The Whiteboard: Potential NBA talents and prospects to watch in the 2021 Olympics

Olympic Basketball, The Whiteboard

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Olympic basketball kicks off this weekend and with Team USA struggling we should be in for a fascinating tournament. The other international contenders will be loaded with familiar faces but there are a few up-and-coming stars who could feature — both prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft and players who were picked last year but barely saw the floor. Here are a few prospects and future NBA talents to keep an eye on at the 2021 Olympics.

Josh Green, Australia, Dallas Mavericks

Green was selected by the Mavericks with the No. 18 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft but he barely had a chance to play during his rookie season. He appeared in just 39 games for a grand total of 445 minutes and didn’t exactly live up to his billing as a strong 3-and-D prospect — hitting just 7-of-42 (17 percent) attempts from beyond the arc across his NBA and G League minutes. But his inconsistent role and opportunities in both places were a big contributor to his dispiriting numbers and there are plenty of reasons for the Mavericks to be optimistic about his future.

Green made Australia’s 12-man roster for the Olympics, a very positive sign for a veteran team with serious medal aspirations. Green is likely to see limited minutes — he played just four minutes in Australia’s upset exhibition win over Team USA and didn’t appear at all in their win over Argentina. But against Nigeria, he racked up 11 points in 24 minutes, shooting 5-of-6 from the field and adding a rebound, an assist and 3 steals. If Green does play it’s probably likely to be earlier in the tournament but hopefully Mavericks’ fans will get a chance to see what he can do against top-level international competition.

Usman Garuba, Spain, 2021 NBA Draft-eligible

Garuba is the highest-ranked prospect whose likely to see regular action in the Olympics (Josh Giddey is merely an alternate for Australia), a testament to his resume and solid international experience. At 19-years-old, he’s a lottery talent whose already been a regular rotation feature for Real Madrid’s top-level squad for the past two seasons.

Garuba is an active, energetic big-man prospect whose appeal primarily revolves around his defensive potential — both as a rim-protector and rebounder and as a switchy, mobile big who can defend in space. He’s a little-bit undersized at 6-foot-9 and his offensive limitations (no jumper to speak of) means he’ll be exclusively a 5 at the next level. But he’s a strong finisher and his passing and face-up game could add additional dimensions as he develops. Garuba played 13 minutes in Spain’s final exhibition, a loss to Team USA, and that’s likely the kind of supporting role he’ll continue to play. Fans won’t get a chance to see the full breadth of his talents on a loaded Spain team but he could definitely make a positive impression with his energy, rebounding and defense.

Carlos Alocen, Spain, 2021 NBA Draft-eligible

Alocen is a much deeper prospect than Garuba, probably a second-round or undrafted prospect in this class. He’s also unlikely to see many Olympic minutes for Spain — he made the larger Olympic roster but didn’t appear in their last exhibition tune-up against the USA. But if he does make his way onto the floor, draftniks are likely to be intrigued by the 6-foot-5 guard with a guard combination of backcourt size and play-making instincts.

Nico Mannion, Italy, Golden State Warriors

Like Green, Mannion was selected in the 2020 draft, but barely saw any floor time with the Warriors during his rookie season. He appeared in just 30 games for a total of 364 minutes and really struggled to transition his scoring off the dribble against NBA athletes. He flashed the versatility and savvy ball-handling the drove his draft appeal — averaging 12.2 points, 6.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds per 36 minutes but made just 31.5 percent of his shots inside the arc and attempting just 13 shots in the paint. However, Mannion looked much more solid in the G League and it’s possible a strong Olympic campaign could help raise his profile and confidence for next season.

Mannion is likely to see plenty of minutes for the Italian team and impressed in the Olympic qualifying tournament — averaging 17.7 points, 4.0 assists and 1.7 rebounds across three games, on a 64.5 true-shooting percentage.

Leandro Bolmaro, Argentina, Minnesota Timberwolves

Bolmaro was taken by the Timberwolves in the 2020 NBA Draft but turned into a draft-and-stash, spending another season in the Spanish ACB with FC Barcelona. The 20-year-old wing has good size and an excellent track record as an elite shooter in the top-level Spanish league. In nearly 1000 minutes across ACB and Euroleague competition the past two seasons, Bolmaro has 35-of-85 shots from beyond the arc (41.2 percent).

The Timberwolves know what they’re getting in him as a shooter and off-ball defender and he’ll likely be playing in a similar 3-and-D role with the strong Argentina squad. Still it will be nice to see him matching up, in person, against a variety of different top-level wings as he prepares to come over and join the Timberwolves next season.

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