As Spurs know, int’l players can impact playoffs
Kawhi Leonard was the MVP of last year’s NBA Finals, though the San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t have won without their incredible international presence. The victory celebration was a flag-waving party for players who came to San Antonio from around the globe. They had nine players born outside the U.S., all of whom are back this season as the Spurs try to win back-to-back titles for the first time.
Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili ( Argentina) are stars, but key contributions from play- ers such as Boris Diaw (France), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Marco Belinelli (Italy) and Patty Mills (Australia) made it easy for the Spurs to dominate Miami in five games.
Splitter missed the final six games of the regular season with a right calf injury and the Spurs hope he can play in their series against the Clippers and big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The NBA says there are a record 58 players from outside the U.S. on the rosters of the 16 teams who will begin the playoffs Saturday. While Dirk Nowitzki and Pau and Marc Gasol are AllStars, many of the international players are lesser known but still critical to their teams’ success.
With that in mind, a look at some under the radar international players to watch in the playoffs:
NIKOLA MIROTIC, BULLS: The Serbian by way of the Spanish league was one of the top rookies in the NBA this season, averaging 20.8 points in March, when he led the league in fourth-quarter scoring. That helped Chicago overcome a series of injuries, and the Bulls need the 6-foot-10 forward to continue making an impact now that they’re healthy.
TIMOFEY MOZGOV, CAVALIERS: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will do most of the scoring, but the Cavaliers will need their big Russian center to do some stopping, particularly if they face the Bulls and their collection of post players in the second round.
BOJAN BOGDANOVIC, NETS: The rookie from Croatia averaged 17.4 points and made 51 percent of his 3-point shots in the final seven games, including a careerbest 28 in the season- ending victory over Orlando that helped Brooklyn earn the final playoff spot. He was voted the Eastern Conference rookie of the month for April.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS, RAPTORS, AND MARCIN GORTAT, WIZARDS: Sure, the obvious attention on the WashingtonToronto series is on the outstand- ing backcourts, the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan against John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Wizards. So a series that’s expected to be close could be determined by the men in the middle, the muscular Valanciunas (Lithuania) and Gortat (Poland).
BENO UDRIH, GRIZZLIES: Miami’s Goran Dragic may be the best Slovenian point guard in the NBA, but he’s not in the playoffs. Udrih is and could have an important role for Memphis with starting point guard Mike Conley battling a foot injury. He averaged 11.4 points in the final five games, starting four, including a season-high 20 on April 10 at Utah.