With the 19th edition of the FIBA Basketball World Cup beginning on August 25th, there follows a look at the rosters for each of the 32 teams taking part. This instalment looks at the team from Finland, attending only their second ever World Cup, but surely only the second of many given the growth of the team in recent years.
- PG/SG – 6’4 – Born 30th May 2004
- Baylor, NCAA Division I
Little is the great hope of Finnish basketball; the best prospect since Lauri Markkanen, the best backcourt prospect since before then. Still aged only 19, he already has senior level international experience for his country, and is soon to begin his freshman season at Baylor. At the 2022 Under-18 European Championships, Little averaged 15.6 points, 4.0 assists and 9.4 rebounds per game and was a cut above the competition athletically, a fearless run-and-jump guy who got to wherever he wanted on the court, and who was willing to share the benefits of that with his teammates. He has great passing vision, plenty of burst, and a constant sense of when and where to attack. His appearance on the roster here will merely be the first of many tournaments to come.
- PG – 6’2 – Born 21st March 1998
- Crailsheim, Germany
Choosing to play for Finland over Albania, Maxhuni left Long Beach State after his sophomore season to commence a professional career that has so far included stops with Gran Canaria (Spain), Parnu (Estonia), Den Bosch (Netherlands) and the Crailsheim Merlins (Germany). He has continued to level up, too, as evidenced by the 10.7 points, 1.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 21 minutes per game that he averaged in last season’s Bundesliga playoffs.
With good-enough size for the point guard spot, Maxhuni offers a versatile offensive threat. He can be the pick-and-roll ball-handler or the off-ball curler; whichever role he is in, he is a fine shooter, be it off the catch or off the pull-up, and be it from the three-point line or the elbow. While not being the quickest player, his decisions are quick, as is the shooting release, and he throws nice passes when on the move. High turnovers are a by-product of his aggressive and confident offensive style, yet Maxhuni moves defences around, creates offence for himself and others, makes tough ones, and adequately defends his position.
Currently without a contract for 2023/24, Maxhuni’s role as the lead ball-handler and playmaker on a strong Finnish team on the international stage could lead to another step up next season.
- PG – 6’2 – Born 23rd March 1993
- Saint-Chamond, France
Finland have picked three ball-handlers from three different basketball generations (whereby basketball generations are considered to be about five years long each), and have opted for Seppälä to be the stabilising veteran presence to the young duo of Maxhuni and Miller. He will spend next season again in France’s ProB division with Saint-Charmond, for who he averaged 8.4 points, 3.6 assists and little else in 25.6 minutes per game last season. Seppälä’s game is a simple one – plenty of pick-and-roll passing, few turnovers, fewer risks, steadiness rather than quickness, no above-average physical traits and a shot profile made up almost entirely of three-pointers, which he hits at a good rate. He is the reliable consistent counterweight presence. But the athleticism of some of his opponents is a tough challenge.
- SG – 6’3 – Born 11th June 1991
- Tenerife, Spain
Salin has been a Finnish national team mainstay for over a decade, and he has also been in Spain’s ACB since 2014. Were it not for the presence of Lauri Markkanen, his name would be the first on the team sheet. Because of all this exposure at high levels, the scouting report on what Salin does has long been established, and at the core of it is the simple and indisputable fact that he is one of the best shooters on the continent. Always in motion, Salin gets open in the halfcourt, stops on a dime and raises up with great balance under him at all times, no matter how quickly he was moving immediately prior. He has effortless range, passes off of the doubles his movement draws, and does a great job of creating offensive threats while almost never taking a dribble. And the defence is not bad, either.
- PG/SG/SF – 6’6 – Born 20th August 1997
- Kauhajoki, Finland
A lot of so-called point forwards are often just secondary ball-handlers who do a little bit more than just spot up and run the lanes, not players who both can and want to run the pick-and-roll every possession. Kantonen, though, is a primary. A crafty passer who operates a lot in the pick-and-roll, Kantonen averaged 10.4 points, 4.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game for Kauhajoki last season in only 24.1 minutes per game, hitting rollers and spotters alike, rarely if ever stopping the ball and making quick decisions on the move. A decent-enough shooter to go with that (albeit tending to lose his balance when shooting off the dribble), Kantonen gets to his spot, dishes and finishes, and while it would benefit everyone involved were he more athletic and thus able to do this stuff at higher levels – as well as making him more robust defensively, where he is largely untested against premium athletes, though the effort level and footwork are good – that matters not for the purposes of his national team.
- SG/SF – 6’6 – Born 2nd April 1998
- Cibona Zagreb, Croatia
His name does not sound Finnish, but, being of Finnish ancestry, recent Duke graduate Grandison has been able to represent the country for the past couple of seasons, and at the same time as he begins his professional career (signed with Cibona Zagreb in Croatia for the 2023/24 season), he also plays in his first senior international tournament. Last year for the Blue Devils, Grandison averaged 4.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, because it was Duke, and there were myriad NBA players (Tyrese Proctor, Mark Mitchell, Dariq Whitehead) in front of him in the queue. But when he did play, the Holy Cross and Indiana transfer showed flashes of the point-forward-with-occasional-defence game that got him to that program in the first place. The good rotations off the ball are interspersed with moments of standing up too tall and letting opponents blow by him, and the occasional nice play off the dribble either for himself or a teammate is similarly paired with the occasional moment of thinking he is Kobe. Yet on his day, Grandison is a good shooter with size, secondary ball-handling, nice passing vision and defensive versatility. A bit like Henri Kantonen, then.
