin was called ‘coronavirus’ by another player – which led to him speaking out against Asian hate but did not name anybody as he did not want to contribute to more hate.

“What good does it do in this situation for someone to be torn down?” Lin said in a lengthy Twitter note posted in late February.

Listen to the voices that are teaching us how to be anti-racist towards ALL people.”

Experiencing recent hate while enduring numerous other instances of racism towards him, Lin is a powerful voice and a leader in the Asian American community. 

As a player, Lin has had an up-and-down career while playing overseas in China – all following an NBA Finals win in which he played just one minute for the Toronto Raptors. Back in America and the G League where he famously got his start, Lin has tried to prove that he’s ready and able to contribute to an NBA team once more.

Appearing in nine games for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Lin posted averages of 19 points and 6.4 assists per game, plus a field goal percentage of 50.5 percent, a 42.6 percent three-point percentage and 87.9 from the free throw line.

Without a doubt, Lin still has a lot of good basketball left in the tank, but why hasn’t he been called up to the NBA? The Golden State Warriors are already in the luxury tax and the team’s other guards have performed particularly well. An unfortunate circumstance for him to be in, but Lin is one injury away from a call-up and a contract if the situation arises. 

This season may not be the one where Lin makes his return to the NBA, but that isn’t going to stop him from trying. It was clear following his short G League stint that he can still play in the NBA and deserves to still be on a roster. Even if he is not in a large role, he can be an instant threat off the bench at any moment with his offensive IQ creating shots for himself and opening up the floor for others. 

But as Lin works to re-fulfilling his dreams, it hasn’t stopped him from using his platform for good. Throughout his long, bumpy career – full of meteoric rises, brutal injuries and false starts – the veteran point guard has always been a source of kindness and thoughtfulness. And in this day and age, Lin stands to be a powerful voice for progress not only in the NBA, but in the country at large.

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G-League

NBA Daily: Available G League Gems

David Yapkowitz breaks down which G League players could make an impact for a contender in the second half of the 2020-21 season.

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The G League bubble wraps up this week, with the playoffs underway and the championship game scheduled for March 11. The NBA, meanwhile, is ready to pick back up after the All-Star break and, with the trade deadline a couple of weeks away and teams finalizing their rosters for playoff pushes or second-half development, there could be some G League players on NBA radars.

From young players looking for their first shot in the league to older veterans hoping for one more NBA contract, the G League has become a league where players can garner some serious recognition. But who might be the next player to make the leap to the NBA?

Alize Johnson – Raptors 905

The Raptors 905 have been one of the top teams in the G League the past couple of years and that’s no surprise given that their parent team the Toronto Raptors are one of the best-managed teams in the NBA. Johnson is no stranger to the NBA, either, as he played two years with the Indiana Pacers before landing in the G League this season.

Behind a very strong performance in the bubble, Johnson has popped up on the radar of several NBA teams. He’s an athletic wing who has put up 16.6 points per game, 13.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists. While didn’t play much with the Pacers, it would seem that he’s used his time since to significantly improve his game, particularly his playmaking ability. It’s almost a given that he’ll be on an NBA roster once the G League bubble ends.

Kenny Wooten Jr – Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Wooten was a rookie with the New York Knicks last season on a two-way contract, but he never saw any game action and they cut him before the start of this season. In camp with the Houston Rockets, Wooten joined their G League affiliate in Rio Grande when he was cut.

While Wooten’s scoring numbers might not jump out of the boxscore, he can rebound and defend with the best of them. His shooting might be what’s kept him from getting an NBA roster spot to this point, but that he’s improved in that area and would continue to were he to sign with the NBA team. Although not as big, Wooten fits a similar mold to that of Donta Hall, who recently received a call-up.

Tyrone Wallace – Agua Caliente Clippers

Wallace is another player with some brief NBA experience with the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers. Four years removed from his rookie season, Wallance played pretty solid when given the opportunity.

He’s also another player whose outside shooting has likely held him back from a consistent role at the NBA-level — his three-point percentage in the bubble is just 28.6 percent. That said, Wallace has stood out in almost every other aspect, from his scoring (16.6 points), rebounding (6.3 rebounds), playmaking (3.3 assists) and defense (1.5 steals). He still has a good chance at being called up this year, but a consistent three-point shot is would solidify a spot for him in the NBA.

Oshae Brissett – Fort Wayne Mad Ants

Brissett was a rookie with the Toronto Raptors on a two-way contract last season. Before training camp, his deal converted to a standard NBA contract, but he ended up being cut after a strong preseason from Yuta Watanabe.

Now, in the bubble, he’s looked much improved on the outside, shooting 33.3 percent from deep after knocking down just 28.9 percent of his shots last season. While that could improve further still, it bodes well for his shot at a roster spot that he’s touched up his efficiency. One of the bubble’s leading scorers at 18.6 points per game, Brissett has the size and tools to be a strong rebounding and defending small forward at the next level as well.

Jeremy Lin – Santa Cruz Warriors

Lin got his NBA start with the Golden State Warriors 11 years ago. Now, closer to the tail end of his career, he’s looking for one more NBA opportunity via their G League team. Lin briefly left the league to play in China last season, but returned this year to pursue perhaps his last NBA contract.

One of the best playmakers in the bubble, Lin dished out 6.4 assists per game before the Warriors were eliminated. That’s what he can contribute to an NBA team, being able to run a team’s second unit with efficiency. Speaking of efficiency, he showed that on the offensive end with 19.8 points and shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from the three-point line. He’s more experienced than a lot of players in the G League and wouldn’t be a bad option for a team in need of a veteran floor leader.

