It’s disappointing that some of the world’s best players such as Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Steph Curry won’t be participating in basketball’s biggest international tournament. But their absence shouldn’t take away from the excitement and immense anticipation of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Jokic, the face of Serbia’s national team, decided to skip this year’s event as he recovers from a grueling season that culminated in his first NBA championship with the Denver Nuggets. Antetokounmpo had surgery on his left knee earlier this summer and is simply not ready to compete for Greece.
“Since the conclusion of my NBA season I have been pushing my body to the limits to be the player I need to be to help our team achieve the goals we set,” Antetokounmpo wrote on social media.
“But after months of work and multiple meetings with medical staff, it is clear that I am not ready to compete in the level that I need to be to participate in the World Cup,” he added. “This was not a choice, but my only option in ensuring I get back to the level of basketball I have worked so hard to achieve so far in my career. I am extremely disappointed in this outcome but this was a decision made with the medical staff.”
LeBron, Durant and Curry no longer have the appetite to play against international competition having already served their country at previous World Cups. This opens the door for fresh faces to proudly wear the USA colors.
Defending champion Spain enters the FIBA World Cup as the No. 1 ranked team in the world, with the United States at No. 2. Australia, Argentina, and France round out the top five.
OneManFastBreak.net predicts the eight winners of each group and the eight wild-card entries qualifying for the second round.
GROUP A: Angola, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Italy
Prediction – Italy and Philippines advancing
The inclusion of Utah Jazz guard and former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson gave host nation Philippines a much-needed shot in the arm. Filipino fans are hungry for the country’s first real opportunity to compete for a medal since local legend Caloy Loyzaga powered the basketball-crazed Southeast Asian nation to a bronze medal finish in 1954. It remains the best World Cup finish for the Philippines in six appearances.
Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl Anthony-Towns will be donning the colors for the Dominican Republican for the first time in a decade, setting up a very intriguing matchup with Gilas Pilipinas on opening night on Aug. 25.
The 31-year-old Clarkson — who is Filipino-American — proudly represents his mother and grandmother’s native country. The Philippines’ game against Dominican Republic at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan could draw close to 50,000 fans. The winner will most likely earn a ticket to the knockout round. The Dominicans have the speed and athleticism advantage, but homecourt advantage and Clarkson’s 3-point shooting may be enough for the Filipinos to pull off the major upset.
“A lot of our efforts are really poured into preparing for the Dominican Republic and Angola. Those are the two games we really have to get,” Philippines national coach Chot Reyes told Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The game between the Philippines and Angola on Aug. 27 will be held at the famed Araneta Coliseum, which has hosted some of the biggest events in the world including Muhammad Ali’s “Thrilla in Manila.”
Kai Sotto may be the second-most important player for coach Reyes. We all know what Clarkson brings to the table. There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding 21-year-old Sotto. The 7-2 center was recently medically cleared to play at the World Cup after he suffered back spasms while playing for the Orlando Magic’s summer league squad in Las Vegas. Sotto is a skilled big man who can be an effective pick-and-roll partner with Clarkson.
Flying under the radar are the Italians, led by Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio and New Orleans Pelicans forward Nico Melli. Italy is one of the hottest teams entering the World Cup as it swept the exhibition games in Athens, with impressive wins over Serbia and Greece. Expect the Italians to finish first in the group, and the Filipinos to take second.
GROUP B: China, Puerto Rico, Serbia, South Sudan
Prediction – Serbia and South Sudan advancing
Serbia’s gold medal chances took a massive hit when 2023 NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic decided to skip this year’s tournament. Despite no Joker in the lineup, the Serbians still have enough firepower to win arguably the easiest of the eight groups. The silver medalists from the 2014 World Cup have one of the best offenses in the tournament, beginning with Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic, who averaged 22 points at the previous World Cup, will wear the captain’s arm band for Serbia and head coach Svetislav Pesic will call his number a lot.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson obtained his Chinese citizenship through naturalization in July and will represent China at the World Cup. The FIBA Basketball World Cup Twitter accounted posted this message on its feed: “Li Kai’er is coming.” Li Kai’er is Anderson’s Chinese name. Anderson’s versatility and veteran leadership should help China, but not enough to advance.
