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4 NBA Players Sharpening Their Skills in FIBA Play

FIBA competitions have become a controversial topic in NBA circles. Almost every summer a player will get injured representing his country, which obviously doesn’t sit well with the franchises with which he’s under contract. Mark Cuban has long been a proponent of changing the rules so that NBA teams at least financially benefit from the tournaments while other teams like the Spurs have recently used their ability to prevent players with preexisting injuries from participating altogether.

While it’s true that in some cases teams have nothing to gain from having their players competing in the summer, there are instances in which they reap the benefits from the progression they make while representing their national team. Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gobert, for example, wouldn’t have developed as quickly without representing Argentina, Spain and France, respectively.

Here are four players competing now who could use FIBA tournaments to come into the next NBA season sharper.

Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets)

Danilo Gallinari missed almost two full years with a knee injury that required two surgeries. He returned to action last season but had a hard time getting into game shape. After the All-Star break, however, Gallinari started to look more like the player who flashed star potential in New York and in his first year in Denver. He finished the season on a tear, averaging 19 points, five rebounds and two assists while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 41 percent on three-pointers after Brian Shaw was fired.

Yet it was hard to tell if his performance was sustainable. Maybe like many others before him he caught fire once his team was out of the running for the playoffs. His performance with Italy in EuroBasket could bear out whether Gallinari is back to his true level.

So far, the results have been encouraging. He dominated against Turkey, scoring 33 points on 9-for-10 shooting. He’s been playing power forward for stretches and his rebounding was stellar against Iceland, a match in which he pulled down 10 boards. Gallinari looks quick and strong:

Last season proved Gallinari needed to play his way into shape. After competing this summer, he should come into the season ready to lead the Nuggets.

Anthony Bennett (Minnesota Timberwolves)

To say that Anthony Bennett‘s career didn’t start off on the right foot would be an understatement. He started his rookie year injured, overweight and with an undiagnosed respiratory illness. He was then traded to the Timberwolves before starting his second season and could never find a spot in the rotation.

What the 22-year-old forward needs more than anything to get back on track is a defined role and some continuity. He’s getting exactly that with the stacked Canadian national team. In the first round of FIBA Americas, Bennett played 20 minutes a game and has been freed to rebound and be an opportunistic scorer. He’s not playing like a former first overall pick. In all likelihood, he never will. What he is doing is being productive and efficient, something he’s never been in the past:

The 10 points, seven rebounds and two assists he’s averaging won’t blow anyone away, but could give Bennett the confidence he needs to reignite his NBA career.

Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors)

Fresh off signing a lucrative extension with the Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas joined the Lithuanian national team. In EuroBasket, he’ll be relied upon to be the first option on offense, something that hasn’t happened in his young NBA career so far. In the first two games, he responded by scoring in double digits and providing an inside presence. His teammates are looking for him and while he hasn’t been as efficient as he should, he’s willingly handling a big offensive load:

It’ll provide good practice for next season, when Valanciunas will likely see his offensive role expanded. He’s been a killer post scorer for two seasons now, but Toronto has had too many gunners to give him enough touches. Ideally, that’ll change now that the franchise has made a long-term commitment.

Valanciunas still has a long way to go on defense, but he’s ready to be a focal point on offense. He’s continuing to prove that with Lithuania, and Dwane Casey is surely taking notes.

Nemanja Bjelica (Minnesota Timberwolves)

Nemanja Bjelica is finally making the jump to the NBA after years of being one of Europe’s more versatile and talented players. He’s a power forward who can score, rebound and handle the ball. At age 27, he’s in his prime and could make an impact his rookie season if he can adapt to the superior level of play.

So far in EuroBasket, he’s outplayed Nikola Mirotic and Dirk Nowitzki and showed he’s not afraid of big moments by making the winning basket against Germany:

Bjelica will be joining a crowded frontcourt in Minnesota, and he’ll need to prove to Flip Saunders that he can hang with the league’s best. He’s gotten a head start on that front by having stellar performances for his national team.

* * * * *

Franchises will always try to find ways to protect their investments or at least profit alongside FIBA when the players they have under contract perform. In some cases, however, everyone benefits from summer play.

The Nuggets, Timberwolves and Raptors could reap the rewards of Bjelica, Gallinari, Bennett and Valanciunas competing with their national team instead of taking time off. That won’t make the Jazz feel better about losing Dante Exum for the season, but it’s something to keep in mind before asking NBA players to sit out FIBA tournaments.

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