Spanish basketball was quite literally on top of the world this past summer. At the end of a FIBA World Cup that was exciting throughout and at times surprising, Spain’s national team lifted the first-place trophy and positioned itself as possibly the biggest challenge to what’s expected to be a stronger U.S. national team come the 2020 Olympics.
It was just the latest reminder that Spain, over the last 15 years or so, has asserted itself as the greatest basketball nation outside of America. And while the Spanish presence in the NBA may not be quite as strong as it’s been in some recent years, there are still several standout players who will be looking to keep the summer momentum going right into the 2019-20 season in the NBA.
Here’s our look at how things stand for the NBA’s current Spanish nationals.
Marc Gasol is in an interesting position this season. He finally captured an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors at the end of last season, only to see his best teammate – Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard – leave for Los Angeles. Gasol will now play the part of the stalwart veteran on a team that appears to be trying to compete again, but which could conceivably turn the page toward a rebuild if things aren’t going well by midseason.
Juancho Hernangomez is entering his fourth season with the Denver Nuggets, who are essentially the forgotten contenders in the Western Conference. Recent NBA picks by bookies indicate that Denver will be right in the thick of the championship race, even if teams like the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets get more attention. For his part, Hernangomez will be looking to build on legitimate progress in 2018-19, when he saw his average minutes per game climb toward 20. He’s become a very solid backup big man on a team full of talent.
Like his brother, Willy Hernangomez is looking to expand his role, likely coming off the bench in his third season with the Charlotte Hornets. Unlike Juancho, however, Willy may have more of an opportunity to become a primary contributor. The Hornets are widely being projected as one of the league’s worst teams. There is little enough talent on the roster that should a player like Willy Hernangomez step up to the challenge, he’ll get a chance to have his most productive personal season to date.
Like Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka remains on the Toronto Raptors team with which he won the 2019 title. The 2018-19 campaign was Ibaka’s best in several years in the NBA – arguably since he left the Oklahoma City Thunder – which makes him an interesting player to watch this season. If the Raptors can stay in the playoff race, it will be in no small part thanks to Ibaka having another good season. But if they can’t, he may become a trade candidate; the Raptors could likely trade him to a contender in need for a draft pick or future asset. In fact, there’s already talk of some teams eyeing him.
Ricky Rubio has had his ups and downs in the NBA, but it was wonderful to see the 28-year-old former wunderkind triumphant at FIBA. He’ll have a real chance to keep the personal momentum going as he’s given the keys to the Phoenix Suns offense. Granted, the Suns are expected to miss out on the Western Conference playoffs. But Rubio should stand out on a team that’s desperately needed a point guard for years now (and which does have some talented offensive players for Rubio to work with).
Last but not least is the modern godfather of Spanish basketball. Pau Gasol didn’t actually play on the national team at FIBA, but he’s still active in the NBA, and will be playing for the Portland Trail Blazers this coming season. No one seems quite sure what to expect from the Blazers, but with so many other competitive teams dealing with significant roster turnover, this team will be banking on stability and continuity. Gasol’s veteran presence should be an asset in that respect.