Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks against Chris Bosh #1 and Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2012 NBA Finals.
Serge Ibaka, the Spanish national who was born in Congol, got some financial security from the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer when the team locked him in with a four-year, $48 million deal, essentially opening the door for James Harden's exit. Ibaka has transformed himself into one of the game's premier shot blockers along with being one of his team's best defenders. This season Ibaka and the Thunder are a favorite to repeat as Western Conference champs- but with Harden now gone, will they be back in the Finals?
A transformed Madison Square Garden welcomes back Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. With the Knicks' other star, Amar'e Stoudemire, out for the beginning stretch of the season, Anthony will have to take charge and lead the way for a Knicks franchise and fan base that is thirsty for it's first NBA title since 1973. This summer, Melo won a gold medal in the Olympics this summer. Now it's time for a NBA championship.
The Dominican All-Star for the Atlanta Hawks missed the last 55 games of the 2011-2012 regular season with a torn pectoral muscle. And by the time Horford returned for the playoffs following rehabilitation it was too late. This season the Hawks have a shaken up roster that, with the addition of a couple versatile players on the backcourt, will help Horford and the team be a championship contender.
Charlie Villanueva's first season with the Detroit Pistons was a disappointment while his second in Motown was injury plagued, taking forever for an ankle injury to fully heal. When he was finally healthy and ready to play, Pistons' coach Lawrence Frank stuck him on the bench. Due $8 million in each in the next two seasons, Villanueva is looking to prove that his talent is worth his paycheck.
Kobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers.
A consistent championship contender, this year the Lost Angeles Lakers are a favorite to dethrone the Miami Heat as NBA champions. With Pau Gasol's mind now free of trade rumors, both he and new team addition Dwight Howard are looking to be one of the league's top frontcourt duos. Getting to play alongside new teammate Steve Nash's pick and roll style, this Spaniard will definitely flourish.
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio may be a newbie to the NBA, but when it comes to playing professional ball he has been playing longer than most. The youngest player to ever play in the Spanish ACB League, Rubio has been playing at an international level since he was 14. Since transitioning to the NBA, Rubio has left everyone in awe with his passing ability, keeping his teammates engaged in the game. Suffering a setback following a torn ACL, this season Rubio still has some growing to do. Barring any setbacks, Rubio will be back playing full time in December.
Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is no longer just Pau's little brother. Coming into his own, last season the younger Gasol was selected as an All-Star for the first time in his career. His teammates love his unselfishness but wish he was more aggressive on the offensive end of the court. Only averaging 13.1 points a game, Gasol has still show maturity in leading his team while starting center Zach Randolph missed a significant time of the season due to a knee injury.
Very rarely does the NBA get to talk about a 35-year-old rookie. But after spending most of his career in Spain, Pablo Prigioni has decided to finally give the NBA a try, landing a one-year deal with the New York Knicks. Expect him to get a lot of play behind Raymond Felton, the starting point guard, and Jason Kidd, who at 39-year-old will see time at the shooting guard position. Prigioni is battle tested and ready for the bright lights of Broadway after being the floor leader for Argentina's national team.
It's no secret that the Toronto Raptors want to trade Jose Calderon. He could have landed in Los Angeles with his Spanish national team member Pau Gasol on the Lakers but once Steve Nash went there, it made it quite hard. While Calderon will be with the Raptors at the beginning of this season don't bet on it come February.
The Phoenix Suns' Luis Scola may one of the most underrated power forwards in the league. Under appreciated with the Houston Rockets, Scola is looking to make up lost ground with his new team in Phoenix. After averaging 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds during his five-year NBA career as a Rocket, in the Suns post-Steve Nash era, Scola joins a solid crew, including Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic, who are looking to make the Suns a sleeper out in the West.
While they may be few and far between, Latinos are a growing force in the NBA.