The great baseball writer Joe Posnanski recently asked for help putting together an All Star team with the caveat that you can only have one player from each country. Sounds like fun, let’s try it out on the NBA.
Goran Dragic, PG, Slovenia: One of the quirks of compiling a national team like this is that it skews towards big men. In most of the world, if you’re a superior athlete, you’ll likely play soccer – unless you’re 6’8”, in which case you’ll get roped into playing basketball. Which is to say the point guard position isn’t stacked with foreign-born players, but Dragic is legit, putting up 20-4-6 for the Heat.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SG, Greece: The Greek Freak has taken his game to another level this season, with 23.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.7 steals per game, and 1.9 blocks – dude’s stat line is stuffed. Oh, and he’s just 22. He barely edges out Australian Kyrie Irving for the starting nod.
LeBron James, SF, USA: The best American player is LeBron James. With all due respect to Steph, KD, Harden, Kawhi and the rest, this is LBJ’s mantle until someone makes a convincing and sustained case to the contrary. At age 32 he’s still averaging 26-8-8, something that had only been done by two others – Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson – before this season.
Nikola Jokic, PF, Serbia: In just his second season in the NBA, Jokic is hitting 58.1% of his shots en route to 16.3 ppg, grabbing 9.6 rebounds, and dishing 4.7 assists in just 27.2 minutes per game for the Nuggets. Yeah, he’s a center, but what’re you gonna do with so many bigs?
Rudy Gobert, C, France: Gobert has developed into a force in the paint this season, leading the league in blocks, while pulling down 12.8 boards per game, and ranking second in Win Shares at 12.5 – no one seriously thinks he’s the second-best player in the league, but, man, he’s good.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain: Rubio has been shooting better than ever this season, while still dishing out 8-9 assist per game, and he’s just 26, so there’s time for him develop further.
Kyrie Irving, SG, Australia: The Cavs gunner was born in Melbourne, while his father was pursuing a career as a professional basketball player, but the family moved to New Jersey two years later. Kyrie’s posting a 25-3-6 for the Cavs.
Andrew Wiggins, SF, Canada: His game’s a bit one-dimensional, but Wiggins is putting the finishing touches on his second consecutive 20+ ppg season, becoming just the ninth player in league history to do so by his age-21 season.
Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia: A more sentimental sort would give this spot to Dirk Nowitzki, but at the risk of drawing the ire of Marc Cuban, the sun is setting on Dirk’s career. Porzingis, meanwhile, remains the one success Phil Jackson can point to from his time with the Knicks. Porzingod is scoring 18 points and pulling down 7.3 boards per game, and is poised to replace Carmelo Anthony as the face of the franchise.
Al Horford, C, Dominican Republic: After struggling to get healthy at the outset of the season, Horford has struggled to find his shot, hitting just 47.4% from inside the arc, but he’s still managing 14.2 ppg, along with 6.9 rpg and 5.1 apg, while playing top-shelf D.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania: Just a couple big nights short of averaging a double-double for the season, and playing solid interior defense for a contending Toronto team, Valanciunas could provide quality minutes off the bench for the International All Stars.
Joel Embiid, C, Cameroon: He plays for the Sixers, and so is doomed to ill and injury, but in 31 games this season, he managed 20.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 2.5 blocks – he’s gonna be a beast.
Monday on TNT
Cleveland Cavaliers (47-25) vs San Antonio Spurs (56-16), @ 8pm ET
New Orleans Pelicans (31-42) vs Utah Jazz (44-29), @ 10:30pm ET
Wednesday on ESPN
Golden State Warriors (59-14) vs San Antonio Spurs (56-16), @ 9:30pm ET
Thursday on TNT
Cleveland Cavaliers (47-25) vs Chicago Bulls (35-39), 8pm ET
Houston Rockets (51-22) vs Portland Trail Blazers (35-38), 10:30pm
Friday on ESPN
San Antonio Spurs (56-16) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (41-31), @ 8pm
Houston Rockets (51-22) vs Golden State Warriors (59-14), 10:30pm
Sunday on ABC
Boston Celtics (48-26) vs New York Knicks (27-46), 1pm ET
Utah Jazz (44-29) vs San Antonio Spurs (56-16), @ 3:30pm ET