Keep an eye on South Sudan to pull off a stunner and finish second behind group winner Serbia. South Sudan is making its World Cup debut, and the young African nation is hungry to prove to the world that it is an emerging basketball nation. South Sudan is coached by former NBA player and current Houston Rockets assistant coach Royal Ivey. Ivey’s squad is led by former Baylor Bears forward Nuni Omot and recently added NBA veteran forward Wenyen Gabriel — who played with the L.A. Lakers during the 2022-23 season — to the roster.
GROUP C: Greece, Jordan, New Zealand, United States
Prediction – U.S. and Greece advancing
The road to the knockout stage got much easier for the Americans after Milwaukee Bucks star and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (aka the Greek Freak) opted out as he continues to rehab his knee. Team USA roster reloaded with an all-new lineup. It enters the tournament on a hot streak, having won all its exhibition games including wins over Spain and Slovenia. Under new head coach Steve Kerr, the young American squad has bought into Kerr’s philosophies and looked very much in sync despite only coming together in early August.
Jalen Brunson (New York Knicks), Anthony Edwards (Minnesota Timberwolves), Mikal Bridges (Brooklyn Nets), Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), and Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies) have been Kerr’s preferred starters in the showcase games and nothing indicates that’ll change. Per usual, the U.S. has an embarrassment of riches on its 12-man roster. Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers) backs up Brunson — who has emerged as the team leader — at point while Austin Reaves (L.A. Lakers), Josh Hart (Knicks), Cam Johnson (Nets) are part of a solid rotation on the wings. Reaves has been a revelation at camp. Kerr calls him the team’s “connector” with his ability to seamless play any perimeter position. Bobby Portis (Milwaukee Bucks), Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), and Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz) are the backup bigs.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup will be extra special for U.S. assistant coach Erik Spoelstra. The 52-year-old Miami Heat head coach has deep ties to the Philippines being a Filipino-American. Spoelstra was born in the U.S. and raised in the Portland area, but his mother is a native of Laguna and he has family members living in the Philippines.
Spoelstra told FIBA.com that it has been a “dream” to be part of USA Basketball, and being able to experience the World Cup in Manila is “very surreal.”
“I have great pride in being an American, and I have great pride in my heritage, being Filipino as well,” Spoelstra said. “I’m just really excited that the entire program will be able to see the enthusiasm, the spirit and fan base for the game in Manila.”
Thanasis Antetokounmpo is the only Antetokounmpo playing at the World Cup after his brothers, Giannis and Kostas, bowed out. The absence of Giannis will severely hamper Greece on the offensive end. You can’t easily replace a player who averages 30 points per game. Coach Dimitris Itoudis will employ a heavy dose of high pick-and-rolls and staggered screens to get some open looks. Olympiacos point guard Thomas Walkup, who played his college ball at Stephen F. Austin, will be tasked with running the offense. One of Walkup’s primary targets is 7-3 center Georgios Papagiannis (Fenerbahce).
After posting a disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2019 World Cup, don’t expect the Americans to take anyone lightly. The U.S. has a favorable schedule playing before a friendly crowd at Mall of Asia Arena in Manila. The Americans will be given the rock star treatment and should win every game in Group C by double digits.
GROUP D: Egypt, Mexico, Montenegro, Lithuania
Prediction – Lithuania and Montenegro advancing
Lithuania had dreams of rolling out a monster frontcourt, pairing 6-11 power forward Domantas Sabonis with 7-0 center Jonas Valanciunas.
Sabonis and Valanciunas are double-double machines in the NBA, and arguably two of the best rebounders in the world. However, those plans were derailed. According to Lithuania national team coach Kazys Maksvytis, Sabonis had surgery on his right thumb. The Sacramento Kings, however, disputed that claim and told the Sacramento Bee that the 27-year-old Sabonis — who is the son of Lithuanian legend Arvydas Sabonis — did not have surgery. Regardless if he had surgery or not, Sabonis won’t be playing for Lithuania at the World Cup. That leaves the 30-year-old Valanciunas, who averaged 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds for the New Orleans Pelicans last season, to shoulder much of the offensive load for Maksvytis.
Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic will be leading his home country of Montenegro, which is competing in its second World Cup appearance after qualifying for the event for the first time in 2019. The 6-11 Vucevic anchors a big Montenegro frontcourt that fields seven players 6-8 or taller. The size advantage for Lithuania and Montenegro will be too much to overcome for smaller Mexico and Egypt. Expect Lithuania to win the group, with Montenegro finishing second.
