• A Fantasy Hoops Look into the Recent 2023 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

    The 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup will be the 19th iteration of the international tournament that brings together the top basketball nations across the globe. This tournament takes place every four years, and the 2023 tournament will actually serve as qualification for the 2024 Summer Olympics (top two teams from America/Europe and top team from Africa/Asia). Qualifiers have been running from November 2021 and will last until February 2023 via different tournament windows of games. Recently, FIBA had first-round qualifiers from all four of their regions that took place from July 1 to July 3. In total, 32 different nations will have 12-player rosters competing for glory in the summer of 2023 within the host countries of Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.

    One great example of international play providing some vision into future value was with Patty Mills playing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (games were played in 2021). The Australian veteran put up 23.3 points with 6.3 assists and 3.7 triples per game on some decent efficiency. While he was not quite this good in the following NBA season, he was undrafted in a majority of leagues while finishing inside the top-130 of 9-cat leagues in terms of total value. 81 games played and a consistent scoring threat from downtown is a nice way to describe someone in their 13th season. If you did not watch the Olympic games, then you likely did not realize the player who had started three games in his previous three seasons was capable of playing in 48 starts to average his second highest scoring total in his entire career after this international play.

    You may ask: “why does international play matter/do the players not just go through the motions in an attempt to avoid injury during these couple games?” I would agree that these games are not a direct crystal ball to see who will dominate in the NBA next season. However, I would also argue that these games can provide insight into what these players can do in expanded roles. During this window of games, there were standouts in each region who really put on some impressive games for their home countries. To me, there were seven active NBA players and three potential prospects who really were worth watching.


    African Qualifiers

    Chimezie Metu, F/C, Nigeria (Kings)

    Notable Stats: 17.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.0 STL, 45.2 FG%, 34.1 MPG

    The Kings exercised the option on Metu’s contract and guaranteed him to make around $1.9 million in 2022-23. Coming off of a season in which he averaged career highs with 8.9 points and 5.6 rebounds, the Kings decided to hold onto him instead of Trey Lyles. At this point, the Kings have Domantas Sabonis and Richaun Holmes to play as inside bigs, so Metu’s shooting is the biggest question mark in terms of fitting at the four position. In his career he has shot 30.8% from downtown and he did not fare so well during these qualifiers as he shot 23.1% on 13 attempts. However, his bouncy scoring ability and willingness to grind it out on defense should be helpful for the youthful Kings this regular season. If the shooting begins to come around for Metu, look for him to be an interesting bench fantasy option in deeper formats or a streamer in standard formats when minutes potentially come his way.


    Americas Qualifiers

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Canada (Thunder)

    Notable Stats: 28.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, 62.9 FG%, 24.4 MPG

    SGA was one of the most impressive players across FIBA in this qualifier window, putting up his ridiculously efficient and dominant games in under 25 minutes per game. The biggest fantasy hoops take from his first game against the Dominican Republic is that all of that time off during the regular season did not cause any rust for the young lead guard. Any questions about an injury lingering or not being able to put up supreme scoring can be put aside ahead of the next season. The world got to see Josh Giddey absolutely dominate Summer League with Chet Holmgren and other rookies. Moving forward, Thunder fans have a ton to be excited about in terms of SGA joining that mix of young studs. From a fantasy standpoint, the more games that Gilgeous-Alexander can play will provide more total value for any GM who takes him in the early rounds. Otherwise, these Canadian FIBA games illustrated that Shai should be just fine on a per-game basis, thanks to his ever-solid scoring ability and length on defense.


    Jose Alvarado, G, Puerto Rico (Pelicans)

    Notable Stats: 21.0 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 3.0 3PM, 45.5 FG% 28.2 MPG

    A fan-favorite in Puerto Rico just as much as in US media spaces, serving his nation as their undoubtable leader and fearless presence at lead guard. Defense has always been a strength for Alvarado, ever since his days pestering the guards of the ACC with Georgia Tech. Alvarado will not score like he did for Puerto Rico, but anyone who does not yet know him needs to realize that he is a legit per-minute contributor with both assists and steals. His 44.6% clip from the field last season is comparable to what he showed in these FIBA qualifiers. There is the expectation that Alvarado will have an expanded role with the Pels next season, so GMs can keep their eye on him if his categorical contributions match their team build.


    Buddy Hield, G, Bahamas (Pacers)

    Notable Stats: 26.5 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.0 SPG, 5.5 3PM, 57.6 FG%, 38.7 MPG

    These two exhibition games were a masterclass from Hield, who proudly wears the Bahamian jersey as one of three active players from the islands. The sharpshooter did enough to help his nation advance to the next window of qualifiers, taking down the Virgin Islands as a six-spot underdog in FIBA rankings.  The population of The Bahamas is that of some midwestern cities in the United States, so it is really impressive how much Buddy has carried his home team. Hield averaged scoring numbers similar to his time at Oklahoma, but flashed some awesome ability as a playmaker and as a pest in the passing lanes. Fantasy GMs who held onto Hield when he played for the Pacers last season after the Domantas Sabonis trade should not be surprised at this uptick in playmaking ability. At this point, it is not a fluke to see Hield passing the ball so well as a peripheral contribution to his already-established ability from downtown. If Buddy Love is dealt away from the Pacers before next season to a contender, he may not have the touches to contribute as an all-around producer like he has showcased in recent times. Keep your eye on Hield if you believe he can continue producing as a premium 3-point scoring wing wherever he ends up next season.


