Two years ago, Patty Mills scored 42 points in the third place game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to lead Australia past Slovenia, 107-93. It was a historic tournament for Australia as the bronze medal that they won marked their first ever podium finish in a major international basketball tournament.
The Boomers are looking to make it two medal finishes in a row in this month’s FIBA World Cup where they will headline Group E whose games will be played in the same country, Japan, albeit in the prefecture of Okinawa.
Once again, Mills is tasked with leading Australia into battle as their team captain. He will be joined by longtime national team partner Joe Ingles who recently signed with the Orlando Magic.
The most important player for Australia this year though is expected to be the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Josh Giddey who will be their starting point guard alongside Mills. The 20-year-old Giddey is also poised to eventually take up the mantle of leadership for Australia once Mills and Ingles, both already 35 years old, decide to retire from national team duty.
Mills, Ingles, and Giddey will be joined by their fellow NBA players Jock Landale, Josh Green, Dyson Daniels, Matisse Thybulle, Dante Exum, Jack White, and Xavier Cooks on Australia’s roster.
Australia is currently third in the FIBA World Rankings behind only Spain and the United States, but will have to be wary of their Group E rivals Germany, Japan, and Finland despite having the deepest roster in Okinawa.
Germany poses the biggest challenge to Australia as the 11th ranked team in the world while Finland is 24th and Japan is 36th. The German team will be bannered by Ingles’ Orlando teammates Franz and Mo Wagner together with Dennis Schroder of the Toronto Raptors and the Indiana Pacers’ Daniel Theis.
After just two seasons in the NBA, the 6’9 forward F. Wagner has firmly established himself as a potential NBA All-Star with an all-around offensive skill set that is beyond his years. He could potentially carry this team to an upset over Australia and all the way to the medal rounds if things can go his way.
Another player in Group E with this type of potential is Finland’s Lauri Markkanen who just made his first NBA All-Star team in 2023 and was also named this past season’s NBA Most Improved Player. Markkanen’s breakout season with the Utah Jazz was actually preceded by his strong performance in last summer’s Eurobasket tournament and there is no reason to believe that he is in for another dominant run with his national team.
After Slovenia’s Luka Doncic and Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Markkanen is arguably the best all-around scorer confirmed to play in this upcoming World Cup which means that Finland cannot be taken lightly. A hot streak from Markkanen could push this Finland team to an improbable Cinderella run that takes them from Japan to the Philippines for the quarterfinal round.
The fourth team in Group E, Japan, is likely to struggle in the absence of their best player Rui Hachimura of the Los Angeles Lakers, though it will be difficult to count them out given their home court advantage in this preliminary round.
Over in Group F, the other Okinawa-based group, Slovenia and Doncic are the overwhelming favorites to come out on top. The four-time NBA All-Star Doncic is unquestionably the best player participating in this World Cup and this, by extension, installs his team as the favorites in this opening round group.
Slovenia is looking to improve on their aforementioned fourth place finish in the Tokyo Olympics and anything short of this is likely to be considered a disappointment.
The winner of the Group F match between Venezuela and Georgia is likely to determine who will advance to Group K which makes this an interesting battle to look out for.
Venezuela does not have any player with NBA experience on their roster, yet their wealth of experience together has helped them achieve a FIBA ranking of 17. Meanwhile, the 32nd ranked Georgia has two NBA big men on their roster, Goga Bitadze from Orlando and the San Antonio Spurs’ Sandro Mamukelashvili.
Group K will be one to watch out for, especially with Australia and Slovenia having the potential to make it all the way to the gold medal game of this World Cup. These two teams made it all the way to the bronze medal game the last time they competed in Japan and it is only fitting that their next major tournament kicks off in the country where they both achieved the pinnacle of their international success so far.