After striking out in last week’s Draft Lottery, July begins a fallow period in the Minnesota Timberwolves schedule. They have no picks in this year’s draft, which commences on July 29th, and the free-agency negotiating period begins on Aug. 2nd. Even though there may not be much NBA-sanctioned action for Wolves fans to follow, they will still have the opportunity to watch some of their favorite players on the world stage.
Four players on the current roster or whose rights are controlled by the Wolves will represent their countries in the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. Ricky Rubio and Juan Hernangómez will represent Spain, Josh Okogie is playing for Nigeria, and Leandro Bolmaro will star for the Argentinian team (Wolves assistant Pablo Prigioni is an assistant coach on that staff). The four players representing Minnesota are the most the franchise has ever sent to an Olympics.
Okogie, Hernangómez, and Bolmaro are all making their Olympic debuts, while the 30-year-old veteran Rubio is representing Spain for the third time. As members of the second-ranked team in the world according to FIBA, Rubio and Juancho have the best chance to lead Spain to an upset victory over the highly favored Team USA led by Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, and Devin Booker. Okogie and upstart Nigeria are ranked 22nd globally and have a solid enough mix of past and present NBA players to make a run at a medal.
Bolmaro is the most interesting participant from a Wolves fan’s perspective. Minnesota acquired the rights to the 23rd pick in the 2020 NBA draft in a three-team trade with the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder, which they used to take the 20-year-old Argentinian forward. Bolmaro was just named the Most Spectacular Player Award in Liga ACB, the top league in Spain — the same award Rubio won in 2010. Bolmaro dazzled fans in 41 ACB games, averaging 6.7 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 15.9 minutes per game.
He shows flashes as an NBA-ready three-and-D prospect who can give the Wolves exactly what they need on the wing. Bolmaro shot 45.2% from three for FC Barcelona this season. His size, shooting, and playmaking ability make him a prime candidate to break out in front of billions of eyeballs on the biggest stage. If he does, it would resemble another Wolves draft pick from overseas who became a household name during the Olympics.
In 2008, a 17-year-old Rubio helped Spain earn a silver medal against the vaunted Redeem Team featuring LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Paul. Rubio never shied away from going head-to-head with some of the best players in the world. The shaggy-haired teenager held his own in the gold medal game against Team USA, scoring six points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing out three assists with three steals as well. The stellar performance for the Spanish National team put Rubio’s name on the map and led him to become the fifth-overall pick in 2009.
Bolmaro has a similar flair to his game. He’s light years ahead of Rubio as a shooter and shot creator. Like Rubio, Bolmaro is a flashy passer who can handle the ball in traffic. But he can actually finish the play, where Rubio was much more comfortable setting up his teammates for easy buckets.
An advantage for Bolmaro is that his team features far more NBA stars than the stacked Spanish team in ‘08. Rubio teamed up with the Gasol brothers and Rudy Fernandez. Bolmaro will have a more prominent role alongside 30-year-old NBA rookie Facundo Campazzo and 41-year-old Luis Scola. The stage is set for the Argentinians to make a deep run and contend for a medal in Japan. Bolmaro will carry the offense for one of the best teams in the competition, and Wolves fans will be watching every minute of it.
Since Minnesota’s season ended in May, there has been a lot of speculation about whether Bolmaro will jump across the pond and join the Wolves next year. If he does, it’ll be a boon for a franchise that hasn’t sniffed sustained success since the Argentinian was in diapers.
Wolves fans should be excited and proud of each player representing all of us in front of the world from July 25th until the gold medal game on Aug. 7th, but Bolmaro best represents the future of the franchise. Most of us will be cheering on Team USA to remind the rest of the world that we’re still No. 1. But it’s the summer of Bolmaro, so we better start learning the Argentinian National Anthem.