GROUP E: Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan
Prediction – Australia and Germany advancing
Most basketball observers felt Group C and Group H were the toughest after the initial draws were announced. But OMFB thinks Group E deserves the “group of death” title. The games will be held at Okinawa, giving host nation Japan homecourt edge. Japan has lost its last eight games in major international competition (five at the World Cup, three at the Olympics). Just how important this year’s event to Japanese flag bearer Yuta Watanabe? “No one, neither the players nor the spectators, wants to see us lose. If we end up with a string of defeats this time as well, I’m ready to take off the national team’s uniform. That’s how much I am committed to this World Cup,” the 28-year-old Phoenix Suns forward said.
Finland is ranked outside the top 20, but it has Lauri Markkannen (Utah Jazz). The reigning NBA’s Most Improved Player can single-handedly take over a game.
Australia (ranked No. 3) and Germany (No. 11) are on the short list of teams expected to give the U.S. and Spain a run for their money. Coached by veteran Brian Goorjian, whose father Ed was a legendary high school in California, Australia has a roster loaded with NBA players.
The Boomers have a mixture of young NBA studs in Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder), Josh Green (Dallas Mavericks) and Matisse Thybulle (Portland Trail Blazers), Dyson Daniels (New Orleans Pelicans) to go with proven NBA veterans such as Joe Ingles (Orlando Magic), Patty Mills (Atlanta Hawks) and Jock Landale (Houston Rockets). Ingles, Mills, and Landale were part of the Aussie squad that won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. The Aussies have too much talent not to win this group.
Germany, led by team captain Dennis Schroder, returns 75% of the squad that captured bronze at the 2022 FIBA EuroBasket. Schroder, who recently signed with the Toronto Raptors, is the engine that powers the Germans’ offensive attack. He has plenty of help from brothers Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic) and Mo Wagner (Magic). Former Boston Celtics center Daniel Theis provides the Germans with some much needed muscle in the paint, doing all the dirty work and holding down the fort defensively. Germany gave Team USA its toughest game during the showcase series, leading by as much as 16 points before Anthony Edwards got hot and exploded for 34 points to help the U.S. escape with a 99-91 win.
Each game in Group E will be hotly contested, but two teams will leave Okinawa disappointed. It won’t be Australia or Germany. Both countries should advance out of the group phase and compete for a medal.
GROUP F: Cape Verde, Georgia, Slovenia, Venezuela
Prediction – Slovenia and Georgia advancing
Slovenia arrives in Japan with several question marks. Do they have enough rebounders? Can they defend the perimeter to keep teams out of the paint? These are major issues enough to sink any team. But Slovenian coach Aleksander Sekulic has an answer to all the team’s problems: Luka Doncic.
The brilliance of the Dallas Mavericks superstar covers up all of Slovenia’s warts. He is the sole reason why a nation of only 2.1 million people is a medal contender at the World Cup. Doncic leads Slovenia in points per game (25.0), assists (7.3), 3-point field goals (3.2), and second in rebounds (8.8). Doncic is feeling extra motivated these days. He’s motivated by the Mavericks’ failure to make the playoffs this past NBA season, and he’s motivated to avoid of a repeat of what happened at the Olympics in Tokyo when Slovenia finished fourth and missed the medal podium.
“When we are focused and doing what we need to do, we can be a very dangerous team,” Doncic told Sports Illustrated.
The Slovenians caught a break by landing in a group with two World Cup first-timers in Cape Verde and Georgia, and Venezuela is more of a baseball power. Virtus Bologna forward Tornike Shengelia — a second-round pick in the 2012 NBA draft — has an opportunity to reintroduce himself to basketball fans if he can lead his native country Georgia past the group stage.
Doncic shouldn’t have to extend himself during pool play. His B-plus game should be good enough to push the Slovenians into the next round where they will need his A-plus game.
GROUP G: Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Iran, Spain
Prediction – Spain and Brazil advancing
Defending World Cup champion and EuroBasket world champion Spain was dealt a significant blow when veteran point guard Ricky Rubio announced that he was taking a break from basketball to focus on his mental health.
