Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Which player born outside the U.S. is due for the biggest season in 2013-14?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Tony Parker. As much as I’d like to throw some sleeper name out there — Al Horford? Ricky Rubio? — and in spite of the wonder with which I still watch Tim Duncan excel at age 37, I think Parker is the guy. He’s in a sweet spot of having full mastery of his skills and position while, at 31, still being spry enough to put that all to use. And there are worlds left for him to conquer as he shoulders even more load for San Antonio, like averaging eight assists for once in his career.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I guess I’ll take the question literally, ignoring choice of citizenship and just basing my answer strictly on place of birth. I’m going with Melbourne, Australia-born Kyrie Irving to play like an All-Star and lead the Cavaliers back into the playoffs.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: There’s some interesting choices: Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas coming off his Summer League MVP; Andrea Bargnani getting new life in New York; Enes Kanter moving into Utah’s starting lineup; Golden State big man Andrew Bogut hoping to stay healthy; Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic after signing a big new deal. My choice is Pekovic’s teammate, Ricky Rubio. The gifted Spaniard has put his long physical and mental recovery from ACL surgery behind him and his Timberwolves begin the season with an intriguing, playoff-ready lineup that can play inside-out and spread the floor. He’ll be a much more confident player than we saw last year upon his midseason return and he’ll be eager to put on a show right into his first All-Star appearance.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Marc Gasol, slightly ahead of Ricky Rubio. Gasol was terrific last season and remains in a good position to build on that. A coaching change mostly always creates an unknown — just because Dave Joerger was a Grizzlies assistant doesn’t mean he won’t bring his own imprint on the playbook — but Gasol is still in his prime (28) and among the upper-echelon of centers. Nikola Vucevic should also be in the conversation, just not headed for the biggest season given the strength of the other candidates.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tony Parker had the edge over Kyrie Irving last season, but Irving will take a big step forward, have the bigger year, and put the Cavs in playoff contention. The kid is a star and will continue to carry a heavy load for Cleveland, even though they made some upgrades. Parker is 31 and should have another All-Star-caliber season, but could get a little more help from Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs’ young back-up point guards.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ll go with Australian-born Kyrie Irving. We already know that he’s the main man in Cleveland, and if Andrew Bynum is healthy and stays healthy that gives Irving another weapon on the interior and should open up the court even more. He can score, pass, defend and has really developed into a complete player. And if not Irving, it’s hard to pick against Dirk Nowitzki, because Dirk is Dirk and Dirk is great.
Hanson Guan, NBA China: My answer is Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points and six rebounds over 62 games in his rookie season, and was a fitting selection to the All-Rookie Second Team. With the departure of Andrea Bargnani, Valanciunas will have more ability to open fire next season. This kid is mature. He’s got various skills on the offensive end and has already earned the full trust of Coach Dwane Casey and his teammates. Valanciunas has much more to showcase with his incredible talent, and a breakout season is booked in 2013-14 for this wonder kid. Trust me on this: He will dominate the low post.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Being the editor of NBA Italy, I feel like I must pick an Italian player here. My pick’s Danilo Gallinari. Yes, he’s gonna miss the first couple of months recovering from a torn ACL, but he had a career year last season (16.2 ppg) and he’s working hard to re-start from there and possibly improve. And don’t forget he’s likely going to be the leader of the new Nuggets: they are gonna need him to fight for a playoff spot. Danilo has the talent and the motivation to finally have a breakout season.