- SF – 6’7 – Born 11th June 1999
- Manresa, Spain
Having spent two years with the Arizona State Sun Devils and barely getting off the bench – in their defence, he struggled mightily when he did – Valtonen left after his sophomore season in 2020 and within one year was a starter in the ACB. In the 2021/22 season for Manresa, he recorded averages of 6.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, and while the big increase in difficulty of nightly opposition inhibited his efficiency as a scorer, the defensive effort was there. Valtonen is not much more than a straight-line driver when the ball is in his hands; his scoring opportunities mostly come from spot-ups, cuts and leak-outs, yet he is a consistently nice passer whenever he does have the ball, and the defence is smart and committed. In a wiry 6’7 frame with some mobility, this will always play well.
- SF/PF – 6’8 – Born 20th April 2000
- Treviso, Italy
On account of his 8.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game averages for Treviso in Italy’s top division last season, Jantunen actually played with the Golden State Warriors summer league team before this World Cup started, and held his own. The former Utah Ute flourished after leaving college – see if you can spot a theme here – making his own way in the pro game as a finesse player rather than a power player, but do not confuse that with being afraid to mix it up. Jantunen will throw himself around in help defence to cover all areas, and offensively, while he lacks for a huge frame, he is willing to bang bodies in the post and attack the trees when on the move. The jump shooting is decent and improving, the frame is filling out, and the results are coming in. Jantunen is Finland’s Joel Parra, able to impact the game in multiple areas just as long as he has good guards able to get him the ball in spots where he can do things with it. He has that here with Finland.
- PF – 7’0 – Born 22nd May 1997
- Utah Jazz, NBA
2022/23 was quite the season for Markkanen; in his first year with the Jazz, he earned his first All-Star selection and won the Most Improved Player award. Historically, he has always taken on a more diverse role with the Finnish national team than he has on American shores, showing much more in the way of shot creation and ball-handling than he is usually allowed to do by American coaches. But after last season’s play, as Markkanen again shows out in FIBA competition, it should not be a surprise this time. Utah let him do that too.
- SF/PF – 6’9 – Born 3rd June 1993
- Hokkaido, Japan
Grandison’s forebear in the Duke-to-Finland pipeline is Murphy, brother of former NBA player Erik, and at times his teammate in Japan. Since graduating from Northeastern in 2017 – his third school after his spluttering starts with both the Blue Devils and the Florida Gators – Alex has played in Finland, Hungary, Spain and Japan, returning to Spain for next season after signing with Estudiantes Madrid. Last year for Hokkaido, he averaged 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 23.4 minutes per game. The tease with Murphy has always been that, for a tall forward with a long stride and a high level of run-and-jump athleticism, he has never consistently put together a package of skills or long run of play that best utilises that. More specifically, he spends more of his time trying to be a shooter than perhaps he ought, given the mediocre results (and flat out bad results from the free throw line). Nevertheless, Murphy is still a 6’9 athlete, which every team everywhere can use. On his good days, he runs the court, rolls hard, finishes above the rim, shares the ball well and takes slower opponents (of whom there are many) off the dribble. He can be very good on his day.
- PF/C – 6’8 – Born 2nd May 2000
- Michigan, NCAA Division I
Olivier and his classic Finnish name played four years with the Tennessee Volunteers, before transferring to Michigan for 2023/24 for what will be his CoVID-induced fifth season. In his fourth, he averaged 10.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and he will probably truly break out once he is used properly. Tennessee using him for just 17 possessions all season long as a roll man despite having the soft hands and above-the-rim finishing that he does is baffling. Rather than being allowed to run and dunk, Nkamhoua has instead spent a lot of his time playing a more traditional post-up style, and while he can do that using his strong base and decent footwork, it seems silly that he has been asked to. Learn from Markkanen, perhaps. Especially if the shooting keeps getting better.
- PF/C – 6’10 – Born 26th January 1995
- AEK Athens, Greece
Madsen has kept sneaking up in level over the course of his career. After debuting in his homeland at the age of 16, he stayed for five seasons before going to the Czech Republic for one, then moving to VEF Riga in Latvia for three, before spending last season in Greece with AEK. And while he did not start there, he was solid, recording averages of 6.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.8 steals in 13.9 minutes per game, utilising a variable shot profile. Not a strong or physical five, Madsen instead plays often facing the rim, rolling and popping, with soft touch around the basket should he catch it down there and with the ability to take a couple of dribbles to get himself there. It is a slightly different matter on the defensive end, where Madsen – not being a huge athlete nor a strong player, and without the fleetest of lateral movement – has no favourable match-up, and his admirable desire to make up for that with a lot of rotations does make him foul prone. He does however add a nice role-playing skill set for both AEK and Finland, albeit inconsistently.
Group A: Italy, Angola, Philippines, Dominican Republic
Group B: China, Serbia, Puerto Rico, South Sudan
Group C: USA, Greece, Jordan, New Zealand
Group D: Egypt, Mexico, Lithuania, Montenegro
Group E: Germany, Finland, Australia, Japan
Group F: Slovenia, Cape Verde, Georgia, Venezuela
Group G: Iran, Spain, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire
Group H: Canada, Latvia, France, Lebanon