x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A world of good in Turkey

The Fiba championship helped sharpen the NBA players who decided to go.

Russell Westbrook, right, has stepped up his game since playing in Turkey.
Russell Westbrook, right, has stepped up his game since playing in Turkey.

NBA players had their reasons for not taking part in the Fiba World Championship in Istanbul last summer. Reasonable ones, too, particularly for those who played deep into the play-offs and were wrapping up their season in June. Nagging injuries. Sheer fatigue.

Most of the NBA's elite players passed on the world tournament. But for most of those who did participate, the championship seems to have made them better players.

Many returned to the NBA, which opened its season six weeks ago, and played as if they were anything but weary and beaten down. Instead, their experiences in Turkey seemed to vault them to a higher level. Here is a look at seven players who are better, after the world championship, than before they went.

Russell Westbrook, US, Oklahoma City Thunder:Already one of league's most aggressive players, he has stepped up his game all over the floor, averaging career highs in points (24.4 per game), assists (8.5), rebounds (5.5) and steals (2.2).

Kevin Love, US, Minnesota Timberwolves: Westbrook's college teammate, Love leads the NBA in rebounding (15.1), is averaging a career-high 18.9 points and is a huge believer in the FIBA experience. "I think we all just came into the season with a real confidence," he said. "Not that I didn't have it before, but I walked into the locker room (for training camp) feeling like, 'OK. I'm coming back with a gold medal and I played an important part in that'. Playing with those guys, even in practice throughout the whole summer, you think, 'OK. I can play at the top level in the league'."

Luis Scola, Argentina, Houston Rockets: The forward-centre was the Fiba tournament's leading scorer, averaging 27.1 points per game, and he has kept it going with the Rockets, averaging a career-high 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.

Rudy Gay, US, Memphis Grizzlies: The forward has returned a clearly more confident player. It seemed as if he had peaked during his second season, in 2007/08, but he is now enjoying career-highs in points (21.6), rebounds (6.5) and shooting percentage (49.1).

Nicolas Batum, France, Portland Trail Blazers: The forward has started 16 of the Portland's first 19 games, averaging a career-high 11.5 points and 4.1 rebounds.

Lamar Odom, US, LA Lakers: It's not just the kids who came back looking like different players. Odom, a 12-year veteran, is having one of his finest overall seasons, averaging 15.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and shooting a career-high 57.9 per cent.

Carlos Delfino, Argentina, Milwaukee Bucks: The shooting forward averaged 20.6 points in Turkey and he has barely slowed down in the league. Before suffering a concussion, he was averaging a career-high 12.9 points and 1.6 steals per game.