The Candidates - Men
It's hard to remember the last time Dirk Nowitzki had a summer off, but in 2009 after years of competing for Germany he finally took a well deserved rest. His countrymen did fairly well without him, but they certainly would have been better had this 2.13m forward been available. For club side the Dallas Mavericks Nowitzki turned in yet another MVP like season, averaging 25.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Erazem Lorbek and his Slovenian teammates provided fans at EuroBasket 2009 in Poland with some of the most exciting action of the tournament. Lorbek and the boys in green ran all the way to the Semi-Finals where Serbia needed overtime to deny them a spot in the finals. The 2.10m center averaged 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds over nine games in the competition. For his club side Regal FC Barcelona, Lorbek led his team all the way to the Final Four, averaging 12 points and five rebounds along the way.
Turkey had as much to prove as any team at EuroBasket 2009 as hosts of next summer's FIBA World Championships. Thanks to Ilyasova they showed that they are a team to be reckoned with on home soil in 2010. The 2.08m forward led the Turks to five straight wins before being eliminated from medal contention in the Quarter-Finals. He averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in the competition, including a 22 point 11 rebound performance in a win over eventual silver medallists Serbia. On the club side, Ilyasova helped to lead Barcelona to the Euroleague Final Four in 2009.
Like fellow nominees Marcin Gortat and Pau Gasol, it was a busy year for Hedo Turkoglu. The 2.08m forward made it all the way to the NBA finals with the Orlando Magic and then turned his attention to Poland and EuroBasket 2009. For the Magic Turkoglu averaged 16.8 points, 4.9 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game, teaming up with star Dwight Howard to oust the favored Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. For Turkey his numbers were less impressive but he would ultimately play an important role for a Turkey team that won their first five games and advanced to the Quarter-Finals.
It would be impossible to leave the Euroleague's top scorer off of this list, and we have not. Serbian Igor Rakocevic was not part of his country's magical run to the silver medal at EuroBasket 2009 but he did plenty at the club level to deserve this nod. The 1.94m guard averaged a Euroleague best 17.95 points per game in 2008-2009, leading Spanish giants Tau to the playoffs. Rakocevic was nearly unstoppable for Tau, shooting nearly 40% from behind the three-point line, over 50% from inside and 90% from the foul line.
Bourousis was a key cog in the Greek team that captured bronze at EuroBasket 2009 in Poland. The 2.13m center combined with fellow wide body Sofoklis Schortsanitis to dominate the paint for the Greeks as he averaged 7.3 rebounds per contest. For club team Olympiacos, Bourousis was equally impressive, averaging 12.5 points and 7.4 rebounds in leading his team to the Final Four in Berlin.
Like many of the players on this list Juan Carlos Navarro spent most of 2009 playing under the bright lights of the biggest stages in basketball. Navarro averaged 13.2 points and 2.6 assists per game at EuroBasket 2009 as Spain captured their first ever EuroBasket gold medal.
2009 also saw his return to his former club FC Barcelona after a stint in the NBA. For the Catalan side he averaged 14.7 points and 3.6 assists per game in helping to lead them all the way to the Final Four.
Though Eliyahu only got to play three games at EuroBasket 2009, they were three impressive games. The Tel Aviv native turned in 31 points, and six rebounds in an opening loss to Croatia, a game in which he hit 13 of 17 shots from two-point range and was a perfect five for five from the free throw line. He finished the Preliminary Round averaging 21.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest. For club side Macabbi Tel Aviv Eliyahu averaged 14 points and 6.6 rebounds in leading his team to a spot in the Top 16.
Anyone who traveled to Poland for EuroBasket 2009 knows that the face of basketball in Poland is Marcin Gortat. Gortat's picture is everywhere in his home country, and for good reason. In 2009 he made a trip to the NBA Finals with the Orlando Magic before returning home to lead the Polish national team to the Qualifying Round of EuroBasket 2009. The 2.13m center averaged 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds at EuroBasket while contributing 3.8 points and five rebounds per game for the Magic in their run to the NBA Finals.
Few teams came in with more questions marks at EuroBasket 2009 then Serbia. Their run to the championship game with a relatively young and inexperienced team was in many ways the story of the tournament, and their most impressive player was without a doubt Teodosic. The 1.95m point guard averaged 14.1 points and a tournament best 5.2 assists for Serbia while saving his best performances for the biggest moments. Against rivals Slovenia in the Semi-Finals the Veljevo native poured in 32 points, including six three-pointers.
This 2.10m big man proved he is coming into his own in 2009, helping to lead club side Panathinaikos to the Euroleague title, and taking an even more formidable role for Montenegro who earned a spot in Division A for EuroBasket 2011. Pekovic averaged 13 points for Panathinaikos while for Montenegro he led the team in scoring and rebounding, including a pair of impressive performances in a home and away tie with Sweden that clinch their spot in Division A.
The Euroleague rising star trophy winner of the 2008/09 season is looking back on a tremendous year. Leading a young Partizan team to the play offs of the Euroleague while scoring 11.5 points and grabbing 5.1 rebounds already was a great surprise and earned him the February MVP trophy. But things went even better at EuroBasket where the power forward contributed heavily to Serbia's run to the finals. He was among the top ten at three-point field goals made in the competition. Scoring 11.1 ppg and being his team's leader in rebounds (4.9) underlines the importance of the 23 year old Velickovic.
You would be hard pressed to find a player on this list that had a better year then Pau Gasol did in 2009. The 2.13m big man started by winning his first NBA championship as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest along the way. But things would get even better in September when Gasol and his Spanish teammates made the trip to Poland and came back to Madrid with a gold medal. Gasol was named MVP of the tournament after averaging 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
2009 was a banner year for Rudy Fernandez who completed his rookie season in the NBA with the Portland Trailblazers and won gold with Spain at EuroBasket 2009. For the Blazers he showed flashes of brilliance, averaging just over 10 points and two assists per game, while for Spain he was a critical part of their championship run. The 1.96m guard averaged 13.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game for the Spanish who won their first ever EuroBasket gold medal.
There aren't many players with three NBA Championship rings who would be bothered to suit up for his country in front of a few thousand fans in Finland, but if Tony Parker has proven one thing over his career its that he puts country first. Parker returned to Europe over the summer to first lead his team through the Additional Qualifying Round and then to fifth place at EuroBasket itself.
The 1.88m point guard led France in points, assists and steals, and the fifth place finish meant a spot in next summers FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
Few things were clearer coming into EuroBasket 2009 then the fact that Vassilis Spanoulis was the unquestioned leader of a Greek side missing many of the players who had contributed so much to their success over the last decade. Spanoulis proved to be a capable leader, as the Greeks captured a bronze medal. The 1.93m guard averaged 14.1 points and dished out 4.2 assists per game in the tournament. That made two final fours for Spanoulis in 2009 as he also led Panathinaikos to a Euroleague Championship, scoring 13 points in the final game.