    Asian Qualifiers

    No active NBA player or prospect played in the Asian qualifier games.


    European Qualifiers

    Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia (Mavs)

    Notable Stats: 26.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 8.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, 47.1 FG%, 33.3 MPG

    Besides the 2.0 steals per game, Doncic’s contributions were nearly identical to his NBA averages over the past few seasons. Any fan who does not already understand why Luka is a fantasy force should probably sit out the next fantasy season and study more. All jokes aside, Luka’s time as a dominant point guard extends beyond his Mavs days since his home country uses him in a similar fashion. The main thing for fantasy GMs to actually pay attention to here, and why this time could be valuable, is that Doncic looked in far better shape than he was at the Olympics last summer or at the start of the 2021-22 season. Mark Cuban and Jason Kidd both made comments on Doncic’s new commitment to being fit in the middle of last season, as Wonder Boy went on an MVP-like tear. If Doncic can start the next season off on the proper foot, he will surely be able to approach the incredible 30-10-10 averages he teases and can likely be counted as a dark-horse MVP candidate.


    Lauri Markkanen, F, Finland (Cavs)

    Notable Stats: 20.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.5 SPG, 3.0 3PM, 50.0 FG%, 31.3 MPG

    Markkanen put on a show in a Finnish jersey, providing some solid passing and defense in addition to his normal scoring with rebounding. For the Cavs, Markkanen is utilized as a huge small forward alongside Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. There is no reason to believe that J.B. Bickerstaff and company will not utilize Markkanen in the same fashion heading into the next season. The one thing that can be taken away from these international ball games is that Markkanen has the ability to provide some defensive stats when he is thrust into a more prominent role. On the flip side, GMs should realize that Mobley and Allen will handle tougher defensive assignments. For those who do not know, sometimes the Cavs enter a zone in which Mobley plays up top to funnel guards into the huge pair of Allen and Markkanen. The Finnish team does not have this capability, but the Cavs will need his defensive tenacity next season.


    Dennis Schroder, G, Germany (Free Agent)

    Notable Stats: 26.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 7.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, 3.5 3PM, 29.0 MPG

    After a rough 2020-21 season with the Lakers and a more quiet 2021-22 campaign with two different teams, Schroder was able to set a new European Qualifiers scoring high with 38 points against Poland. Schroder is still unsigned and there are rumors that he will be trying to join a contender, with whom he can provide a nice backup point guard presence. Previously, the German point guard has pressed his organizations to start him; however, he simply has not lived up to expectations ever since leaving OKC (where he nearly won a Sixth Man of the Year award). The main take here is that Schroder can still really get it done in the scoring department, with peripheral stats that really are attractive. In Houston, he was not prioritized at all due to other younger talent after being dealt from Boston since he was a bit of an awkward fit for their defensive-minded strategy. If Schroder can find himself at a destination that allows him some offensive freedom, he can be a nice target for points and assists with low-level steals.


    Rati Andronikashvili, G, Georgia (Creighton)

    Notable Stats: 10.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 3PM, 69.2 FG%, 19.4 MPG

    Andronikashvili helped Georgia pull off an unlikely win over the No. 2 team in the world as Spain were defeated in the new arena that will be used in FIBA EuroBasket 2022 later this year. Coming off his redshirt freshman season at Creighton, Andronikashvili has quite a bit more room to grow before becoming a bona fide prospect to be drafted. He is a crafty presence who also has some quiet athleticism to finish at the rim. The biggest knock thus far from the youth circuit is that he seems to have poor confidence or body language at times. He is a long shot overall to make the NBA, but think of him as one of those efficient and cerebral players who can get it done in a sneaky way.


    Zach Edey, C, Canada (Purdue)

    Notable Stats: 4.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 66.7 FG%, 9.3 MPG

    A massive 7’4” figure and nearly 300 pounds, Edey is similar to Boban Marjanovic in how he will inevitably be way too slow to play defense on anyone but hefty centers. There is no doubt that rim protection and physical play down-low will be a plus for Edey, but an NBA team will need to find ways to make him a contributor while his body is still young. The shooting efficiency is there already while playing for Canada, but his free throw shooting will need work over time. The comparison to Ivica Zubac has been made and Edey probably is an oversized version of the Croatian center. For now, just watch Edey as he tries to make his way into the professional ranks as a specialist who will have only a few categories to help with down the line.


    Andrej Jakimovski, F, North Macedonia (Washington State)

    Notable Stats: 15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 34.4 MPG

    After spending last season as a Washington State Cougar, Jakimovski was one of the better players for North Macedonia. Though his international squad failed to advance to the second round of qualifying games, he was the fourth-highest rated recruit to his college prior to his freshman season. Mostly known as a scorer, he put up 28.0 points per game with 14.0 rebounds each night in the A2 Italian pro league in U19 play. He can knock down shots from downtown and 70% of his shots overall came from 3-point range last season. Jakimovski will need to continue to bulk up and become a solid defender, but the ability to put the ball in the basket at 6’8” is very appealing to NBA teams already. The most attractive prospect on this list, Jakimovski might be on draft boards as soon as next season if he can make a big scoring leap during his junior season while rebounding slightly more than his current 4.0 per-game average.

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