As long as the U.S. is sending NBA players to major international competitions, it will remain the favorite to win those events.
The U.S., collectively, still produces the best basketball players in the world.
But that doesn’t mean the U.S. is guaranteed to win all of those events. The American men have won every Olympic gold since their bronze-medal performance at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and they won FIBA World Cup golds in 2010 and 2014 but did not medal in 2019.
Yes, to some degree, the rest of the world has narrowed the gap, especially countries such as Spain, France, Australia, Serbia and most recently Canada. And the fluid nature of the U.S. roster gives teams with continuity and talent a chance to beat the U.S.
The U.S. enters the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which starts Friday, as the strong favorite.
Here are the teams to watch in the world event, which culminates with the gold-medal game on Sept. 10.
Favorites to win the 2023 FIBA World Cup
The U.S. struggled at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, finishing in a disappointing seventh place -- the first time it didn’t medal at the event since 2002. The U.S. has looked at the World Cup as a way to incorporate new players into the program, and since FIBA decided to alter its World Cup schedule, playing the event a year before the Olympics, it’s tough to get the very best U.S. players to commit to two consecutive offseasons of international basketball.
Still, the U.S. has assembled a quality roster featuring established players, rising stars and All-Stars, including Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram, Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr., Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges, New York’s Jalen Brunson and Los Angeles Lakers’ Austin Reaves.
This team has no senior international experience, and as a group, has not played together before this summer. In a 5-0 exhibition schedule leading up to the FIBA World Cup, the Americans defeated Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Spain, Greece and Germany.
Experience matters to a certain extent at this event, but the U.S. talent, along with an outstanding coaching staff, should compensate for that inexperience and lack of chemistry.
Best World Cup finish: Gold medal in 1954, 1986, 1994, 2010 and 2014
Victor Wembanyama is not playing for France, but the nation still fields a competitive squad with experience playing alongside each other. France features several NBA and former NBA players: Nic Batum, Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nando de Colo and Guerschon Yabusele. Head coach Vincent Collett has led the national team since 2009 and helped France to a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
Continuity exists and that makes France dangerous. France was 6-1 in World Cup tune-up games, beating Lithuania twice, Montenegro, Tunisia, Venezuela and Japan and losing to Australia.
Best World Cup finish: Bronze medal in 2014 and 2019
Canada has been building toward this moment for at least two decades. After putting resources into its national basketball program and developing talent, Canada has a team that can compete for its first World Cup medal.
Jamal Murray won’t play for Canada but All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Lu Dort, Dillon Brooks, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Powell − all NBA players − will suit up.
Sacramento Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez replaced Nick Nurse as Canada’s coach in late June shortly after Nurse was dismissed from the Toronto Raptors and hired by the Philadelphia 76ers.
In exhibition games this summer, Canada was 3-2, beating New Zealand, Germany and Spain and losing to Germany and Dominican Republic.
Best World Cup finish: Sixth place in 1978 and 1982.
Australia has been a formidable squad on the international scene for the past three-plus decades, earning a bronze medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and playing in the bronze-medal Olympic game in 2021, 2016, 2000, 1996 and 1988.
The roster is filled with NBA players: Josh Giddey, Josh Green, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Matisse Thybulle, Dyson Daniels and Xavier Cooks.
Australia beat Venezuela, South Sudan, France and Georgia and lost to Brazil in pre-World Cup exhibition games.
Best World Cup finish: Fourth place in 2019
Other potential 2023 FIBA World Cup medalists
NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic won’t play for Serbia, but it still has a strong team that should have a say with Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nikola Jovic, Ognjen Dobric and Filip Petrusev leading the way. For the past two decades, Serbia (and Serbia and Montenegro) have been competitive in international events, including a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Serbia beat Greece, Puerto Rico, China and Brazil and lost to Italy by a point in tune-up games.
Best World Cup finish: Gold medal in 1998 and 2002 as FR Yugoslavia, and silver medal in 2014
Gone are the days of Pau and Marc Gasol, and Ricky Rubio won’t participate this year, but that doesn’t mean Spain’s days of competing for a medal at major international events are over. This team still has quality players in Willy and Juancho Hernangomez, Santi Aldama, Usman Garuba, Alex Abrines and veterans Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull.
Spain is coming off a 2022 EuroBasket title, and finished 3-2 in August exhibition games, defeating Venezuela, Slovenia and Dominican Republic and falling to the U.S. and Canada. It appears Spain will be immersed in a four-way battle with Canada, France and Brazil for two spots in the quarterfinals.
Best World Cup finish: Gold medal in 2006 and 2019
For a country of 2.1 million people, Slovenia produces a high rate of basketball talent per capita. It won EuroBasket in 2017, and this year, All-NBA star Luka Doncic will try to put Slovenia in medal contention. It will require a lot of Luka Magic for Slovenia to reach the quarterfinals.
Slovenia was 3-4 in exhibition games with victories against China, Montenegro and Japan and losses to Greece (twice), Spain and the U.S.
Best World Cup finish: Seventh place in 2014.
Italy has approached a medal in recent FIBA competitions but hasn’t been able to break through, finishing eighth at the 2022 EuroBasket, fifth at the Tokyo Olympics, 10th at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, seventh at EuroBasket in 2017 and sixth at EuroBasket in 2015.
Italy was 7-0 in tune-up games with impressive victories against Turkey, Serbia, Greece and Brazil.
Best World Cup finish: Fourth place in 1970 and 1978.
Potential 2023 FIBA World Cup surprises
A team with Dennis Schroder, Franz Wagner, Daniel Theis, Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga provides a solid base.
Germany has solid pre-World Cup victories against Canada and Greece and had a 71-55 lead against the U.S. before falling 99-91.
Best World Cup finish: Bronze medal in 2002.
Giannis Antetokounmpo decided not to play, but his brother Thanasis will play. Greece beat Slovenia twice and lost close games to Serbia, Italy and Germany in exhibition games in August.
Best World Cup finish: Silver medal in 2006.
Ever since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when Lithuania (along with its Grateful Dead t-shirts) hit the scene, the country has produced solid teams that have won medals at the Olympics, World Cup and EuroBasket. Jonas Valanciunas leads a team of players with some NBA and U.S. college experience.
Lithuania played an aggressive pre-World Cup schedule with 11 games that includes victories against France, Finland, Puerto Rico and Latvia.
Best World Cup finish: Bronze medal in 2010
This is just Finland’s second appearance in the World Cup. It has never medaled in the World Cup, two Olympic appearances (last time in 1964) and 17 EuroBasket events. Lauri Markkanen gives Finland a boost, but it plays in a tough group with Germany and Australia.
Best World Cup finish: 22nd in 2014
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FIBA World Cup 2023: Who can win, medal, surprise?