The star power–or rather lack thereof–in this year’s FIBA World Cup has been largely criticized in the build-up for this quadrennial event.
While several players, including two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jamal Murray of the recently crowned NBA champion Denver Nuggets, have recently backed out, a healthy amount of talent remains on this year’s slate.
Four-time NBA All-Star Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks is unquestionably the most popular player suiting up for the 2023 World Cup as he leads his Slovenia team in its quest for their first ever international medal. Slovenia’s journey will begin in Okinawa, Japan where they are slated to play their preliminary round games.
Joining Doncic in Group E is his Finland forward Lauri Markkanen who just made his NBA All-Star debut less than seven months ago.
Both Doncic and Markkanen will have to carry their respective teams on their shoulders if they are to make it out of Japan and enter the quarter final stages in Manila which should make this group one to watch.
Meanwhile, the opening round groups playing in Jakarta, Indonesia also have their own pair of NBA All-Stars in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Canada and France’s Rudy Gobert. With Murray sitting out this tournament, Gilgeous-Alexander and his teammate RJ Barrett will be tasked with shouldering the offensive load for a Canada team that has serious gold medal aspirations.
This year’s Canadian team is its strongest in history and this World Cup is actually the first major international tournament that they have come into with real expectations.
On the other hand, their Group H rival France is no stranger to the medal rounds, though they have yet to taste gold in the World Cup or Olympics. The elite defense that the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Gobert provides them has made them an international powerhouse and the hope is that this year’s festivities end with them finally on the top podium.
Over in Manila, Philippines, Team USA is fielding a roster with four one-time NBA All-Stars in Anthony Edwards, Jaren Jackson Jr, Tyrese Haliburton, and Brandon Ingram who should wind up with multiple NBA All-Star appearances on their resume once their careers are all said and done.
Regardless of their potential, what is most important is what they can do over these next few weeks. These four, whose ages range between 22 and 25 years old, will have to play with maturity and poise beyond their years if the USA is to reclaim the gold medal after their disappointing 2019 run.
Edwards may be the youngest among these NBA All-Stars, but that has not stopped him from emerging as one of the primary scorers on this team. A big showing in Manila could serve as Edwards’ springboard to superstardom in the upcoming NBA season as the challenges of this upcoming tournament should help him take another leap.
Another NBA All-Star from Minnesota will be kicking off his World Cup in Manila as well as Karl-Anthony Towns is going to lead the charge for the Dominican Republic. Towns’ elite ability to shoot the ball as a 6’11 center automatically makes his team one to watch out for in this tournament. Though the rest of the Dominican Republic’s roster is relatively unknown, the presence of Towns alone is likely enough to push them to at least a quarter finals appearance.
Aside from Towns, another skillful big man in Nikola Vucevic of the Chicago Bulls will also be playing in Manila for Montenegro. Vucevic, a two-time NBA All-Star, is in a similar predicament with Towns as he too is tasked with shouldering much of the load for his team.
The dispersion of NBA All-Stars across the field sets up a thrilling World Cup as a semblance of parity has slowly developed through the years. This tournament promises to be an exciting one as even the race to the quarterfinals is filled with uncertainty. Having at least one NBA All-Star on one’s team was once a guarantee to make it out of the group stage in international play, yet in this year’s World Cup, it has become apparent that this is no longer enough.