The G League has grown in talent every season for a while now and it’s no longer viewed so much as a demotion or punishment for young NBA players. Rookies and second-year players can use the league as a way to get experience with game situations until ready to join their NBA team’s regular rotation.

Unlike when the league first came into existence, the current G League is a good place for NBA hopefuls to sharpen their skills and showcase their game to front offices, proving that they are ready for an NBA call-up.

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G-League

8 Players To Watch In The G League Bubble

With the 2021 NBA G League season right around the corner, Tristan Tucker provides his picks for players to keep an eye on in the bubble.

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With the NBA G League season tipping off on Wednesday, Feb. 10, Basketball Insiders will take a look at some of the stars that headline the bubble. Several two-way contract players and NBA assignees like Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr. will play, but there are many that will make their cases to join or rejoin the NBA as teams will finalize rosters in March at the trade deadline. 

On top of that, the league will welcome the G League Ignite, a brand new team that will feature some of the top prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft class, such as Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green. However, Basketball Insiders will focus on some of the players that might be flying under the radar in their pursuit of an NBA roster spot. Let’s take a look at eight of those players to watch out for during the upcoming season.

Jeremy Lin, Santa Cruz Warriors

The most anticipated G Leaguer in the bubble is none other than Jeremy Lin, one of the league’s fan favorites since the days of Linsanity with the New York Knicks. Lin last played in the NBA during the 2018-19 season, when he was acquired by the Toronto Raptors midseason and went on to win the NBA Championship.

Lin never fully recovered from a devastating injury he suffered after just one game with the Brooklyn Nets in the 2017-18 season, which eventually led to him remaining unsigned through all of last season. However, before his injury, Lin averaged 14.6 points per game in 37 total games with the Nets and was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best role players in the NBA.

The Golden State Warriors tried to sign Lin to their training camp roster but encountered issues with acquiring his rights. Thankfully for Lin, Santa Cruz was still able to secure his rights via the NBA vet selection rule, extending Linsanity’ a direct chance to rejoin the NBA.

Alize Johnson, Raptors 905

Don’t be surprised if Johnson ends up on the Raptors as the next great player for the team like Chris Boucher, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell as another undrafted or late-round flyer. Johnson, the 50th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers, averaged 20.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals last year in the G League while shooting 52 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from deep.

As is made clear by his stats, Johnson is a stat-stuffing big that can do just about anything on the court. And like many of the Raptors’ projects before him, Johnson is one of the most aware players in the entire G League. It’s no surprise that many scouts and trainers have likened Johnson to one Draymond Green.

Admiral Schofield, Greensboro Swarm

Schofield, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NBA G League draft, figures to play a huge role on a talented Greensboro roster that is stacked with former Power Five talent. Schofield is no stranger to the G League, averaging 16 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 33 appearances last season.

While Schofield didn’t have the best rookie season with the Washington Wizards, there is plenty of untapped potential for the Swarm to take advantage of. Schofield showed retention of his elite three-point shooting ability from Tennessee during his first season in the G League, shooting 36.8 percent on nearly six attempts per game from downtown.

Oshae Brissett, Fort Wayne Mad Ants

Brissett had a promising rookie season with the Raptors on a two-way contract, including an outing in which he scored 12 points and 6 rebounds. Brissett didn’t shoot well in his first season in the G League but averaged 15.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 forward out of Syracuse clearly did enough to impress the Mad Ants, who took him in the second round of the G League draft.

Allonzo Trier, Iowa Wolves

Trier is a highly anticipated addition to the G League bubble, having played very well in the NBA with the Knicks. The point guard played two seasons with New York but was inexplicably pulled from the rotation in his second season, seeing more sporadic playing time. In his first season with the Knicks as an undrafted rookie, Trier averaged 10.9 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the floor and 39.4 percent shooting from three in 64 appearances.

The Iowa Wolves took a flier on Trier, selecting him with the fourth overall pick in the G League draft. Trier will join a Wolves team without much NBA experience and should get his chance to prove his worth once again.

Vit Krejci, Oklahoma City Blue

Unlike many on this list, there isn’t much intel on Krejci, a prospect from the Czech Republic that played professionally in Spain. However, the Thunder must have liked what it saw on film, selecting Krejci with the 37th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-8 forward has point guard skills and sees the floor well, while shooting at a high rate. Krejci is a G League draft-and-stash prospect that’ll look to make his case for a roster spot on the Thunder in 2021.

Antonio Blakeney, Canton Charge

Blakeney is an able-bodied scorer that has efficiency issues but was an overall steady player in his time with the Chicago Bulls. Blakeney had a tremendous outing in the G-League from 2017 to 2019, averaging a whopping 31.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists over 34 total games with the Windy City Bulls. Blakeney joins a stacked Charge roster that boasts the likes of Devon Dotson, Marques Bolden and Ty-Shon Alexander.

Kenny Wooten Jr., Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Wooten quickly became a G League fan-favorite with his defensive chops while on a two-way contract with the Knicks last season. The Houston Rockets were able to scoop Wooten up as an affiliate player and he will look to build on a season that saw him lead the G League in blocked shots with 3.6 per game.

With the G League kicking off soon, expect to see plenty of call-ups and assignments across the NBA in the coming weeks. With extra depth extremely important in a COVID-19 plagued season, many G League players should get opportunities to latch onto NBA rosters. But who will emerge as the darling signee? Only time can tell.

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