The 32-year-old Rubio was the MVP of the 2019 World Cup in China, leading the Spaniards to an 8-0 record. He’s been one of the main cogs of Spanish basketball for nearly two decades. After leading Spain to a gold medal four years ago, Rubio has had a rough last few years. He has been traded three times and missed the majority of the past two seasons while recovering from a torn left ACL. He served as backup for 33 games last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Without Rubio, Spanish head coach Sergio Scariolo has had to make several adjustments. He has shifted point guard duties to 29-year-old Alberto Diaz and 19-year-old Juan Nunez. Both guards saw action in a 98-88 loss to the U.S. in a showcase game in Malaga, Spain on Aug. 13. Scariolo, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the world, treated the much-anticipated game against the U.S. as a feel-out game. He’ll likely have a different game plan if the two basketball powerhouses meet in Manila.
Spain’s superb sibling lineage continues with Willy Hernangomez (FC Barcelona) and Juancho Hernangomez (Panathinaikos) taking the baton from Pau and Marc Gasol. The Hernangomez brothers, along with Memphis Grizzlies forward Santi Aldama and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Usman Garuba, arm Scariolo with four highly skilled big men capable of playing any style.
Aldama, 22, and Garuba, 21, represent the new wave of talent on the Spanish national team, while Rudy Fernandez represents the old guard. Fernandez, now 38, is past his prime but still regarded as one of the best 3-point shooters in FIBA.
Scariolo won’t be coaching his best squad in terms of NBA talent, but the Spaniards remain dangerous and can beat any team, including the U.S.
Brazil, which enters the tournament ranked 13th in FIBA, will rely on power forward Bruno Caboclo and the three-guard rotation of Raul Neto, Marcelinho Huertas, and Yago Santos. Caboclo was a former first-round draft pick by the Toronto Raptors in 2014. Neto and Huertas have played on several NBA teams, while Santos has experience playing in the Adriatic League and EuroLeague.
Brazil is the only real threat to Spain in a weak group. Spain should win every game in Jakarta. And don’t be surprised if Spain is one of the last four teams standing.
GROUP H: Canada, Latvia, Lebanon, France
Prediction – France and Canada advancing
The path to the knockout round got a little easier for France and Canada after Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis (Boston Celtics) opted out of the tournament.
Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert anchors a deep and talented French squad that boasts several current and former NBA players, including the core group that brought home silver at the Olympics in Tokyo two years ago and lost to Spain at the EuroBasket final last year. French coach Vincent Collet thought he’d have the services of 2023 NBA No. 1 overall draft pick Victor Wembanyama, but Wemby decided to skip the World Cup to focus on preparing for his first season with the San Antonio Spurs.
Collet will once again rely on 7-1 Gobert to be the catalyst on defense. The three-time NBA defensive player of the year provides a towering presence in the paint, which allows perimeter defenders such as Nic Batum (L.A. Clippers) to play more aggressively. This is likely Batum’s last World Cup appearance as he is planning to retire after the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
France’s backcourt is about as steady as they come. Former San Antonio Spurs point guard Nando De Colo, 36, and current New York Knicks shooting guard Evan Fournier, 30, have a boatload of international experience.
The Canadians are sending their best team to the World Cup, despite news that Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is skipping the competition. Spearheaded by rising NBA superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and New York Knicks starting wing RJ Barrett, Team Canada has a legitimate shot to reach the podium.
Gilgeous-Alexander continues his accent into elite status in the basketball world after impressive performances in tune-up games. The Hamilton (Ontario) native had 26 points and six steals against New Zealand. He put on a show with 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in a 113-112 overtime win over Germany. SGA shined again in Canada’s 85-80 overtime win over Spain, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
“He’s showing leadership and you can lead in so many different ways and him in his own way. He’s bringing this group together,” Canada head coach Jordi Hernandez said about Shai.
The Canadians are also armed with two outstanding wing defenders in Luguentz Dort (OKC Thunder) and Dillon Brooks (Houston Rockets). If there’s a weakness it may be up front as Kelly Olynyk (Utah Jazz) and Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks) have trouble against physical big men.
We shall find out fast which nation will win Group H as France and Canada face off in the opener on Aug. 25 in Jakarta. Les Bleus has too much international experience for the talented but untested Canadians. France wins the group, with Canada close behind at second.