After his FIBA World Cup performance, Latvia’s Arturs Zagars should get a shot at the NBA

Latvian Arturs Zagars may very well have played his way onto an NBA roster with his performance at the FIBA World Cup.

Latvian Arturs Zagars may very well have played his way onto an NBA roster with his performance at the FIBA World Cup.

If you watched the FIBA World Cup this year, you definitely noticed Latvia’s Arturs Zagars.

Maybe it was one of his audacious passes, with the baby-faced, 23-year-old point guard looking like a scientist who just made a discovery in finding a teammate just chillin’ in the corner for a wide-open 3, or hanging out at the rim. He dished out a World Cup-record 17 assists in a 98-63 demolition of rival Lithuania.

Maybe it was one of his preposterous drives to the bucket– when this 6-3 point guard cruised past lankier, more athletic defenders and left you thinking, “How is this little dude just flying past everybody?”

Or maybe it was during one of Latvia’s stunning upsets– over France, Spain, Italy or Lithuania— when you stood slack-jawed, staring, wondering to yourself how this country of 1.8 million, with Davis Bertans and a bunch of guys you’d never heard of– was pulling this off at the World Cup?

For Americans and NBA fans, this year’s World Cup provided another, now-biennial humbling reminder that we’re not as good at basketball as we think we are.

We fully realize now that our ‘C’ team — no disrespect to Anthony Edwards –– isn’t anywhere near good enough to dominate the rest of the world. It wasn’t even good enough to medal this time around.

Still, it’s always a little bit of a surprise when some of the international players we’ve never heard of come in and absolutely ball out on the world stage. And watching Zagars and Latvia perform the way they did was eye-opening to fans and NBA scouts alike.

Zagars, who was eligible but went undrafted in the 2022 NBA Draft, has been generating interest from NBA teams, according to Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews. He currently plays for Joventut Badalona in Lithuania and spent time as a teenager in the Spanish ACB league.

This wouldn’t be his first foray into the NBA game, as he saw some time with the Washington Wizards in the 2022 Summer League, but after his performance at the World Cup, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t get more of a look.

Zagars’ game is flat-out nifty– he’s super-skilled, quick, can dribble around almost anybody and is, as you might have seen, a visionary passer. He helped Latvia engineer those stunners over established basketball powers in this year’s event, averaging 12.4 points and 7.4 assists in eight games as the Latvians went 6-2.

The 23-year-old scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting as Latvia took down 2021 Olympic runner-up France, 88-86, in the group stage. He also had 24 and 8 in a heartbreaking 81-79 loss to eventual champion Germany in the quarterfinals. Latvia might have given the Germans their toughest test along the way.

The Latvians also beat defending world champion Spain (74-69), helping to oust the Spanish before the quarterfinals,  hammered Brazil by 20 (104-84) and outlasted Italy (87-82).

It wasn’t hard to tell that their charismatic, resourceful point guard was leading the way.

So, could Zagars get an NBA shot next season, maybe on a two-way contract?

“Honestly, yes,” Bertans told Basket News. “I think it’s a fair shot. It’s all about timing, chance, and opportunity. Everything can happen if you end up at the right place at the right time. He has all the tools to do it. …

“He’s relentless, as you can see. They’re putting their best defender on him every single night, and he still delivers for us.”

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