By: Jordan White / @JordanSWhite

A new, albeit shortened, NBA season is almost upon us. And with a new season comes new players, new coaches, and new story lines. Among last season’s biggest story lines was the rise of young teams such as the Grizzlies and the Thunder, the Bulls grabbing the number one seed in the East, and one of the best NBA finals in recent memory, featuring the improbable rise of the Dallas Mavericks and the collapse of the Miami Heat.

Do you know what was present in nearly every one of those story lines? International players.

Marc Gasol was integral to the Grizzlies surprising playoff run, just as Serge Ibaka was to the Thunder’s. Opposing teams didn’t score against the Bulls when Omer Asik was on the floor, and Dirk Nowitzki finally shed all of the negative stereotypes associated with European players on his way to his first NBA championship. Now, with this new NBA season, a new crop of questions concerning foreign players arises:

Who will be the next foreign import to have an impact on their team? Which current international NBA players have something to prove this season, and which are facing higher expectations?

New Faces

Bismack Biyombo (Forward/Center, Charlotte Bobcats): There was serious doubt as to whether we would actually see Biyombo in a Charlotte uniform this season due to a contract dispute with his European team. Luckily, for Bobcats fans, front office employees and teammates, Biyombo reached an agreement with his now former team, and will be able to play this season.

An international man of mystery, Biyombo enters the league with only one year of professional basketball experience. That one year, and his performance at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit (12 points, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks), was enough to see his stock skyrocket and get drafted 7th overall by the Kings. After a draft day trade, Biyombo landed with the Bobcats, and now figures to be the defensive lynchpin of Charlotte’s seemingly endless rebuilding process.

There are still many questions surrounding Biyombo. How old is he really? Will he adapt to the speed of the NBA after only one year of professional experience? Will he ever make a jumpshot? His defense, however, won’t be in question, and that should be good enough for the Bobcats for now.

Ricky Rubio (Point Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves): RUBIO! RUBIO! RU-BI-OOO! It feels weird to list Rubio as a “new face,” seeing as how his journey in the basketball world, from sensational sixteen year old, to his coming out party in the Olympics, from KAAAAHN to his struggles over the past two years, has been well documented.

But it wasn’t until last Saturday that Rubio finally made his NBA debut. Not surprisingly, what we saw in Rubio’s first NBA game was exactly what anyone who knows Rubio’s game would expect from him. He had seven assists, including one beautiful alley-oop to Derrick Williams and one behind the back to Anthony Tolliver for three. He also had six points, though only on 1-for-4 shooting and 4-for-4 from the line, which, again was to be expected, since Rubio’s jumper has never been considered a weapon.

Expect Rubio’s line in his first preseason game to be a reflection of his regular season averages as long as he comes off the bench. Once he takes over the starting role (an absolute “when,” not “if”), his averages should go up in every category.

Facing The Facts

Andris Biedrins (Center, Golden State Warriors): Not three years ago, Biedrins was considered a rising star in the NBA. In the 2008-09 season, Biedrins averaged a double- double at 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, to go along with 1.6 blocks.

That season now feels like a distant memory. A mix of injuries and shaken confidence have derailed the center’s once promising career. Biedrins has struggled mightily in the past two seasons, never averaging over five points or eight rebounds per game. His free-throw shooting, which was always awful, has become downright abysmal, as he shot a horrendous 32% from the line last season.

In a recent interview, new Warriors coach Mark Jackson, when asked if Biedrins was the starting center for the team, responded “he’s definitely a center on this team.”

Surprisingly, the Warriors chose not to use the amnesty clause on Biedrins, though his contract has become an albatross for the team. Maybe it speaks to the Warriors hope that, under a new coach, Biedrins will be able to regain his confidence and return to form. Or maybe it’s a continuation of inept moves by the Warriors, as evidenced by amnestying Charlie Bell and letting Reggie Williams walk. Either way, unless Biedrins rediscovers his game, he will remain firmly planted on the bench, and his contract will continue to be an untradeable albatross for the Warriors.

Andrea Bargnani (Forward/Center, Toronto Raptors): It’s safe to say Bargnani is not the Dirk Nowitzki clone the Raptor thought they were drafting when they took Bargnani first overall in the 2006 draft. Bargnani is listed as a forward/center for the Toronto Raptors, but his career numbers reflect those of a shooting guard. Bargnani’s most glaring weakness, and one that causes the raising of eyebrows when he’s referred to as a center, is his rebounding. Simply put, Bargnani is an awful rebounder. Just read Hardwood Paroxysm’s Curtis Harris’ chronicling of Bargnani’s rebounding career:

His rookie year, Andrea’s total rebound percentage (TRB%) was 9.2%. That means when he was on the court he grabbed 9.2 of every 100 rebounds. That stayed pat his 2nd season. Improvement was achieved in 2009 (10%) and in 2010 Bargs hauled in a stunning 10.4%!

Then last year the SS Bargs went a-sinkin’ with an abysmal 8.6 TRB%. The 7-foot Bargnani grabbed the same amount of rebounds as 6’6ʺ″ Kobe Bryant. It’s become clearer and clearer that Bargs is a shooting guard trapped in a big man’s body. Of players who are at least 7’0ʺ″ tall and have played 300 games in the NBA, Bargs is 2nd to last all-time in TRB%. Only Brad Sellers has been worse. Brad Sellers. Yeesh.

No one is expecting Bargs to lead the league in rebounding. But as one of the few, true seven footers in the league, one would certainly expect him to at least average seven rebounds a game, something he has yet to do. Can former Dallas Mavericks defensive guru and new Toronto Raptors head coach help Bargnani become a respectable rebounder?

And more importantly, if he can’t, is this the year the Raptors finally give up on Bargnani as a centerpiece of the team?

Facing Expectations

Roddy Beaubois (Guard, Dallas Mavericks):  The Galloping Guadeloupe is back. Expect this to be a break out season from the third year guard out of Guadeloupe. Beaubois suffered from a pair of foot injuries last season (fractured, then later sprained), that lessened his impact on the team. Now that he’s finally healthy, the Mavericks will look to Beaubois to add Beaubois’ speed as a new dimension to Dallas’ potent offense.

If the Mavericks first preseason game, in which Beaubois scored 17 points, including 3 three-pointers, is any indication, Beaubois will at the very least be a valuable addition to last year’s highest scoring offense.

Serge Ibaka (Power Forward/Center, Oklahoma City Thunder): Air Congo absolutely exploded after Jeff Green was traded to the Boston Celtics. Ibaka showed he wasn’t just a shot blocker and dunker, displaying a surprisingly consistent mid-range jumpers that changed the entire way opposing teams defended the Thunder.

During the offseason, Ibaka showed off his expanded offensive repertoire while playing for the Spanish national team. But make no mistake, defense is still Ibaka’s calling card. He ranked first in total blocks (198) and third in blocks per game (2.4). One negative aspect of Ibaka’s blocks were the fouls he accumulated as a result of his eagerness to swat the ball, which led to Ibaka being ranked fifth in total fouls with 267. Ibaka is now the unquestioned starter at power forward for the Thunder, and is expected to play a major role both offensively and defensively. For that to happen, he’ll need to cut down on the fouls, and continue his growth on the offensive end.

The Thunder are a popular pick to win not just the Western conference, but the NBA championship, and will need Ibaka to continue being a major contributor on both ends to reach those lofty goals.

We asked Jordan White to be ELA’s Senior NBA Writer. We also told him we’d follow him on Twitter at @JordanSWhite. We haven’t yet.